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Maryland's National Register Properties



Photo credit: MHT Files, n.d.
Union Baptist Church
Inventory No.: B-2965
Date Listed: 12/30/2009
Location: 1219 Druid Hill Avenue, Baltimore, Baltimore City
Category: Building
Period/Date of Construction: 1905
Architect/Builder: Architect: William J. Beardsley; Significant Person: Rev. Dr. Harvey Johnson
Description: Located on Druid Hill Avenue in the Upton neighborhood of Baltimore, Union Baptist Church exemplifies an adaptation of High Victorian Gothic religious architecture for a mid-block urban setting. The architect, William J. Beardsley of New York, designed the 1905 building to fit within a neighborhood where most buildings were masonry, multi-story, and located on narrow elongated lots with little setback from the sidewalks. The two-story grey granite church has a soaring street façade trimmed with decorative features in limestone imported from Indiana. Among the features of its Gothic Revival design are its perpendicularity that is emphasized by means of a steeply pitched gable roof with a series of smaller gables that are framed by frontal buttresses all of which extend beyond the roof line. Another important design feature is its windows that still hold their original high quality stained glass and that are lancet-shape on the second story and straight-headed on the lower level. Its steep roof, lancet windows in a three-bay composition with frontal buttresses segmented by limestone coping, and its emphasis on one or more gables facing the street recall features of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross in Kingston, New York, an earlier design by Beardsley. Union Baptist Church, however, was designed later in the architect’s career and responded to some new design challenges. Lacking an open location, the architect opted to design a more complex street façade that pushed upward. For the purpose of perfecting the complex design of the street façade, even the frontal buttresses were made to soar well beyond the height of the steep roof, thereby adding to its Gothic Revival perpendicularity. Union Baptist Church was somewhat unusual for an ecclesiastical structure because of its lack of any tower, belfry, steeple, cross, turrets, or transept as major design elements. Accessible from the public walkway above only two steps in stone, the simplicity of its silhouette was reflected in its lack of any type of exterior portico or porch. Instead, the design of Union Baptist relied on an interior one-story narthex or vestibule to provide a transition between the out-of-doors and the other major areas of its interior. Union Baptist Church was designed symmetrically, mostly rectangular in plan, and constructed with solid walls of granite approximately 14” to 18” thick. Because of a slightly wider rear header section (which extended what would otherwise have been this rectangle by approximately 8’ on each side and to a depth of approximately 15’ to the rear property line along Stoddard Alley), this basically rectangular church was technically slightly T-shaped. The wider rear section of the church was note intended to make an important design statement, as evidenced by its inconspicuousness from the street, height subordinate to the main block, lack of ornamentation, and absence of windows other than those facing the alley, which are plain. Equally spaced on each side of the main body of the church are seven engaged stone masonry buttresses. The rear-most buttress on each side incorporates a chimney. Each lateral buttress functions structurally to help support the roof. The buttresses define a series of bays, each provided with centrally located windows at two levels, except that a door substitutes for the lower window in the second bay from the front on each side. On the sides, all first-floor window openings are straight headed. The windows in each of these openings contain two long stained-glass panels. Second-story windows on the sides of the nave are set in lancet openings and consist of side-by-side pointed glass panels topped with a quatrefoil pattern. The main rectangular body of the church is topped with a steep slate-clad roof, with small high-pitched triangular slate-covered dormers on each side providing additional light. These dormers are positioned directly above the side windows. The complex, vertical-emphasis design of Significance: The Union Baptist Church is architecturally significant as an example of the Late Victorian, High Victorian Gothic style applied to an urban ecclesiastical building. It represents the work of New York architect William J. Beardsley. Best known for his residential, ecclesiastical, and institutional work in the Hudson Valley and on Long Island, Beardsley executed several commissions in Baltimore after establishing an office in the city in the wake of the Great Fire of 1904. The church derives additional historical significance for its association with the history of Baltimore’s African American community. Tracing its establishment to 1852, the Union Baptist congregation is among the earliest Baptist congregations in Baltimore, and has maintained an active and influential role in the city’s development throughout its history, particularly in the areas of community service and civil rights. The church derives additional significance for its association with the Reverend Dr. Harvey Johnson (1843-1923), its pastor from 1872 to 1923. An early leader in the Civil Rights movement, Dr. Johnson was a founder of the Mutual United Brotherhood of Liberty of the United States of America, fought to defeat Jim Crow laws as they applied to transportation in Maryland, and advocated self-determination for African American organizations. His writing, preaching, and public speaking addressed a wide range of subjects. Under his direction, the Union Baptist congregation assumed an increasingly active role in the quest for social justice and civil rights in Baltimore, a tradition it has maintained to the present.

 

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