06 Feb 2017


Lost Capitol Hill: Ebenezer Church

I wrote recently about Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church, and the modern church that replaced it on Seward Square. Today I want to look at one of its predecessors – the original Ebenezer Church on 4th Street, between South Carolina Avenue and G Street SE.

Methodism first took root on Capitol Hill in 1802. After nine years and a significant increase in the number of members, the decision was made to build a proper building. After buying land from William Prout, a suitable edifice was designed. The 1892 book Methodism in Washington, District of Columbia written by William Martain Ferguson describes it, inside and out:

It was a house of moderate dimensions, built of bricks. Some years later a chapel for school purposes was built on the south side of it. The church was comfortable and met the needs of the times. The interior was plain. There were galleries on three sides; they were reached by steps running from the sides of the doors inside up to the north and south walls.

The building of this church must have taxed to the utmost the resources of this congregation; for it was not furnished for some time after it began to be used. There were no seats at first. Benches and chairs and stools were brought from the homes of the people, and those who were so improvident as to come without such conveniences were compelled to stand during the service. Very good seats were afterwards put in.

An image of Ebenezer, from Ferguson’s book. (Google Books)

The church was heated by huge box-stoves, and to add to their personal comfort, many of the ladies, on very cold days, brought foot-warmers, and filled them with live coals from the stoves. The lighting was done by means of tallow candles. A chandelier holding a number of candles hung from the center of the ceiling, and candlesticks of various kinds were placed on the pulpit and in other parts of the room. The sexton, intrusted with the task of keeping the lights bright, made a round of all the candles as often as was necessary during the services, standing on the backs of the chandelier, and, with the snuffers he carried, trimmed them. During a long service this would occur quite frequently. This primitive mode of illumination at length gave way to more modern methods.

The sexes were seated separately during worship. A partition four feet high kept the males and females apart, and after the congregation was dismissed, the husbands and brothers and beaux formed a double line from the door out to the street, and the ladies, running the gauntlet, were picked by their waiting escorts.

Among the trustees in charge of the building was Henry Foxall, (pic) a prominent Methodist in the District, its first defense contractor (he owned a foundry near Georgetown) and later founder of Foundry Methodist Church.

In 1819 the church was named “Ebenezer,” a decision they apparently later regretted. Over the years, two other Methodist churches split off from this congregation: On January 7, 1829, 32 members founded the Methodist Associate Church of Washington City, and in 1837, the African American members (who had been about 1/3 of the original founding members in 1802) moved up the street to what was then called Little Ebenezer.

Ebenezer continued to be used under that name until 1857, when the old building was deemed unsuitable, and a new edifice was built in its place.

More on that in future posts.

Tags: , , , , ,

What's trending

Comments are closed.

Social Media Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com
Add to Flipboard Magazine.