Saint Luke’s Church

 

The oldest structure in Glover Park is the church at 35th Street and Wisconsin Avenue, which was built in 1874. Originally called  Mount Pleasant Methodist Protestant Chapel, in 1885 it was renamed Mount Tabor Methodist Protestant Church. When the congregation moved to its present home at 3655 Calvert Street in 1954, it was as Saint Luke’s United Methodist Church, and their former home became the Divine Science Church of the Healing Christ.

 

 

 

The old Saint Luke’s Church, at Wisconsin Avenue and 35th Street, as it appears today.

 

 

Mount Pleasant Methodist Protestant Chapel, at Fayette and High Street (35th and Wisconsin), circa 1874.

 

 

One of the founders of Georgetown’s Methodist Protestant church––the Congress Street Church, on what is now 31st Street––was John Eliason, whose son owned the tannery that operated where the Safeway is now on Wisconsin Avenue. Hides to be tanned were supplied by the many butchers who had their pens and slaughterhouses in the vicinity of the tannery, and many of these butchers also belonged to the Methodist Protestant Church.

In 1874, Benjamin Franklin Hunt, who had recently built himself a house on the highest point in Georgetown (where the Russian Embassy is now), pledged $500 toward the building of a mission chapel above the tannery. Joseph Weaver and Catherine Weaver donated part of the triangular lot between High, Fayette, and Madison Streets – i.e. Wisconsin, 35th and Whitehaven. “Whereas it has been in contemplation by the said parties of the second part to erect a house of worship of Almighty God according to the form of service of the said Methodist Protestant Church in that part of said Georgetown in which are situated the premises hereinafter conveyed.” (DC Liber 744, f.382, May 1, 1874)

Joseph Weaver’s brother Henry, another trustee of the Congress Street Church, provided additional financing for construction of the chapel. Henry’s daughter Mary Anna married Philip T. Hall, who was briefly the pastor of Mount Pleasant. Philip T. Hall ministered in various congregations until 1882, then opened a haberdashery business at 908 F Street in 1885. (He later developed the real estate that is now Hall Place. See The Hall Tract)

Theodore Barnes was Henry Weaver’s stepson. Barnes’s house, across Wisconsin Avenue, served as Mount Pleasant’s parsonage for more than forty years. Barnes’s wife Alice had the honor of being the First Member of Mount Pleasant Chapel, and their daughter Pauline Barnes Woodruff was its longtime church organist. One of the inaugural sermons was delivered by Rev. Edward J. Drinkhouse, who was married to Theodore’s sister Angelina.

The original building measured 25 by 28 feet, and had a 48-foot steeple. Stone for the foundation was quarried from the site. “The Chapel is a gem in architecture, very neatly finished, and comfortably furnished, reflecting great credit on those who were engaged in its erection.” Considering that the Hunt, Weaver and Barnes families were all connected to the same trade, the report that people called the little clapboard church with its patterned slate roof the Butcher’s Chapel is not hard to believe.  (Minutes, Congress Street Methodist Protestant Church, May 5, 1873; Georgetown Courier, March 7, May 2, 23, 30, July 4, September 26, 1874; Evening Star, May 30, 1874)

Mount Pleasant Chapel was a mission of Congress Street Methodist Protestant Church, on 31st Street in Georgetown. In the nineteenth century, a new mission would be expected to operate a Sabbath School. One of the missions of a Methodist Sabbath School was to teach reading to prospective Methodists. Sometimes it was the only school available to poor people in the vicinity.

 

 

Originally placed on the grounds of Mount Pleasant Chapel, today this stone can be seen in the courtyard of St. Luke’s Church.

 

 

On the Fourth of July, 1876, Rev. Philip T. Hall assembled the Methodist Protestant Sabbath School of Mount Pleasant Chapel, and commemorated the first centennial of the Declaration of Independence by setting a memorial stone. Reverend Hall was the pastor of Mount Pleasant for only a year. He later married the daughter of Henry Weaver, the chapel’s financial backer, and went into shirt manufacture and men’s furnishings. The couple eventually inherited her father’s land, and developed Hall Place in 1910.

