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Maryland's National Register Properties

Photo credit: MHT File Photo, Undated Photo
St. Francis Xavier Church & Newtown Manor House Historic District
Inventory No.: SM-58, SM-59, SM-383
Date Listed: 11/9/1972
Location: Newtown Neck Road (MD 243) , Newtown Neck Road (MD 243), Compton, Leonardtown, Saint Marys County
Category: District
Period/Date of Construction: 1766-7 (church), c. 1740 (house), additions 1816 (both)
Description: St. Francis Xavier Church is a frame, rectangular building with two octagonally shaped brick additions: one on the northwest (entrance); a second addition on the southeast (altar). The southeast addition is broader than the main body of the church and protrudes several inches beyond the exterior walls of the main block of the church. This southeast addition has three rectangular windows--each one in a separate plane of the octagon. The end plane is a blank brick wall with a brick chimney rising above the roof. On each side of this chimney is a dormer window. There is a door in the southeast octagon, the plane which is parallel to the southwest wall of the main body of the church. The roof over the altar is several inches higher than the gable roof of the nave which continues at the same level and terminates at a cupola marking the apex of the roof of the northwest octagon. This entrance is narrower than the breadth of the church so that the nave protrudes several feet from the place where the addition joins the main body. This end is two stories and has rectangular windows on each story on each visible exterior plane with the exception of the door on the first story at the end plane. A sacristy and confessional are located inside. The main body of the church has an interior barrel vault ceiling supported by two sets of piers which create the nave and side aisles. There is a dome over the chancel and altar which is located in the southeast octagonal end. The church has simple Federal woodwork and a mid-18th century reredos. Newtown Manor House, one hundred yards to the southeast of the church, is a 2 1/2 story brick, five-bay brick house with a pair of interior chimneys at each gable end. The structure has a gable roof with a jerkinhead at each end. There is a centrally placed porch on both the northeast and southwest elevations. The house sits on a high brick basement. There is a long one-story, shed-like structure along the northwest gable end. Newtown Manor House originally had a gambrel roof which was raised and changed to its present shape in 1816. C. 1690 a wing, either new construction or the original Bretton House (c. 1637), was added to the Newtown Manor house for use as a chapel. This wing no longer stands. Significance: The St. Francis Xavier Church building has a barrel vault ceiling, unusual in a wood church. Architectural evidence indicates this vaulting is original (1767). The two octagonally shaped brick ends are unusual, if not unique, features in Maryland ecclesiastical architecture. St. Francis Xavier Church and Newtown Manor House Historic District marks a location and site important in the 17th century ecclesiastical history of Maryland. From this area of Newtown Neck and from other locations in Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, English Jesuit priests conducted missionary activities among the Indians and ministered to the needs of the settlers beginning in the 1630s and 1640s. In Maryland, as all over North America, the Jesuits were the vanguard of western civilization in the wilderness. The combination of St. Francis Xavier Church and Manor House properties is an example of a self-contained Jesuit community made self-supporting by the surrounding 700-acre farm. This type of community was prevalent in the 18th century. In 1668 the Jesuits purchased the Manor of Little Bretton, covering all of Newtown Neck. The income from the farm supported the Jesuits and their activities. The actual farm work was usually done by tenants and overseers. This tradition has continued to the present day.


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