Susan G. Pearl
St. Thomas' Church
14300, St. Thomas Church Road, Croom, Prince Georges County
St. Thomas' Church is a handsome brick church in a picturesque rural setting. The building reflects its colonial cruciform plan as well as fine Victorian additions. The original building was constructed between 1742 and 1745 as a mission chapel, a one-story brick structure of the same plan as its parish church, St. Paul's, Baden. More than a century later, after St. Thomas' became its own parish, a series of additions were constructed: the easterly chancel in 1859, the west bell tower with its entry vestibule in 1888, and a small northeasterly sacristy in 1905. The alterations of the 1850s included the installation of then-popular Gothic Revival features, e.g., the original round-headed windows were reconfigured to gothic-arch, and stained glass was installed, and decorative bargeboards were applied to the gable eaves. Renovations in the 1950s removed some of the Victorian alterations, but retained the major structural changes of a century earlier. The main block is laid in Flemish bond, and is five bays wide on the north and south facades. Each of these sides has a central projecting bay, the one on the south containing a vestibule with a round-arched door on the south side. On the east gable end is the 1859 centered gable-roofed brick chancel, which has a tripartite stained-glass window with wooden tracery, and overhanging eaves with arched brackets. The raking cornice is decorated with a series of cut-out quatrefoils. The brick of the chancel is in 10 to 11-course common bond. Entry into the church is by the 1888 west bell tower, laid in six-course common bond. A gothic-arched double door of horizontal molded panels is enframed by a gothic-arched brick surround of alternating stretcher and two headers. Above the door is a marble plaque dating and dedicating the tower. The nave and entry vestibule have vertical board wainscoting with chair rail and molded baseboard. The gallery is supported by four slim Tuscan columns. The barrel-vault ceiling was reconstructed in 1958 to conform to the church's original specifications. There is a low balustrade of turned balusters across the altar area, and paneled wainscoting and a dark wood chair rail match the treatment of the wooden pew boxes, also installed in 1958. A memorial tabled in the brick floor of the chancel marks the burial place of Reverend John Eversfield. The church is surrounded on all sides by a cemetery, which contains the graves of many prominent citizens and old county families. A fence and cast iron gate posts with Gothic designs was installed in 1907.
St. Thomas' Church is historically significant for its association with Bishop Thomas John Claggett, first Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church consecrated in the United States, who is credited with leading the American Episcopal Church through a period of transition following the American Revolution. The church derives additional significance from its architectural character. The original cruciform-plan main block was constructed in 1745, and is one of the earliest Episcopal churches in Southern Maryland. The building was unofficially known as "Page's Chapel," as the landowner, Daniel Page, had been contracted to erect the structure, completed on 25 December, 1745. The mid-19th century Gothic Revival renovations exemplify a trend which affected many Colonial period churches in the Chesapeake Tidewater region. In this case, the work was carried out under the direction of New York City architect, John W. Priest, an associate of A.J. Downing, and influential in the promotion of early Gothic Revival architecture. Priest's renovations included the replacement of the original windows with gothic-arch shapes, and the addition of the apse. In 1888, the frontal bell tower was erected in memory of Bishop Claggett. Recent restoration work, in 1954, was based on the specifications of the original 1740s building contract, but retained Priest's Gothic Revival additions. The building embodies the architectural evolution of an important ecclesiastical landmark.