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Full text of "The history and construction of the Unitarian Church building at Charles and Franklin streets, Baltimore, Maryland."

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George M. Miller 


of the 

January 6, 1933 



Summary ---------------------------- 1 

History of the First Unitarian Church ------------- 2-7 

Construction of the First Unitarian Church ---------- 8-13 

Drawings --------------------------- 14-16 

Pictures 17-19 

Bibliography _-__-_-__ 20-21 


The story of the history and construction of the First 
Unitarian Church Building, at Charles and Franklin Streets, Baltimore, 
Maryland, will be presented by the writer in as clear and interesting a 
manner as his ability will permit. 

The church at Baltimore is the birthplace of Unitarianism. 
It v/as built by a group of religious liberals who were originally from 
New England. The Rev. William cilery Channing delivered the ordination 
sermon for the first minister, Rev. Jared Sparks. Both Channing and Sparks 
have since become famous. 

The church is one of beauty and sturdiness, and has helped 
make its architect, Maximilian Godefroy, celebrated. It is considered one 
of the best examples of Graeco -Roman architecture in the United States * 
The outside of the church has remained the same, but the interior was 
remodeled in 1893, The writer has tried to give a clear description of 
these alterations and the method of supporting the ceiling. 

There are at present many artistic and historical furnishings 
in the auditorium of the church. They include a chancel window, mosaic 
panel of the Last Supper, the original pulpit from which Rev. Channing 
preached, a bust of Rev. Channing, and a bust of Jared Sparks, 


The Rev, Dr. James Freeman of King's Chapel, Boston, Kass., 
was the "Patriarch of Unitarianisn in America." This religion, like so 
many other liberal movements of its time originated in New England. 
Unitarianisra denies the divinity of Christ, and also the divinity of the 
Holy Ghost. It is opposed to the doctrine of the Trinity, and denies that 
there are three persons in the Godhead. It regards Jesus as highly exalted, 
but nevertheless a created and subordinate being. These principles, which 
were contrary to the beliefs at that time met much opposition in Hew England, 
and the advocates of Unitarian ism had considerable difficulty in organizing 
congregat ions. 

The first real step in the formation of the Unitarian Church 
took place in Baltimore, Maryland, in the fall of 1816. At this time Rev. 
James Freeman started a series of services in Gibney's Hall on South Charles 
Street, These services were attended by a large gathering of Baltimore 
citizens, and interest was so great that Rev, Freeman decided to organize 
a Unitarian Church, "modeled upon the simple principles of the Gospels," 

On February 10, 1S17 a meeting was called for the purpose of 
organizing a religious society, and taking into consideration the best means 
of erecting a building for the accommodation of Christians who v;ere Unitar- 
ians, and who cherished liberal sentiments on the subject of religion. This 
meeting was held at the home of Henry Fayson, 21 Hanover Street, The list 
of the first board of directors shows the following names: Henry Fayson, 
James W, McCulloh, Cumberland D. Williams, Szekiel Freeman, and Charles H. 
Appleton. The object of the meeting having been stated and discussed, it 


was unanimously resolved, that it was expedient and desirable to form 
a society for the purposes aforesaid; and a plan or constitution of 
government being proposed, as provided by an Act of the General Assembly 
of Maryland, entitled, "an Act to incorporate certain persons in every 
Christian Church or congregation in this State," the same was debated 
and adopted. From this assembly of gentlemen, most of them originally from 
New England, the First Independent or Unitarian Church of Baltimore had 
its inception. 

A lot on the Northwest corner of Charles and Franklin streets 
was purchased shortly afterward, but only after much discussion concerning 
the selection of a site. Many of the members thought that the Charles and 
Franklin location was "too far out from the city," and it is said the 
location was determined by a majority of one. 

The architect employed to design and build the church was 
Maximilian Godefroy, a French emigre, and one of the most distinguished 
architects of his day. 

The following letter, written on tho 19th. of April, 1817, by 
Sdward Hinkley to .Tared Spark s( First minister of the church), is a graphic 
and naive account of the progress of the new society, and contains the very 

At the present time the First Unitarian Church is very close 

to the geographical center of Baltimore City, but at tho time the church 
was constructed the streets were rough dirt roadways, and the surrounding 
property heavily wooded. 


first intimation of a "call" that Sparks" ever received from Baltimore, 

"Most cheerfully do I hasten to answer the inquiries contained 
in your letter of the 13th. I have been informed by Nathaniel Williams, 
Esq., who is greatly interested in establishing the new Unitarian Church 


in this city, that the whole cost of the building is estimated at $40,000, 
and twenty-seven persons have subscribed $17,000, and that the remainder 
will be raised from the sale of pews. The meeting-house will be situated 
in the most elevated and pleasant part of the city. It will be large and 
commodious, and, as the architect, Mr. Godefroy is celebrated for his skill 
and taste it will doubtless be a beautiful specimen of architecture, the 
most beautiful, it in said, of any in Baltimore," 

