Natalie W. Shivers
Churchville Presbyterian Church
Churchville Road (MD 22), Churchville, Harford County
The Churchville Presbyterian Church is located in, and forms the nucleus of, Churchville, a community in central Harford County, Maryland. The building and its churchyard fill the northwest corner of the intersection of MD 22 and MD 136. the church faces east; its south wall parallels MD 22 and is separated from that road by an original (1830) fieldstone wall. Basically, the church consists of three harmoniously designed sections, which together suggest the evolutionary nature of the congregation's growth. The original (1820) one-story, four by three bay, gable-roofed brick building forms the core and exactly matches in scale and window treatment specifications in the 1820 contract between church elders and craftsman. In 1870, the congregation added a three-story, restrained Italianate, brick bell tower, designed by J. Crawford Neilson of the renowned Baltimore firm, Niernsee and Neilson. They also hired local cabinetmaker William Shuck to build the present pulpit, pews, and wainscoting. In 1950, Bel Air architects Alexander Shaw and W. Kendall Duff designed a low, one-story brick church hall and office to the west; this final addition is clearly subordinate to the two older sections and complements them both in scale, style, and color. The church is set off by particularly attractive grounds which include the already-mentioned stone wall as well as herringbone patterned brick walks, a large obelisk (a memorial erected in 1874 to the church's first pastor, William Finney), and a shady, sequestered 4.5 acre graveyard with stones dating back to 1819.
The Churchville Presbyterian Church is significant for three reasons: its architecture, its influence on community planning (particularly for its intimate connection with generations of families who have had a powerful influence on the development of Harford County), and for its religious history. Architecturally, it is important in part because the original (1820) section is the oldest Presbyterian Church in the county, in part because the 1870 additions (J. Crawford Neilson's tower and William Shuck's interior woodwork) were the work of an important architect and a prominent local craftsman, respectively, and in part because overall, the church's restrained style so typifies building in this conservative, rural part of the state. Secondly, the church has been, since its construction, the vital focus for this party of the county: indeed the community of Churchville, which surrounds the church, grew up around and took its name from the structure. The village and church have evolved together in a mutually beneficial manner. The building's power over the town is visual, of course, but it is more importantly psychologically, the powerful result of the numerous parishioners (theologians, politicians, farmers, doctors, entrepreneurs, and educators) who were instrumental in founding the church, who have remained active in the congregation to this day, and who have exerted far-reaching influence on all aspects of the community's life. Finally, the Churchville Presbyterian Church derives significance as the place of worship for parishioners who make up the earliest Presbyterian congregation (1738) in Harford County and among the earliest of any denomination anywhere in Maryland.