When Mount Pleasant Chapel became independent of its parent church on 31st Street in 1885, it acquired a new name –– Mount Tabor Methodist Protestant Church –– and the floor-plan was extended by a transept in 1888.  (Georgetown Courier, March 7, May 2, 23, 30, July 4, September 26, 1874; Evening Star, May 30, 1874)

 

 

Mount Tabor Methodist Protestant Church, as it appeared between 1888 and 1913.

 

 

In 1911 Angeline Barnes Drinkhouse left $5,000 to the trustees of Mount Tabor Methodist Protestant Church, the old wooden chapel at the intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and 35th Street. Extensive renovation took place in 1913: a lower room for meetings and an upper room for Sunday school were added to the chapel, and it acquired the half-timbered façade, extended porch, and covering of pebble-dash stucco that can be seen today.

In 1924 the church celebrated its fiftieth year, and Alice Toole Barnes was recognized as the outstanding member of the congregation. Chief among her benefactions was having housed the minister in her home across the Wisconsin Avenue for most of half a century; the church did not acquire a parsonage (at 1938 35th Street) until 1920.

The majority of ministers were drawn from the superannuated roll of the Maryland Annual Conference; because of the lack of a parsonage, and the meager annual salary of $450, very few young ministers could afford to accept a call to Mount Tabor.

 

 

Two girls at Mount Tabor Church, circa 1915.

 

 

(The Methodist Protestant, June 11, 1924)

 

 

Mount Tabor Methodist Protestant Church, 35th Street and Wisconsin Avenue, October, 1941; left to right, W.J. Conlyn, Mrs. A.C. Day, Mrs. Ralph Whalen, and Mrs. Henry Vaden.

 

 

The original Saint Luke’s United Methodist Church, at 35th Street and Wisconsin Avenue, circa 1950.

 

 

Margaret Rupli Woodward, an early resident of Hall Place, reported that, in her childhood, “practically everyone” on her street attended Mount Tabor Church. As Glover Park grew, however, the proportion of its residents affiliated with Mount Tabor declined. By 1945 the Washington Federation of Churches reported that only one in eight residents of the neighborhood was a Methodist.

In 1946, the congregation of Mount Tabor Church was joined by the dwindling Georgetown congregations of Aldersgate Church, and of Congress Street Church, Mount Tabor’s parent congregation; the new name would be Saint Luke’s United Methodist Church.  (The new name was chosen the wife of Rev. Arthur C. Day. “Essie Day, 70, Former D.C. Pastor’s Wife”, Washington Post, November 22, 1953, p.M24)

 

 

An inscription at Saint Luke’s Church commemorates the consolidation of three Georgetown congregations.

 

 

The first order of business was to house the combined congregations in a new and larger building at 35th and Wisconsin. (“St. Luke’s Flock Fetes New Pastor, Former Chaplain”, Washington Post, July 20, 1946, p.2)

This plan encountered a serious obstacle when it was learned that Whitehaven Parkway was to be widened and extended in the near future, to be incorporated into a metropolitan freeway system. By 1948, after it was clear that Saint Luke’s would need a new site, the trustees chose the two-acre Capitol Transit lot at the northeast corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Calvert Street.  (“St. Luke’s Gets New Pastor”, Washington Post, December 5, 1948, p.M14)

It had been hoped that capital funds realized from the sale of the three consolidated churches would fund the purchase of the new site, and the construction of the new church. As it turned out, only two churches––Aldersgate and Congress Street, but not Saint Luke’s––were sold.

In his donation, Joseph Weaver had stipulated  that the land on which Saint Luke’s stood should revert to his heirs if it was no longer to be used for a Methodist church. To clear their right to sell, the trustees sued the heirs of Joseph Weaver, and lost. (Mt. Tabor Methodist Church v. Weaver et al, District Court of the United States for the District of Columbia, May 13, 1948; “Church Sale Blocked By ‘Reverter Clause’”, Star, May 14, 1948)

The Weaver heirs moved, but the highway was never built, and the National Park Service has held title to the condemned land, and the former Methodist church, ever since. (In 1953 the Divine Science Church communicated its interest in leasing the building.)