On June 5, 1817, the corner stone of the new church was laid, 
A plate was placed in the center with this inscription jn Greek; "To the 
King Eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God," The building was 
completed and dedicated October 23, 1818; the Rev, Dr. James Freeman 
preaching the dedicatory sermon. Thus the "First Independent Christ's 
Church" was established in Baltimore. In this new house of worship, on 
the fifth day of May, 1819, the Hev. William Kllery Channing delivered 
a sermon ordaining the first minister Hev. Jared Sparks. This sermon 
delivered by Channing, who was then the leader of religious liberals, is 
now known as the "Baltimore Sermon." This discourse, outlining the doctrines 
of the Unitarian Church, and clearly defining the position of liberalism 

The total cost, as given by Charles Vare in "A View of 
Baltimore," was $100,000, This seems to be a more reasonable estimate. 


at that time, marks the beginning of Unitarianism as an organization 
in America, A great movement began, and more than one hundred congreg- 
ational parishes in New England at once accepted the Unitarian position 
as defined in the "Baltimore Sermon." Channing's sermon had a circulation 
unsurpassed by any pamphlet in America, until Webster's "Reply to Hayne." 
It was translated into various languages and published all over the world. 
Dr. (fanning was elected to the new "American Hall of Fame" in 1900, as 
one of the three elected in the "Preachers and Theologians Class." 

The experience of the Unitarian movement in this country has 
been especially true of the First Independent Christ's Church of Baltimore. 
The first minister, the Rev, Jared Sparks, was obliged to defend his position 
against attacks from other pulpits, which he did ably, in his discourses 
and in "The Unitarian Miscellany," but illhealth compelled him to resign 
his pastorate in July, 182?. Afterwards he became known as the first 
professor of history at Harvard, George Washington' s Historian, author 
of "The Life and Letters of Franklin," editor of "The North American 
Review," and of "Sparks' American Biography," and president of Harvard 

For the succeeding five years the church had no regular pastor. 
Rev, Dr. Greenwood of Boston was a supply for two years} he was assisted 
a few months by the Rev. William H. Furness, 

The Rev. George W. Burnap, a graduate of Harvard, was ordained 
as the second pastor of this church April 23, 1828 and was a faithful pastor 
during nearly thirty-two years. He became widely known as an author in 
literature and theology. At Dr. Burnap ' s death, September 8, 1659, eleven 

'volumes of Controversial Theology attested his ability as a writer and 
his zeal in the unitarian cause. Thus the period covered by the first , 
two pastorates of this church was an era of justification. 

After a ministry of three years the Rev. Nathan A. Chamber- 
lain, the third pastor, resigned in 186?. to enter the ranks of the 
Episcopal Church. 

The fourth pastor, the Rev, John F, '<«', Ware, ras an orator 
of power; his pastorate of the church itself was only of three years 
duration; but he continued to preach to large audiences in Baltimore for 
three years, 1867-1870, at the Masonic Temple, at lord's Opera House and 
other places. He accepted a call to the Arlington- Street Church, Boston. 
A published volume of his sermons "Wrestling and Waiting" attest how 
strong, beautiful and invigorating were his discourses. During this period 
the church was extremely active in entertaining the soldiers of the Civil 

In addition to John F, W, Ware's preaching in Baltimore, the 
Rev. Dr. Lothrop, Rev. Dr. George Ellis, Rev, Di , Henry W. Bellows, Rev, 
Dr. William H. Furness, Rev. Dr. Andrew Preston Feabody, Rev, Dr. Orville 
Dewey, Rev. Dr. Frederick Augustus Farley, preached in the church. It was 
a time of persuasion, 

. After the fifth and short pastorate of the Rev. Edward C, Guild, 
who resigned in 1872, the church, in October of the same year, called the 
Rev. Charles Richmond Weld, He was graduated from Harvard in 1873, ordained 

January 2, 1373, the Rev. Frederick A. Farley, D.D. of Brooklyn, H.Y., 


presiding at the ordintiry fcouncil. This pastorate marks the age of const- 


During this minister's pastorate, an old mortgage indebted- 
ness on the church of #30,000 was paid; a large Chapel was built adjoin- 
ing the church, a house was constructed in the rear for the work of the 
churchs' various activities; and a building was erected for the Sunday ( 
School Library with rooms for the Minister's Study above. In the person 
of one of* its members the church donated $100,000 to the American Unit- 
arian Association, At a cost of some $18,000 the interior of the church 
was remodeled, and the defective acoustics remedied. These alterations 
were completed October 1893. 

