111, East High Street, Sharpsburg, Washington County
Tolson’s Chapel, built in 1866, is a small gable-front log building sited on the north side of East High Street in Sharpsburg, along the east side of an alley. The building is located in the southwest corner of the lot, the bulk of which consists of the associated cemetery. The cemetery is full; many graves are marked with marble, brass, or granite gravestones in varying states of preservation. There are several areas of multiple unmarked graves. The Tolson’s Chapel building is approximately 28 feet in length by 12 1/2 feet in width. It is a single pen, corner post log structure on a limestone foundation. A sandstone cornerstone is located in the southwest corner of the foundation. It is beginning to decay with large flakes missing, however the remains of the inscription can still be mostly deciphered: “[TO]LSON’S CH[A]PEL.” There is an indication of a date below the name but it cannot be deciphered. The heavy hewn logs are mortised into corner posts. Diagonal corner braces extend upward from the sill to the corner posts, making the building a hybrid log/braced frame structure. This construction method is relatively rare in Washington County, and is typically associated with a date in the third quarter of the 19th century. A summer beam runs the length of the building and is accessed via a crawlspace under the building. The chapel has a single central entrance in the south gable end with a four-panel door and transom. The transom is infilled with tongue-and-groove horizontal boards. There is a small window above the entrance in the gable peak that is also infilled with horizontal boards. The building has two bays on both the west and east elevations with 6/6 sash windows. The east elevation windows have paired exterior shutters of vertical boards with horizontal battens. Windows have a decorative shallow pointed top piece above the frame. Centered on the north gable end is a 4 foot deep by 8 1/2 foot wide frame shed addition that forms the apse (alcove) of the church interior and a storage area below at the foundation level. A brick exterior chimney rises between the two windows on the east elevation to approximately two feet above the eave, ending with a single corbeled row. The roof is covered with corrugated metal sheets. A patch at the roof peak on the south gable end marks the location of the bell cupola, removed c. 1980 due to the poor condition of the wood. The exterior walls are covered with red asphalt shingles, covering a siding of wide vertical boards with the battens removed. The original whitewashed board-and-batten siding remains completely intact on the north gable end within the lower section of the shed addition. The shed addition is covered with German siding under the asphalt shingles. The interior of Tolson’s Chapel is a single open room consisting of the sanctuary with rows of wooden pews painted brown and the chancel on the north end. The chancel has a lower platform in front only one step high, with a curved railing with turned balusters across the center front and east side, and a closed panel railing on the west front. On the west side of the lower platform, behind the closed panel railing, is a single choir pew and the piano behind. Another platform, several steps higher, forms the center of the chancel and consists of a central wooden lectern with two wood pedestals, perhaps for candles, on either side of the lectern. The steps to the upper platform are on the east side of the lower platform. Behind is the apse, which is empty and unadorned, but has a shallow arched ceiling and an architrave consisting of a wooden elliptical archway with an applied central “keystone” and plain pilasters. The pump organ sits in the northeast corner at the sanctuary floor level. The south end of the room has a balcony with additional pew seating accessed by winder stairs and supported by two square tapered columns painted brown. The small boarded window in the south gable opens onto the balcony. An opening in the ceiling above the balcony opens into an attic crawlspace. A closet space under the balcony winder stair reveals the whitewashed corner-post log construction of the building.
Tolson’s Chapel is historically significant for its association with the movement toward African-American social independence and education during the post-Civil War years and beyond. Constructed in 1866, following emancipation of Maryland’s slaves in 1864, the chapel served as a place of worship for Sharpsburg’s population of free and newly freed black families. It also functioned as a schoolhouse for the children of those families. Lacking opportunities for public education, the community turned to the federally-run Freedmen’s Bureau to supply a teacher while the chapel served as a schoolroom for 18 children in the first year, 12 of them formerly enslaved. After 1870, when the Freedmen’s Bureau was dismantled, the chapel continued to serve double duty, as the worship center for the Sharpsburg African-American community and as a schoolhouse, until 1899 when the Washington County School Board built its first school building for the “Colored” children of Sharpsburg. Tolson’s Chapel remained an active Methodist Episcopal Church through the 1930s but began to decline through the mid 20th century until in 1994 it was closed by the United Methodist Conference having only two left in the congregation. The last member residing in Sharpsburg passed away in 1996.