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Gateway to the Mountains

George Wireman

Chapter 9: Harriet Chapel

There are no existing records to show the date when Harriet Chapel was first built, however, it is believed that this beautiful and historic little church dates back to the early days of the Catoctin Iron Works, which was in operation during the period of the American Revolution.

In 1820, the Catoctin Iron Works was purchased by John Brien and his brother-in-law, John McPherson. Mr. Brien's wife, whose first name was Harriet, was the only daughter of Colonel John Mc-Pherson of Prospect Hall near Frederick, Maryland. Harriet was a devout Episcopalian and all her life had attended All Saints Church in Frederick.

After moving to Catoctin House, Mrs. Brien found it very difficult to attend her church in Frederick. It was twelve miles one way and a long drive even with a good horse. In the winter when the weather was bad, she spent most of her time in Frederick, where her father had built a home for her on Court Square. Harriet Mc-Pherson Brien died in 1827 at the age of 47, leaving several sons.

From the diary of Samuel Reineke, an early minister of the Grace-ham Moravian Church, we find that in 1827, "preaching in the English language every other Sunday was begun at the Furnace." The Reineke's diary also gave evidence that an Episcopal Church was dedicated at Brien's Iron Works by Bishop Stone.

From the records of All Saints parish in Frederick we find the following entry:

"Consecration of a church, October 25, 1833. Bishop Stone consecrated to the service of God, Harriet Chapel, a church edifice erected by John Brien, Sr., at his works called Catoctin. "The name of the chapel was a token of respect to Mr. Brien who deeded the church to the Rt. Rev. William M. Stone, in trust for the Diocese."

Although this record was just recently uncovered, it settles the origin and name of the Chapel, which had been confused by the inscription on the old red Bible still in use "Harriot," written in gold letters.

Another Harriet McPherson, grandmother of Miss Louise Mc-Pherson, who lived for 50 years at Auburn, was the soul of the parish for many years. It was Harriet McPherson, mother of Mrs. William McPherson McGill, who conceived the idea of having an Episcopal church in Thurmont and was largely responsible for raising her share of the money for the building of St. Stephens and obtaining the memorials to beautify it.

All Saints Parish in Frederick took in a large tract of land and in one of the histories of Frederick County there is recorded a meeting of the vestry in 1834, at which the Rev. Henry Johns announced that the parsonage at Catoctin Furnace had been completed and a missionary engaged to officiate at the chapel. Special services were conducted for the Negroes in the area. These were either slaves or engaged in work in the neighborhood.

In 1852 the iron works was purchased by James P. Fitzhugh and Jacob M. Kunkel. Mrs. Fitzhugh, a devoted wife and mother, chose to live at Catoctin House because it was near her husband's work and the church. In 1848, the Auburn farm was sold to a cousin, Dr. William S. McPherson.

Around 1855, the Fitzhughs decided to go to California. Before disposing of the furnace property, Mr. Fitzhugh deeded to the Diocese of Maryland, seven acres of land surrounding the church, which included the rectory and several other buildings. This generous gift proved beyond any doubt, the love and devotion the Fitzhughs had for their church.

Harriet Chapel, meanwhile, continued to hold services, baptize the newly born citizens, bury the dead and keep the Sunday School going during the occasional lapses between rectors.

Harriet Chapel
Harriet Chapel

The vigorous life in what was then a small and rather remote community with no real advantages for their families, often made the rectors eager for a change.

In 1880, a young clergyman, the Rev. Ernest McGill, came to Harriet Chapel and during his first year as rector of Catoctin Parish, the church made remarkable progress. After several years at Harriet, Rev. McGill married Mary Buchanan McPherson of Auburn and left for Nebraska where he served as a priest.

Mrs. McGill's aunt, Meliora McPherson, was the wife of Bishop Clarkson, the first Bishop of that far western diocese.

Around 1887, the Rev. Whittingham arrived at Catoctin and took up his duties as rector of Harriet Chapel. In 1889, when the historic Johnstown Flood brought disaster to nearby Pennsylvania, Little Hunting Creek at the edge of the village rose so high that it forced Rev. Whittingham to move to the second floor of the rectory. When the waters subsided, they left a spring in the church yard where it has been ever since, a reminder of a tragic catastrophe.

After about a year in Nebraska, the McGills returned to the East where they served several parishes Key West, Jacksonville and Sparrow's Point before returning to Catoctin Parish.