After Rev, Weld completed his good work in 1898 the following 
pastors served the church! He v. William B, G-eoghegan, 1 ■300-1901 j Rev, 
Alfred R. Hussey, 1902-1916; Rev. Charles A. Wing, 1917-1919; Rev. Harry 
Foster Burns, 1921-1924; and Rev, F, R, Sturtevant, 1925 to the present 
date. During these years no great changes in the church have taken place 
with the exception of the name. About twenty years ago the name was changed 
from the "First Independent Church" to the "First Unitarian Church" erf; 
which time the church was incorporated. 

The church has always had in its membership many representative 
Baltimoreans, Enoch Pratt was long a member and served on its board of 
trustees. Yet the church has not grown, with a seating capacity of about 
five hundred, there is ample room for its present congregation, and it 
still remains the only Unitarian Church in the city of Baltimore. 



The writer has found that little* or no data is avaiable 
concerning the actual construction of the First Unitarian Church. There 
are no official records of the cost, and materials used, but the following 
description of the original church, appears in a letter from Sdward Hinkley 
to Jared Sparks, December 15, 1817, "The new church is nearly complete on 
the outside. Th<^ form is singular and grand. I thought of procuring for you 
a rough sketch of the building from the architect (Maximilian Godefroy), but 
understanding from a gentleman here that he had, when at Boston on a visit, 
given Dr. Freeman a complete plan, I concluded you must have seen it, and 
therefore I would not procure one. The building is about ninety feet square. 
It has only six windows, three on each side or end. Though these are very 
large, nearly thirty feet high and proportionally wide, yet so high are the 
walls that they appear rather too small. The tops of the windows appear 
about half, or a little above half, the height of the walls. The block 
formed by the walls resembles a cube. The entrance or vestibule is a col- 
onnade or a row of four Doric columns projecting a foot or two from the 
plane of the front wall, terminating abov-i about as high as the windows, 
and supporting three arches in this form. On the outside of the back wall 
there is a circular or cylindrical projection, forming a large concave 
recess within for the pulpit j so that no part of the audience-room will 
be so far back as the front o" the pulpit. Four grand arches, whose ends 
terminate in the corners within the walls, at about the height of the tops 
of the windows, rise a little above the vralls, and support, on their backs, 
a large dome nearly of a spherical form, producing a grand spectacle to the 


e/yes of the beholder. On the top of the dome there ias a large skylight. 
There are no galleries except in front of the pulpit, and you may imagine 
how spacious and grand it must be within. It is about seventy-five feet 
from the center of the skylight to the floor." 

To the above letter of Hinkley's little can be added pertaining 
to beauty and appearence. It can be said that this building of Graeco- 
Roraan architecture is considered one of the most beautiful in the United 
St at e s . 

According to Mr, I, C. Corner, one of the older members of the 
church, there have not been any changes or alterations to the exterior of 
the church since it was built. This is remarkable when we consider the 
fact that the building is at present 115 years old. From the following 
description by the writer, it is hoped that the reader '-ill get a clear 
picture of the sturdy construction that makes such a feat possible. 

The whole length of this edifice including the portico is 
108 feet and the breadth 78 feet. The foundation walls are thirty-six inches 
thick. They are built of rough granite stones smoothed on the outside 
face and held together with mortar. Brick walls extend upward from the 
foundation walls to a height of about fifty feet. The rear wall of the 
church is built in the 3hape of a portion of a cylinder. The front wall 
gives to the building its beautiful appearence. The peristyle is formed 
by a colonnade of the Tuscan order, Four columns and two pilastres, forming 
three arcades of about twelve feet opening, support the grand Tuscan 
cornice which runs around the exterior of the pediment, in the center 
there is a colossal figure of the Angel of Truth, surrounded by rays, 


and holding a scroll, on which is inscribed in Greek characters, "To 
the only God." All of the walls are covered with a mortar and marked with 
lines so as to give an appearance of large stone block walls. The mortar 
coating has disintergrated in soma places leaving the bare brick walls 
exposed. The roof slopes back from the walls until it meets the dome 
which is about fifty feet in diameter. 

The basement of the church is divided into five rooms by 
walls running from the front to the back of the building. These walls 
are twenty-four inches thick and are of the same material as those forming 
the foundation. They act as supports for the floor, and take the place 
of the usual column and stringer type of supports. Some of the rooms 
formed by these walls are paneled and fitted out as a workshop for 
classes in modeling and wood carving, but at present they are used for 
storage. One unusual feature of this basement is the presence of three 

huge tree stumps which would have involved considerable expense if the 

contr act or A attempted to remove them. Evidently the specifications were 

not very rigid in those d ays regarding excavation. 

