Saint Mary’s Outreach Center was begun in 2002 to respond to social and economic needs of the community, and the Episcopal Housing Corporation along with St. David’s Thrift shop were its first tenants. The Baltimore Shakespeare Festival, dedicated to producing affordable classical theater, used the church building as a theater for several years. Looking to the future, the property hopes to be used as artist space, both for the community and for the senior towers, as well as a community center. The historic cemetery will still be maintained by the diocese and the former Sunday School Chapel will continue to be home to the Episcopal Housing Corporation.
Read Part I of this story here.
In the decades following the Civil War, the congregation of St. Mary’s Church, Hampden grew and benefitted from the generosity of two generous laymen. Thomas H. Hanson donated much of the money to build a Sunday School chapel on the church grounds in 1886 (now the headquarters of the Episcopal Housing Corporation), as well as a rectory in 1887. As the 19th century made way for the 20th, another man, Robert Poole, proved to be a benefactor to St. Mary’s as well.
Robert Poole was born in 1818 in Maghire, Ireland, and came to Maryland at the age of four with his mother. Showing an early aptitude for mechanics, young Robert apprenticed with the Winans locomotive works and the machine shops of Lanvale & Savage, establishing his own machine works when he was only 25. Known for engineering innovations, his company built the dome of the capitol in Washinton, D.C., as well as the iron columns for the Treasury Building there. During the Civil War, Poole’s company produced canon for the Union Army, and he was admired for devising a 65-foot-high tumbling water wheel, with bucket attachments.
Mr. Poole was an ardent Methodist and concerned for the spiritual welfare of his workers, and when St. Mary’s new rector, the Rev. F. Ward Denys arrived in 1899, he became acquainted with Mr. Poole. According to Bishop William Paret’s autobiography, Mr. Poole was skeptical of the ability of The Episcopal Church to relate successfully to “the laboring classes,” but after witnessing the visiting work of the new rector, Poole approached Mr. Denys and said, “They tell me you are reaching our people, that your church is always full and not large enough, and that you need and want a larger one. How large do you want it?” When the reply was, “A church to seat a thousand,”,Mr. Poole offered $10,000.00 for the renovation if the rest of the estimated $15,000.00 to enlarge the church could be raised.
Previously, in 1895, Robert Poole had paid off the debt of $1,000.00 owed on St. Mary’s rectory, as well as the $6,144.53 due on the enlarged cemetery lot, and gave an additional seven acres for the cemetery, provided that the money earned by selling cemetery lots be invested to benefit the church. The enlarged cemetery became a neighborhood burial ground for Hampden and Woodberry residents, whatever their religious affiliation.
The cornerstone for the church addition was laid in 1900, effecting a plan, which used the older church as the nave, with transepts and chancel added, along with kitchen, church school rooms, office and sacristy located in the undercroft. Robert Poole also gave the stained glass windows in the transepts, and the organ.
A period of stability at St. Mary’s under the leadership of the Rev. Arthur Chilton Powell stretched from 1914-1930, although the size of the congregation began to dwindle. Church membership was recorded at 900 in 1914, and 425 in 1930. After serving as rector of Grace Church in Baltimore (after 1912, Grace and St. Peter’s) for 25 years, Powell built a home on Stony Run Lane and University Parkway, which was close to St. Mary’s, enabling him to continue as rector there for the next 16 years. Powell’s interest in health care led him to serve on the Board of Church Home and Hospital from 1888-1935, and to be one of the founders of Eudowood Tuberculosis Sanatorium east of Towson in 1899.
When the Rev. William Owings Stone succeeded Dr. Powell in 1932, the parochial report stated that there were 500 baptized persons at St. Mary’s. Serving through the depths of the Depression and throughout World War II, Mr. Stone seemed to have inherited a typical church of the era. A 1936 newsletter announced a card party, an oyster supper, a Young People’s Fellowship meeting, and the sale of Prayer Books by the altar guild for $1.30. A story told by Mr. Stones’s family stated that he was asked to leave St. Mary’s in 1945 because of his support of unions. (The vestry minutes from 1931 to 1949 are missing, so I have no way to verify this statement.) Stone subsequently served as rector of St. John’s Church in Barrington, R.I. for 40 years, and his grandson, William Owings Stone II stated, “He told me that if his new congregation had known what an activist he really was, they never would have hired him.”
As early as 1960, the rector of St. Mary’s, the Rev. George Packard began to complain that the rectory located next to the church was in dire need of repairs and was “an unsatisfactory home in the area for his family” due to increased crime. He suggested turning it into a retirement home, and in 1964, with money from the federal office of Housing and Urban Development, the 14-story Roland View Towers was built on the site of the razed rectory. The 150 units comprised the first non-profit apartment house built in the area for the elderly, and rent ran from $75 to $140 a month, with offerings of knitting, bridge, ceramics, sewing, movies, lectures, Bible classes and pancake suppers, a rooftop restaurant and a beauty shop. A second unit was built in 1967, with an additional 110 units.
The decades of the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s brought change to St. Mary’s, and a membership that waxes and waned. Liturgical changes with a new Prayer Book, a free-standing altar, the exchange of the peace, the ordination of women, charismatic renewal, contemporary music and spontaneous prayer both drew new members and caused others to leave. The 1996 Parochial Report counted the membership at 80, and by December 1999, after several years of struggle and decline, the church finally closed its doors. However, the closure of the church did not mean the end of St. Mary’s engagement with the neighborhood.
Saint Mary’s Outreach Center was begun in 2002 to respond to social and economic needs of the community, and the Episcopal Housing Corporation along with St. David’s Thrift Shop were its first tenants. The Baltimore Shakespeare Festival, dedicated to producing affordable classical theater, used the church building as a theater for several years. Looking to the future, the property hopes to be used as artist space, both for the community and for the senior towers, as well as a community center. The historic cemetery will still be maintained by the diocese and the former Sunday School Chapel will continue to be home to the Episcopal Housing Corporation.
For well over 160 years, the complex of buildings on Roland Avenue has served as a gathering place in times of joy and sorrow, and in times of need and plenty. As the church considers how best to be good stewards of its aging buildings and congregations decreasing in size, the needs of community are in the forefront of the decision-making process, and creative partnerships are emerging for ministry in the 21st century.