Round Tower photo, 1994
All Saints’, Reisterstown held its last service Sunday, November 3, 2019, on the feast of All Saints. The Rev. Jason Poling, priest-in-charge, preached and the Rev. Stuart Wright, canon for transitions and human resources for the diocese, presided. The rectors of neighboring Episcopal churches were in attendance to support the members of this congregation in their transition and call to new ministries. The congregation held an evensong of Friday, November 1, in addition to the Sunday service, to honor the feast for which it is named. “It’s a resource that’s been available to the community and I’m hoping that it will continue to be so,” said Poling in an article in the Countrytown Crier in early November. “There are a lot of different things the space could be used for,” for mission or for ministry for another congregation. For the foreseeable future the rectory will continue to be rented and community programs currently meeting at the church will continue to do so.
All Saints’, Reisterstown on the beautiful fall morning of its last worship service.
by Mary Klein, Diocesan Archivist
The free-standing round bell tower at All Saints’ Church in Reisterstown is unique among Maryland church towers. Built in 1893 of Westminster stone, the tower was conceived of and paid for by William Keyser. In a December 30, 1892, note to the rector, Mr. Keyser said, “I write to advise you that I have paid the bills for the building of the Tower and think you had best report it to the Vestry at their next meeting. The contract for the Tower was $3,197.00 and the architect’s commission $155, making the total cost $3,352.00.”
William Keyser had been born in Baltimore in 1835, the son of Samuel and Elizabeth Wyman Keyser. He and his twin brother Samuel attended St. Timothy’s Hall in Catonsville, from 1846 until 1850, when his father’s ill health and precarious finances forced the boys to leave school. Samuel eventually moved to New York, but William stayed in Baltimore, managing his father’s businesses. William took a job with the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in 1870, where he made a name for himself during the strikes of 1871 and 1877, as a negotiator. (The town of Keyser, West Virgnia, just across the Maryland state line from Cumberland, was named for him in1874, while he was first vice-president of the railroad, living in Garrett County.) After leaving the B&O, because he was passed over for promotion in favor of the owner’s son, Keyser ventured into the copper industry. He had been one of the largest stockholders of the Pope and Cole copper processing company when they declared bankruptcy in 1882, and the court appointed him to oversee their financial affairs. Eventually he renamed Pope and Cole the Baltimore Copper Company, following the purchase of the Baltimore Smelting and Rolling Company, and the copper industry earned him his fortune, which certainly exceeded anything he could have amassed had he stayed with the B&O.
Elizabeth Keyser, Maryland Church News article, Jan./Feb. 2001
“Brentwood” was the Keyser family’s summer home in Reisterstown, and William became involved in philanthropic enterprises in his summer home town. He donated funds to Hannah More Academy in Reisterstown, the Diocesan school for girls, and served as a Trustee. In 1889, William Keyser wrote the vestry of All Saints’ Chapel in Reisterstown offering to “at my own cost erect a chapel with a seating capacity or two hundred…The construction of the new road between Reisterstown and Glyndon furnishes a location more convenient to both towns. I have obtained the refusal of three lots on the new road, which I am prepared to buy. Accompanying this you will find a sketch, prepared by Longfellow, a Boston architect, of such a chapel.” He wanted to build the church in honor of his mother, Elizabeth Wyman Keyser. The vestry agreed to the entire proposal, and ground was broken on All Saints’ Day, 1890. By All Saints’ Day the next year, the church was completed, paid for and ready to be consecrated.
A 1991 Parish Profile says, “The church is modeled after a small church in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, which Mr. Keyser and his wife had admired while vacationing in that area,” and the contemporary newspaper article printed after the consecration of the church reported, “the pretty country church was modeled after one at Magnolia, near Manchester-by-the-Sea.”
In a 1971 parish centennial history of All Saints’ Church, the rector wrote, “The tower was modeled after the bell tower of the Duke of Devonshire’s private chapel on his estate in England, which was known as ‘Chatsworth.’” But looking at “Chatsworth”, it is evident that the private chapel is built into the main house, and does not have a tower. The “shooting tower” on the property is composed of four round towers, and was used as a guest house and banqueting tower by the ladies to watch hunting and shooting from a far distance. All Saints’ tower, as well as the church, was designed by Boston architect Andrew Wadsworth Longfellow (a nephew of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) who had worked for Henry Hobson Richardson, the father of the Richardson Romanesque style of architecture. The church is built of local stone, and has a distinctive red tile roof. All Saints’ tower is reminiscent of the ancient free-standing round towers found in Ireland; and there is a similar tower in Milford, Massachusetts, which Keyser may have seen.
The bell tower was completed in January of 1893, and contained the well which supplied water for the rectory. The water was pumped up into the rectory attic and ran down by gravity. Inscribed on the tower are these words, “This bell was cast august 1885. ‘God, I praise the living, I call the dead, I lament.’ To the glory of God and in loving memory of Susan Fitzhugh Norris, born March 25, 1798, died March 10, 1874.”
Church bells have for hundreds of years called people to worship, told time, and marked significant events. Having a free-standing bell tower, not incorporated into the church building, is rare in American design, and All Saints’ tower has always attracted artists who want to capture the idyllic scene. Mr. William Keyser’s gift has stood the test of time for nearly 130 years, calling the faithful, presenting a lovely visage, and reminding onlookers that there are things to be contemplated which are more important than themselves.
Memorial window in All Saints’.