Following the death of Rev. McGill in 1906, the Rev. G. Mosley Murray became the new rector. Rev. Murray served the parish for about a year and was succeeded by the Rev. E. C. Alcorn in 1907. It was around this time that Archdeacon, Rev. John G. Murray was sent to the outlying missions of the diocese to make a re-port on their condition, and to submit it to the bishop.

At Walkersville, the Archdeacon found that most of the congregation had moved away. There were only a few faithful members at Harriet as the iron works had slowed down considerably. St. Stephen's parish seemed to be the most active of the three.

In 1909 Rev. Thomas Getz Hill became rector and served the parish until 1910, when he was succeeded by the Rev. Lewis Bee-man Browne.

As a result of the Archdeacon's report, it was decided to sell the church at Walkersville. At Harriet, the rectory and all the buildings and land of the Fitzhugh gift was sold, leaving only a small portion of land around the church. The proceeds of this sale were used to build a rectory in Thurmont, located at the present site on East Main Street. This was around 1910 and when the parish was under the leadership of the Rev. Beeman Browne.

Harriet Chapel was then supplied from Thurmont and between rectors, a number of devoted and faithful members managed to keep the Sunday School active.

In 1914 the parish was again without a rector and was served by several from All Saints parish of Frederick. These included the Rev. Douglas Hooff, the Rev. Louis H. Ewald and the Rev. Clarence E. Wolfe. Around 1918, a devout Scottsman and lay-leader, Mr. Crawford, came to Harriet each Sunday from Frederick, to conduct Morning Prayer and to keep the Sunday School going. The church today is a direct result of the efforts of these faithful and loyal members who refused to remain idle in the absence of a rector.

In 1921 Bishop Murray called the Rev. Warren K. Damuth from New York, to serve Catoctin Parish. Fr. Damuth, a native of Thurmont, spent ten years in New York where he was rector of a church near Washington Square. He accepted the charge willingly and served Catoctin Parish faithfully for twenty-seven years.

Perhaps the last remaining building of the iron works was the old stone casting shed. The owners of the property offered this old shed to Harriet Chapel if the vestry would agree to have it torn down.

In 1925, the timber chancel and sacristy were supplanted by a beautiful stone sanctuary with three arches. This was built of the stone from the old casting shed and did much to beautify the church. At the same time, a large Sunday School room was added together with a small room for the heating plant.

The walls were done over in a soft peach color and handsome side lights, a gift from St. John's Lutheran Church, were installed to replace the old, inadequate ones. The pot-bellied stove then was replaced with a more efficient system of heating. Catoctin Parish showed signs of new life and it was during this period that one of the largest confirmation classes ever assembled at Harriet was presented to the Bishop.

In 1947 Fr. Damuth died and the Rev. Oscar F. R. Treder was called to the parish. In addition to serving St. Stephen's and Harriet, he also served the Maryland State Sanatorium at Sabillasville. During Rev. Treder's rectorship, a new organ was installed, and a vestibule of cement block construction was added to the church structure. Rev. Treder served Catoctin Parish until his death in 1952.

In the fall of 1952, the Rev. Bernard Jennings became rector of the parish as well as ministering to St. Ann's Church in Smithsburg, Maryland, where he made his home.

During the rectorship of the Rev. Jennings, a number of repairs were made to Harriet which included the laying of a new floor, redecorating the walls and the repairing of the window sills. New oak pews were installed and paid for through memorial gifts. The vestibule, built during the rectorship of Rev. Treder, was faced with stone to match the church. Plans for a Parish House were discussed, drawn up, and presented as a gift from the Church of the Annunciation of Anna Maria, Florida. Following a few revisions, made by the Diocesan Architect, James J. Chapman, Jr., the vestry authorized the immediate building of the structure. The Parish House has proved to be a very useful and much needed addition. It contains an assembly room, sacristy, kitchen, and rest rooms. The structure of the building, made of cement blocks, will at some future date, be faced with native stone in keeping with the church structure. Work on the Parish House was done mostly by the men of Catoctin Parish and this beautiful building is a monument to their devotion and loyalty.

In 1956, the Rev. Lloyd L. Wolf succeeded the Rev. Bernard A. Jennings as rector of the parish. Under the leadership of Fr. Wolf the church membership increased considerably. His interest and deep concern for the youth of the parish was responsible for an active and very efficient Church School, both at Harriet and at St. Stephen's. Fr. Wolf's interest in civic affairs and his warm and friendly disposition, won for him the respect and admiration of the entire community.

