Photo credit: Charity V. Davidson , 11/1997

Property Name: Westminster Presbyterian Church & Cemetery
Date Listed: 9/17/1974
Inventory No.: B-101
Location: 509, Fayette St., W. & 200 Madison St. W., Baltimore, Baltimore City

Description: The Westminster Presbyterian Church was designed in the perpendicular English style of early Gothic Revival by Thomas and James Dixon and Thomas Balbirnie. The church is constructed of brick, with brownstone trim and very little ornamentation. The recessed stone entryway has two lancet paneled doors with transoms, set in a pointed arch surrounded with stone. There are three bays with pointed arch windows surrounded by projecting stone and by lancet mullions. There is a cornice of simple projecting stone moulding several feet below sloping aisle roofs of shingle. A 142 foot high tower with crenellated top is located above the central bay of the façade. This bay projects slightly, and the projecting pilasters rise the entire height of the tower, broken at four intervals by gabled buttresses and string courses. The church building is 90 feet long and 63 ½ feet wide; originally planned to be narrower, the design had to be widened to avoid interference with the graves. The windows are glazed with obscured glass, having finely stained heads. A balcony is located along the inside wall above the entrance, and an organ dominates the opposite wall. The church is built directly over part of the graveyard; some of the burial vaults and tombs are intact in the church basement. Outside the church, the graveyard is surrounded by a brick wall (built about 1815). The Greek classic ironwork gate was designed by the French architect Maximilien Godefroy, who also designed the Battle Monument and the St. Mary’s Seminary Chapel; the two neo-Egyptian sandstone posts are topped by a gorge and roll cornice. The Egyptian motif is continued in several of the large vaults, lending variety to the headstones and table gravestones. The vault of James Calhoun is constructed of huge granite blocks; it is built in the shape of a perfect pyramid, in imitation of the tomb of Caius Cestius near the Porto St. Paola, where it forms a part of the wall of Rome. Another large Egyptian-style crypt is that of merchant John O’Donnell. The sealed entrance, with a triangular pediment in the center, is flanked by caryatids which are topped with a gorge and roll cornice and an ornamental motif.

Significance: The Westminster Presbyterian Church was built in 1852 directly over the old Western Burying Grounds of the First Presbyterian Church, after a city ordinance was passed prohibiting cemeteries which were not adjacent to a church building or chapel. The construction of a new church was first planned in 1850, and was organized by members of the First Presbyterian Church and the Franklin Street Presbyterian Church, under the guidance of Reverend J.C. Backus, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church. The first worship service in the Westminster Presbyterian Church was held on July 4, 1852; the first pastor was Reverend William T. Hoge. On July 16, 1852 the church was formally organized by the Presbytery of Baltimore, and the elders were installed on July 28. The church itself is of secondary historic importance since it exists mainly to preserve the graveyard, which dates to the late 18th century. It is the remaining are of the lot purchased by the congregation of the First Presbyterian Church from Colonel John Eager Howard in January, 1787. A great number of famous Marylanders are interred here, including many Revolutionary patriots and veterans of the War of 1812. The most widely known person buried in the cemetery is Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), whose grave is a tourist attraction.




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