01 Mar 2021

History:

Lost Capitol Hill: 9th Street Christian Church

Edward B. Bagby

In my quest to document every church on Capitol Hill, I have now come to the corner of 9th and D Streets NE and the Ninth Street Christian Church there. This quest dovetailed with a request from Austin Graff, whom you may know from his beautiful photographs of all our communities around the DC Metro area, who asked about more information on the church at 819 D Street NE.

The church had its origins in 1891, when it was founded by the Reverend Edward B. Bagby, whose picture is on the left. Bagby was born in Virginia in 1865, and after studying at Kentucky and West Virginia, received his divinity degree from Yale University. After stints preaching in West Virginia and Newport News, he arrived in Washington to take over a small chapel on the corner of 9th and D Streets NE. An outpost of the Vermont Avenue Christian Church, the chapel grew rapidly under Bagby, so when they decided to they needed a permanent pastor, he was the easy choice.

Two years later, he was chosen as chaplain of the House by the Democratic Caucus. He had just turned 28 (though the article making the announcement in the Washington Evening Star stated that he was “a young looking man of twenty-two years.”)

His own church continued its phenomenal growth, and so in 1897, it was time to replace the chapel with a proper church. On September 18, 1897, the cornerstone for a grand new edifice was set. Newspapers at the time noted that the trowel used in this ceremony was the same one George Washington had used in laying the cornerstone of the Capitol.

By February of the following year, the new church was ready for use. An article in the Star described the new building, including this section on the nave:

The ceilings of the audience room are about thirty-three feet above the floor, finished in adaman [sic] plaster, with wood moldings and panels. The interior woodwork is of North Carolina pine and the walls in adamant plaster, with sand finish.

Artist’s conception of what the church would look like, published in the Star the day the cornerstone was laid (LOC)

The article spent very little time on the building itself, though it did mention that there was “a fine view of the northwestern section of the city and the hills beyond” from the towers. It was, however, “claimed to be the finest edifice owned by members of that belief in Washington.” Talk about damning with faint praise – the Disciples of Christ had exactly two churches in D.C. at the time.

Over the next years, the church flourished. Newspapers noted baptisms, weddings, and funerals that occurred there, and its anniversaries were given good press. One of the funerals held there was for the Reverend Bagby. While he had long ago left the church for other pulpits – including Cleveland, Ohio, Fort Smith, Arkansas and a long stint in Baltimore – he had returned to Washington in 1916 to take over the Columbia Heights Christian Church, and had managed to organize the building of a church there, as well. Sadly, he would die less than a week after the cornerstone of this new edifice had been laid, and so the most appropriate venue for his funeral was his old church.

In 1963, the congregation sold their building, moving first to 3rd and A Streets Northeast, then to John Hanson Junior High School in Oxon Hill, Maryland. It was there, on November 10, 1963, that they held their last service as the 9th Street Christian Church. They renamed themselves the Henson Valley Christian Church, and built a church on Oxon Hill Rd. They later moved two miles south, and are still to be found in Fort Washington.

Meanwhile, on the Hill, the churches that took over from the original congregation do not appear in the news nearly as frequently as the original tenants. The Sanctified Church that was there in the 1970s made the paper only once when WETA filmed a segment of their series “From Jumpstreet: A Story of Black Music” there in 1979.

Today, the old edifice is, as so many of its contemporaries, a condominium: The Sanctuary.


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