Group Wins Historic Designation To Protect Church

Building Is Now Safe From Growing Development

November 03, 1991|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff writer

Who'd want to bulldoze a quaint country church on an off-the-beaten track road?

Well, probably no one, admits Robert Little, of Havre de Grace. But with the way development has crept ever northward in the county, Little and the other 29 members of the Tabernacle Church and Cemetery Association didn't want to take any chances.

That's why they've spent the last several years pulling together church records and other documentation so the Tabernacle Church, nearWhiteford, could be designated a county historic site.

Last month, all the work paid off. The 99-year-old church and cemetery, which the group maintains, was proclaimed a historic county landmark -- justin time for the association's annual homecoming service Oct. 20.

The designation means that any alterations to the church building andcemetery grounds cannot occur without prior approval of a county historic preservation board.

"We were concerned that if we didn't do (it) something would happen, the area would get new zoning," said Little, association president.

"A lot of times old houses that get inthe way of progress are torn down. We're way out in the country, butmaybe we feel just a little more secure being on a historic register."

The painted white church was declared a historic landmark because it is a classic example of Carpenter Gothic architecture, said Christopher Weeks, a preservation planner with the county department of planning and zoning.

"In the 19th century, churches were supposed to be Gothic and some congregations used stone because it could be carved into gargoyles, etc." said Weeks. "But most churches couldn't use stone -- either it was unavailable or too expensive -- and what evolved was Carpenter Gothic. Churches employed carpenters to give them this elaborately carved trim."

Weeks said the church's rural location, on Tabernacle Road near Whiteford, and its visual effect also are reminiscent of the famous Baroque style of churches found in rural Bavaria and Austria. "If you come up from the south, and ford the stream, you go up the hill and there's this gleaming white church," saidWeeks.

The association purchased the church about 10 years ago from the United Methodist Church.

Association members then went to work. They began major renovations inside, including digging a basement to add bathrooms.

Members routinely pitch in on upkeep of the church and graveyard, and organizing two annual services a year, a homecoming service in October and a Memorial Day Service. They raise money for maintenance needs through community fund-raisers.

The association rents the church to a small Baptist congregation, Tabernacle Regular Baptist, which does not have a building.

Before Tabernacle Regular Baptist moved into the church, the association rented the building to the Cornerstone Baptist Church, which built its own church onRoute 440 several years ago.

"I only went to the church as a child," said Little, whose wife, Carol, has a photo album and scrapbook detailing the group's work at the church.

"I still feel real close to everybody, more so than I had . . . before. I don't think you get that feeling in a large metropolitan area."

Little became involvedin the preservation project at the request of his grandmother, and because many of his relatives are buried at the Tabernacle Cemetery.

He said many of the group's supporters do not live in the immediatearea anymore, but visit once a year at homecoming, traveling from asfar away as Florida. "There's a real camaraderie there," said Little. "They're coming and making a commitment to come back because some of their roots are there."

Those who do not live nearby support thegroup with monetary gifts.

Earnest Neeper, another member of the association and a Havre de Grace area resident, was drawn to protecting the church because of his own family ties.

"Most of us are descendants of people who started that church, and they all want to support it," he said. The people who painted the church didn't charge us for labor. Their father was buried in the cemetery, and they said they'll be back every five years."

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