MHT File Photo
Christ Episcopal Church
Chaptico Hurry Road, Chaptico, Saint Marys County
Christ Episcopal Church was constructed in 1736 in the port village of Chaptico near the Wicomico River. Of Flemish bond brick construction with glazed headers, it is a rectangular building five bays in length and three bays in width, 60' long and 40' wide. At the east end of the building is an original semicircular brick apse, a frequent architectural feature of colonial Maryland Anglican churches, rare elsewhere. All windows and the door have semicircular arches. The modillion cornices of the nave and the apse and flat barge boards with raking crown molding at each gable end are largely original. A three-story brick tower with octagonal belfry and spire was added to the west end of the church in 1916. The first story of the tower is open, with an arch on each side, sheltering the original west entrance, now the only entrance. Formerly there were doors in the central bay of the north and south sides, altered in the early 19th century as windows. Of 18th century origin, the double west doors are massive, heavy, and 13'-10 1/2" in height. The roof is tin. Surrounding the church is a cemetery with 18th, 19th, and 20th century markers. Some of the gravestones themselves are works of art. Extant burial records do not exist for the 18th century, but there is no doubt that the cemetery contains graves from the colonial period. Near the apse is the Key family vault accessed by an iron door, set in a granite frame and enclosed by an iron fence.
Christ Episcopal Church is significant for its architecture, which embodies the evolution of a typical parish church in Maryland's rural southern region. Its construction in the 18th century and subsequent remodeling reflect the effects of changing religious and economic forces on the area through the mid 18th century to the first quarter of the 20th century. Christ Episcopal Church was built in response to legislation passed in 1692 by the province of Maryland, an "Act for the Service of Almighty God and the Establishment of the Protestant Religion Within Maryland," which created a church supported by taxes. This law remained in effect until the Revolutionary War. Less than probably a dozen Episcopal churches built using the tax money still exist in southern Maryland. The building was constructed in 1736 under the supervision of Philip Key, vestryman, who lived nearby (and who was the grandfather of Francis Scott Key). Following the Revolution, its English associations rendered the Episcopal Church unpopular, and membership declined precipitously in the area. Church buildings, lacking regular use or maintenance, fell into decline. The building was heavily damaged during the War of 1812, when an admiral of the British fleet came ashore on July 30,1 814 and took possession of the village of Chaptico. The Marines broke the white tile floor and all the windows, destroyed the organ, stabled horses in the building, and opened graves searching for jewelry and treasure. As a result of the damage, funds were slowly raised for repairs, and in the 1830s a concerted campaign for reorganization and reconstruction was waged by the diocese. Notable changes to the interior included raising the floor 8", bricking up the doors on the north and south sides so that only the west door remained, moving the pulpit to the apse, and placing a partition across the west end of the church to make the building warmer. Stoves were also installed at this time. In 1916, further remodeling was made with the addition of the entrance and bell tower which brought the church architecturally in line with a new interest in the state's history and heritage. Many buildings were renovated in a fashion to reflect popular concepts of our colonial period architecture.