In December 1962, the Rev. Leslee E. Schwindt accepted a call to Catoctin Parish. In the five years Fr. Schwindt has been in Thurmont, he has served the parish well. His sermons are inspiring and his love for the church has brought new meaning to the worship service.

In July 1965, under the guidance and instructions of Fr. Schwindt, this author made one of the greatest and most eventful decisions of his life joining the Episcopal Church. Next to being born, the greatest moment of my life came when the Rt. Rev. Harry Lee Doll, D.D., Bishop of Maryland, placed his hands upon my head and repeated these words "Defend, 0 Lord, this thy Child with thy heavenly grace; that he may continue thine for ever; and daily in-crease in thy Holy Spirit more and more, until he comes unto thy everlasting kingdom. Amen."

The church has served as a great inspiration to me and life has taken on a new meaning as a result of my sincere faith in its teachings and close association with its many activities. Joining me in the Ancient and Apostolic Rite of Confirmation were, Richard W. Athey, Virginia Ann Athey, Guy Wayne Dayhoff, Dorothy Lee Fraley, Helen Virginia Fraley, Clarence S. Hagelin, Jr., George Franklin Humerick, Barbara Jean Martin, Hallie Mae Martin, Lorraine Ann Martin, Pauline Elizabeth Miller, Lillian Florence Dayhoff, Gladys Irene Smith, Howard Nelson Sweeney, Betty Lee Young, Syntha June Young, and my wife, Charlotte Ruth Wireman.

Under the leadership of Fr. Schwindt, parish membership has in-creased and many new improvements and additions have been made to the church. Just recently, a beautiful Christus Rex was presented to Harriet Chapel, given in loving memory of the late Harry Martin, by his wife, Florence Layman Martin and children.

On January 12, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson, spending a week end at Camp David, motored to Catoctin to attend church services at Harriet Chapel. After the service he remained to shake hands with the congregation and to talk briefly with the rector, Fr. Schwindt.

On several occasions the President's daughter, Lynda Bird has worshipped at Harriet. On March 26, 1967, she attended the Easter service and remained to distribute flowers to the members of the Church School.

On June 17, 1967, Australian Prime Minister, Harold Holt and Mrs. Holt were among the week end guests of President Johnson at Camp David. On Sunday, the President and his guests attended worship services at Harriet Chapel and were deeply impressed with the beauty of this historic old church.

Attending with the President were Prime Minister and Mrs. Holt, of the Commonwealth of Australia; Australian Ambassador to the United States, John Keith Waller and his wife; the United States Ambassador to Australia, Edward Clark and his wife; Sir John and Lady Bunting; Tony Eggleton, the Prime Minister's press secretary; Mr. Lawrence Spivak, of the National Broadcasting Company; and the usual crowd of Secret Service agents.

After the service, both the President and the Prime Minister tarried long enough to shake hands with the congregation and to talk briefly with the rector. Before returning to the presidential retreat in the Catoctin Mountains, President Johnson picked up four-year-old Karen Jones and kissed her, while the Prime Minister bounced three-year-old Mark Hagelin on his shoulder. The Prime Minister was heard to remark, "Today is Fathers Day and this is the day you must be nice to us fathers."


President Johnson and Australian Prime Minister, Harold Holt
as they visited Harriet Chapel on Fathers Day, 1967

Catoctin Parish has known dark days as well as bright ones. The loyalty and devotion shown by its members is responsible for the many improvements and increased activities at Harriet. Although the Catoctin Iron Works has vanished from the scene at Catoctin, this beautiful little chapel today serves as a monument to its founders and the early pioneers of this remarkable and historic little village.

Exciting things are in store for Catoctin Parish. A consolidation of St. Stephen's at Thurmont and Harriet Chapel at Catoctin, will take place on a new tract of land just outside of Thurmont, where the whole parish activity will be concentrated in due time. St. Stephen's in Thurmont has been closed, the last service being conducted by Bishop Doll on November 1st, 1967. The few families in Thurmont were willing to go to Harriet for the time being. This closing has eliminated a costly maintenance problem.

Grant, 0 Lord, that by thy holy Word which shall be read and preached in this historic Chapel, and by thy Holy Spirit grafting it inwardly in the heart, the hearers thereof may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and may have the power and courage to fulfill their plans for the future.

Chapter Index | Chapter 10: Weller's United Brethren Church

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