The main auditorium of the church has been changed so com- 
pletely that one can see little of the original as described by Hinkley 
in his letter to Sparks. By climbing a winding stairway access to the 
old dome may be gained. Here the old beauty is at once apparent, for 
the plaster and decorations, are still in excellent condition. Only by 
extreme care in construction, and the use of the best materials, could 
the builder produce such an enduring structure. All rafters and lathes 
are sound; the rafters appear to have been hewn to the desired curvature 


and are placed only -a- few inches center to center. 

The architect, although he created a noble structure, over- 
looked two very important details. The height of the building and its 
shape made it practically impossible to heat the church or to hear the 
sermon when sitting in the rear pews. The acoustics were so bad that 
one minister resigned, claiming that he would lose his voice if he 
continued to preach. In order to remedy these faults, Mr, Joseph Evans 
Sperry was engaged to completely renodel the interior of the church. 
These alterations required more than a year of labor and were completed 
in October 1893. Little of the beauty was lost, as the same architectural 
characteristics of the original interior were used. 

The view on page 19 shows the curved ceiling designed by Mr, 
Sperry, which is supported by the arches ami columns on each side of 
the church. These columns are made of 12" X 12" timbers and extend 
upward until the tops are almost level with the highest part of the 
ceiling. They act as supports for the four roof trusses, which in turn 
help support the ceiling. The sketches on pages 16 - 17show the trusses 
and their supports. It can be seen that practically all members are timber, 
and there appears to be an exceptionally high factor of safety in the 
design. The ceiling proper is made of curved rafters, strongly braced, 
which support the laths and the paneled plaster work. There are one 
hundred and thirty-five of these panels, which are arranged in nine rows 
of fifteen each. The lighting system consists of one electric light at 
the center of each panel. 

There are at present many interesting furnishings and works 


of art in the church. 

The chancel window which is located above the pulpit was not 
installed when the picture on page 19 was taken. It is from the studies 
of Tiffany, of New York, was presented to the church by Miss Smma Marburg, 
The Greek characters symbolize the eternal reality of Jesus Christ, 

The Tiffany faVrile glass mosaic panel of the Last Supper, was 
designed by Frederick V/ilson, an authority, executed by the Tiffany Company 
of New York, and placed in the church about 1896, as a memorial, by the 
Baton family, who also gave three of the windows. Another was given by the 
late Mrs. 3noch Pratt, 

The pulpit is the original one from which Rev. William cilery 
Channing preached the ordination sermon in 1619, It is of black walnut 
(since painted). 

The bust of Dr. Channing, in the north end of the east aisle, 
and that of Henry Pay son, north end of the Wftst aisle, were executed by 
the sculptor Bartholomew, at Rome, 1855, and were presented to the church 
by the late Enoch Pratt, That of Dr. Sparks, in the south end of the east 
aisle, was the gift of his family. 

The present baptismal font replaced a smaller one in 1896, and 
is carved from a soild block of Caen stone quarried in the north of France, 
it is modeled after the famous Saxon and Norman one in St, Martin's Canter- 

The present organ was the gift of the late Snoch Pratt in 1893, 
It is situated In the rear of the auditorium, just below the old slaves 
gallery. It is interesting to notethat in the early days of the church 


some of the members 'brought thedr slaves, and had,-, then hear the services, 
from this gallery. 

The parish house is an L shaped building as shov/n by the sketch 
on page 14, It is a brick structure, the bricks being given by Itooch Pratt 
when he tore down some houses in order to construct Baltimore's first public 
library. The minister's study, secretary's room, library, recreation room, 
an^ kit chen j are all located in th» building. 








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as supPoiTs -for flow 


/ X 

Parish House 


Scale l"* 2-0 topprox.Y 

Old Aroh 




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The material presented in this thesis was obtained from the 
following sources! 

Personal interviews withi 

Rev, F, R, Sturtevant, present minister of the First 

Unitarian Church. 
Mr, McGann, present sexton of the First Unitarian Church, 
Mr, T, C. Corner, an artist, one of the older members 

of the church 
Librarian of the Maryland Historical Society, 
Herbert S, Crisp, member of the firm of the late Jos. 
Evans Sperry. No information was obtained from Mr, 
Perusals of the following volumes J 

A View of Bait imore( 1633), Charles Vare. 

Picture of Baltiraore(l832), J, Lucas, Jr. 

History of Baltimore City ami County(l38l), J. T, Sharf. 

Federal Gazette t-.nd Baltimore Daily(l317), Newspaper 

American and Commericial Daily Advsrtiser(l817), Newspaper . 

Baltimore Municipal Journal(l923) 

The Church at Bait imore(l893) , published by the First 

Unitarian Church, 
A pamphlet published by, the First Unitarian Church, 
Evening Sun Newspaper, A^ril 23, 1922, Baltimore 

American Newspaper, 
Chronicles of Baltimore, 


,Life and Writings of .Tared Sparks, H. B. Adams. 
Baltimore Post (October 20, 1931), Newspaper,