For most of the period of American reconstruction after the Civil War, the one-room chapel on East High Street in Sharpsburg served as a church and school for the local African-American community.
As a center for religious gatherings and education for a group of former slaves, Tolson’s Chapel would be a safe haven for the black community, according to Eddie Wallace, a historian and former president of The Friends of Tolson’s Chapel.
Built in 1866, the chapel is “probably the best example from the point of view of the historian and historian of architecture” of the Black experience during the reconstruction, Wallace said.
The National Park Service recognized this importance and designated Tolson’s Chapel as a National Historic Landmark in January 2021. In the midst of a global pandemic, the ceremony did not receive a ceremony at the time. But Friends of Tolson Chapel is hosting a consecration and unveiling of a bronze plaque with a national symbol in the church this month. The park service will participate in the program.
The chapel was entered in the National Register of Historic Places in 2008 for its state and local significance, according to the chapel’s application to become a National Historic Landmark. The former church and school are also listed as contributing buildings to the historic Sharpsburg district, which is listed in the national register.
The timing of the chapel’s application for a national historic landmark was coincidental, as the National Parks Office, which monitors the national landmark program, was looking for buildings or sites representative of the blacks’ experience during the reconstruction, Wallace said.
The only other site in Washington County that has been designated a National Historic Landmark is Fort Frederick, which was honored in 1973, according to the Historic Landmarks website. State Park, the stone fortress near the Great Basin was built to be part of the state’s border defenses during the French and Indian Wars.
Landmarking opens up Tolson’s nonprofit for more grant opportunities and has already led to more visitors to the historic chapel, Wallace said.
A Montessori high school class from Kensington, Maryland, visited the chapel last year, and several younger classes at home school attended. Wallace said the Montessori professor, looking for buildings representative of the Black Experience during the redevelopment, learned about it from Tolson through a new website created by the Chapel National Parks Office.
The educational experience for the students included a reconstruction that talks about life in Sharpsburg for the Black Community and how it came together to build the chapel, she said.
The chapel is open to the public for free tours from noon to 4 pm on the first Saturday of the month from April to October.
Eddie Wallace, former president of Friends of Tolson Chapel, said the man who donated the stove with a pot says he bought it from Virginia Cook and Francis Monroe, among the last members of the chapel when the stove was sitting in front of the chapel. sale. Wallace said the stove appeared to be from about 1900 to 1920 and would be used to provide heat.
In the summer, the windows would be open or activities could take place outside.
The chapel is named after its first pastor, John Tolson, a black man appointed to the Hagerstown chain by the Methodist Church’s Washington Conference, its black conference, Wallace said. The Congregation was established in 1865, a year after the state of Maryland abolished slavery.
The cornerstone of the chapel was laid in 1866, and in October of the following year the building was dedicated, according to a pamphlet from Tolson’s chapel.
Tolson’s was not the first church in the Sharpsburg community to serve the black community, but it was the first black church in the area, Wallace said.
“It simply came to our notice then. A space where they were free to be themselves. That they were not observed, “Wallace said.
By 1860, a year before the Civil War, 1,435 free blacks had lived in Washington County, at the request of the chapel to become a national historic landmark. This population includes blacks who were born free and former slaves who were freed or who bought their freedom. According to the census, the census shows that “most free blacks in the Sharpsburg area worked as servants, housekeepers, farmers or” workers “.
Approximately 10 free blacks owned real estate. This includes Samuel Craig, who together with his wife Catherine donated the land to the chapel to establish the Methodist Episcopal Church in Sharpsburg, according to Wallace and church history. Tolson was reassigned to Winchester Church District, Virginia, but the church in Sharpsburg was named after him after his death in 1870.
Wallace told her that the church’s association with the Bureau of Free People was nationally significant. Congress set up the bureau in 1865 to steer the South from a slave society to a free labor society, according to the Chapel Register Appendix. The bureau’s responsibilities include helping released people set up schools.
The bureau commissioned Ezra Johnson, a white man, to be the first teacher at the American Union School in Tolson’s Chapel in April 1868, according to the application and pamphlet. Later teachers will be Black, including John J. Carter and James Simons. Simons’ father, David, was one of the first guardians of the chapel and who became the first teacher at the school during his tenure as a county school, Wallace said.
According to the teacher’s monthly school report, published on the nonprofit’s website, there were 18 students in April 1868 in Tolson. Three of them are over 16 years old. The school includes elementary students, Wallace said.
The Sharpsburg Color School operated in Tolson until 1899, when a frame school building was built in the area, according to a chapel pamphlet.
The church operated until 1998, according to the website of the National Register of Chapels. That was two years after the death of the last member of the Sharpsburg church, Virginia Cook.
As The Friends of Tolson’s Chapel worked to become a non-profit organization, the Save Historic Antietam Foundation acquired the church in 2002, according to Wallace and the pamphlet. The Friends became a non-profit organization in 2006 and took ownership two years later, according to the brochure.
The church underwent a major restoration in the 2000s. This includes removing asphalt tiles that may have been added to the logs and the vertical board in the 1940s to make the chapel look brick, Wallace said. About 20% of the original logs were replaced. A replica of white pine siding was used to replace about 80% of the vertical boards and all new battens were installed, she said.
The chapel also received new cedar tiles, and the windows were restored with mostly original materials, according to the nonprofit’s website.
Wales said there would be no more burials in the cemetery behind the chapel.
A ground penetration radar was used to determine that there were potentially 12 unmarked graves behind the chapel, Wallace said.
The cemetery has 36 marked burials with dates of death, according to a 2013 cemetery conservation assessment. Cook and Simonsi are among those buried in the chapel cemetery. Other buried there include Wilson Middleton, a church trustee and member of the U.S. Color Infantry; Hillary Watson, who was enslaved on Otto’s farm; and Jeremiah Summers, who was enslaved on Piper’s farm. Both farms are part of Antietam National Battlefield.
Several items from Tolson’s Chapel will be part of a reorganized exhibition at Antietam National Battlefield when the approximately $ 7 million rehabilitation center is completed, said park ranger Keith Snyder, head of resource training and visitor services. the battlefield. Snyder said he hoped the center was ready to reopen this fall.
Park officials started from scratch in redesigning the way the museum was organized on the battlefield, Snyder said. A team of historians works on five universal concepts – conflict, terror, survival, freedom and memory.
The chapel items will be in the freedom section because freedom is a complicated story, especially in Maryland, Snyder said.
While freedom was directly related to the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, slavery was abolished in Maryland on November 1, 1864, by a new state constitution.
One thing is clear, when the slaves got their freedom in Maryland, at least in Sharpsburg, the first things they looked for were religion and education, Snyder said.
“Tolson is the perfect example for both because he serves as a church and a school,” Snyder said.
Items planned for the new battlefield museum include a book and inkwell _ for the school’s presentation _ and a Bible, Snyder said.
The Bible belongs to Nancy Camel, whose last name is spelled in various ways, including Campbell.
Camille, 40, in 1860, was “employed as a servant on William Roulette’s farm,” according to the chapel’s nonprofit website. She was enslaved by Peter Miller, a member of the Roulette family through marriage, and released by Andrew Miller in June 1859. It appears that Camel immediately took a job at the Roulette House, where she remained for the rest of her life, according to the website.
Camel was a member of both Tolson’s Chapel, to which she donated a large Bible, and Manor Church, a church in Dunker north of Sharpsburg where she is buried, according to the website.
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