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St. John's African Methodist Episcopal Church & Cemetery
7534 Bellona Avenue
Ruxton, Maryland
Baltimore County

Additional Churches:
St. Stephen's African Methodist Episcopal Northern Methodist Episcopal Church

 

Context History Description
Floor Plan Comparison Preservation Plan
Cemetery Contact Works Cited

 

St. John's Caretaker's House

 

 

Context
Situated on a one-acre lot in Baltimore County, off Bellona Avenue, St. John's African Methodist Episcopal Church is a one-room, one story frame building constructed in the Carpenter Gothic style. A caretaker's house sits southwest of the church and both buildings are surrounded by the cemetery. Built in 1886, the current church building replaced the original 1835 log church that burned in 1867. Characterized by its high gables, lancet windows, and fancy trim, the church is an excellent example of American Gothic Revival or carpenter revival.

 

History

The African Methodist Episcopal Church began in Baltimore in 1784, under the leadership of Richard Allen, a former Delaware slave who created the AME because he “thought it was necessary to provide for ourselves a house separate from our white brethren.” ( Smith 1939, 17) According to Gilbert Williams, by the mid-nineteenth century, the AME consisted of “seven churches and 4,900 members;” its membership today in the United States is over 2.2 million. (Willliams 120; 137) The AME became a vocal advocate for black enfranchisement and civil rights throughout the nineteenth century into the mid twentieth century. The St. John’s AME Church is one of thirty-one historic African-American churches in Baltimore County, Maryland.

St. John's Church was guided by the leadership of one family throughout the nineteenth century, the Scotts. Aquilla Scott, Sr., a freed slave, with four trustee members acquired the land for $15 to build the original log church in Ruxton in 1833; he preached at St. John's until his demise in 1858. His son, Aquilla Scott, Jr., followed in his father's footsteps and led the church during the CIvil War years. Scott Jr.'s son, Edward, was in charge of St. John's when the new building was constructed. The congregation created the gothic-like church using whatever materials were at their disposal in 1886. The new church became a lasting symbol of commitment the Scotts made to bring spirituality to their community through the trying times of the 1800s. Regular Sunday services were continuously held at the chapel until the 1970s.

 

Description
The gable-roofed church measures 35 feet deep by 20 feet wide and rests on the brick pier foundation of the earlier log church. Vertical board and batten wooden siding covers the exterior of the church. Fish scale shakes and egg and dart gingerbread trim embellish both gable ends. The steep gable roof was once covered in cedar shakes, but currently is covered by modern roofing materials. A brick chimney rises out of the north wall, although two chimney stacks -- one on the north wall and one on the south wall, are found inside the building.
The double leaf entrance doors on the three-bay east (front) elevation open directly into the main sanctuary. Above the door is both a colored-glass transom and a pediment with bead molding across its front surface.
Surrounding the door on both sides are two lancet windows with green louvered shutters and shutter dogs. On both the north and south walls, three similar lancet windows with shutters admit light into the sanctuary.
In both the east and west gable walls, close to the peak, there are two symmetrically placed stained glass circular windows with a cross design.

 

Floor Plan
The sanctuary occupies the entire interior of the building. The walls are painted above the chair rail, with wainscoting underneath. The flooring consists of random-width pine boards.
Built into the sanctuary is a raised altar with a lectern and communion rail. On either side of the altar are kerosene lamps, which have been converted to electricity. Originally, three over head kerosene chandeliers provided illumination for the church, raised and lowered by ropes through (still visible) eye bolts.
Sixteen handmade wooden pews could accommodate about seventy worshippers within the sanctuary. These detailed pews, with shield and scroll designs, were built into the chair rail and window treatments on the north and south walls.
Between the two rows of pews a four-foot-wide center aisle runs through the sanctuary to the altar, where the sign, “WELCOME TO ALL” greets worshippers

 

Comparison
The rural style of St. Johns Church greatly distinguishes the building from the other two churches in the study. While St. Johns is similar in size and layout (for the exception of a vestibule) to Northern and St. Stephens, it has more ornate embellishments on the exterior surface, as well as lancet windows with louvered shutters which complete the Gothic appearance.

 

Preservation Plan
Beginning in the early-1980s, a non-profit foundation (heavily coordinated by the Scott family) was established to save the St. John’s Chapel. After seeking and receiving financial grants from various organizations, including MHT, and private donations, the foundation began the “Restoration and Preservation of Historic St. John’s Church, Ruxton” project with $108,000 in funds. In 1982, the church was listed on the National Register for Historic Places. Charlie Tipper was hired in 1982, to restore the interior back wall, stabilize the foundation, repair the stained glass windows, and bring the original paint color scheme back to the building; all with a $5000 budget and a year to complete the work. Around the same time, the parsonage began its immediate and necessary transformation by the efforts of Hugh Andrews, who completed the framing and roofing work for $50,000. Currently, both buildings are fairly stabilized, with future concerns to replace the roof on the chapel. St. John’s Church is occasionally open to the public, for special events like weddings and Christmas caroling, which generate funding for the maintenance income of the chapel. (Holechek 2003, 67-71)

 

Cemetery
The cemetery contains approximately seventy-nine graves with gravestones and eleven unmarked burials. The earliest gravestone dates from 1871, the latest from 1960. These tombstones tend to be placed in family clusters, including the Chaneys, the Turners, and the Williams. Aquilla Scott Jr., Edward Scott, his wife, Henrietta, and twelve other members of the Scott family are buried in St. John’s AME Cemetery.

 

Contact
Contact Person: Peter Kurtze (410) 514-7649

 

Works Cited

Holechek, Jim. Two Cross Keys Villages: One Black, One White...and the Leaders Who Created the World Around Them. New York: Universe, Inc.: 2003.

Smith, James, Vital Facts Concerning the African Methodist Episcopal Church: A Socratic Exposition. Publisher Unknown, 1939.

Williams, Gilbert Anthony. The Christian Recorder, Newspaper of the African Methodist Episcopal Church: History of a Forum for Ideas, 1854-1902, Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, Inc, 1996.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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