The average church attendance at Saint Luke’s was 230 in 1949, but the trustees had reason to believe that the membership would double in five years.  The comprehensive plan––drafted by J. Rowland Snyder, an architect who was also a member of Saint Luke’s––therefore called for a new church that would be capable of seating 700, a church school with 800 students, and a social hall that would seat 400; all to be developed in stages.  (Saint Luke’s Methodist Church: Going Forward to its New Building, 1950)

 

 

Architectural renderings of the new Saint Luke’s Church, designed by J. Rowland Snyder, at Wisconsin Avenue and Calvert Street. (Saint Luke’s Methodist Church: Going Forward to its New Building, 1950)

 

 

Architectural renderings of the new Saint Luke’s Church, designed by J. Rowland Snyder, at Wisconsin Avenue and Calvert Street. (Saint Luke’s Methodist Church: Going Forward to its New Building, 1950)

 

 

With the advantage of hindsight it might seem obvious that demographics––the post-war migration to the suburbs––spelled trouble for the trustees’ ambitious plan. At the time, the difficulties the project encountered were just assumed to have resulted from not having been allowed to sell the old property, and from the difficulty of raising the sums needed by other means.  (“St. Luke’s Church Is Seeking $60,000 in Mail Campaign”, Washington Post, November 23, 1953, p.8)

Whatever the reason, the original design was scaled back; instead of fronting on Wisconsin Avenue, the smaller church that was actually built fronted on Calvert Street. When ground was broken for the new church in 1953, it was reported that a larger main sanctuary, nearer to Wisconsin Avenue, would eventually be added. A year later, when the congregation of Saint Luke’s held its first service in the new church, that was still the plan.  (“New Building To Be Started By St. Luke’s”, Washington Post, April 25, 1953, p.8; “Cornerstone Rites Arranged Sunday for New St. Luke’s”, Washington Post, August 8, 1953, p.6; “News of the Churches”, Washington Post, April 3, 1954, p.9)

 

 

On August 9, 1953, Rev. Daniel W. Justice was joined by officers of the Grand Masonic Lodge to lay the cornerstone of the new Saint Luke’s. The gavel employed is the one used by George Washington in laying the cornerstone of the Capitol.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The northeast corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Calvert Street, as it had been foreseen by the architect of the new Saint Luke’s Methodist Church in 1950.

 

 

 

The northeast corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Calvert Street in 1994; this is how Saint Luke’s Methodist Church looked between 1954 and 2004. (Photo by Vytas and Mary Bandziukas)

 

 

The northeast corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Calvert Street in 2012. The Georgetown Heights Condominiums were constructed between 2004 and 2006, on land purchased from Saint Luke’s Methodist Church.

 

 

“On Wisconsin Avenue, St. Luke’s United Methodist Church made $6 million selling an adjoining parking lot to a developer, who built Georgetown Heights, a condo with apartments priced as high as $2 million. Before the sale, the church’s Sunday attendance was down to two dozen worshipers. “It was sell the land or close the doors,” said Shalom Mulkey, a church administrator.” (“Development Becomes New Savior for City Churches”, Washington Post, October 31, 2007, p.A1)

 

 

 

 Post Script

 

 

 

 

 

 

Between 1953 and 1976 there was little to indicate whose the empty expanse of lawn at the northeast corner of Wisconsin and Calvert might be. This was remedied in 1976, when Saint Luke’s observed the Bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence by setting a memorial stone at the northbound bus stop on Wisconsin Avenue, just north of Calvert Street, thereby marking the western extent of church property.

Beside the 1976 stone Saint Luke’s placed the older stone from the grounds of their former church at 35th and Wisconsin, where it had been placed by the Mount Pleasant Sabbath School on July 4, 1876.

In 2004, when construction began on the Georgetown Heights Condominiums, both stones were moved to the courtyard of Saint Luke’s Church.

 

 

 

Sources

 

 

“Fiftieth Anniversary at Mt. Tabor, Washington, D.C.”,  The Methodist Protestant, Baltimore, Maryland, June 11, 1924.

 

Archives of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church

 

Minutes, Congress Street Methodist Protestant Church

 

“Golden Jubilee: Divine Science – Fifty Years in Washington”, Vol.1, No.1. May 6, 1984 (newsletter)

 

 

 

___________________________________________________________

Carlton Fletcher

 The citation and acknowledgement of my research is greatly appreciated.

All rights reserved.

 

 Questions and corrections may be directed to

carlton@gloverparkhistory.com

 

The support of the Advisory Neighborhood Council (3B) is gratefully acknowledged.