Camp Chapel United Methodist Church

A History of Camp Chapel United Methodist Church

Situated in a beautiful grove of trees watered by springs, Camp Chapel United Methodist Church is one of the oldest places of worship in Baltimore County. The congregation is blessed to have such a beautiful church with such a rich history. Looking at the old chapel with stained glass windows and a 200-year old cemetery right next door, one can imagine how proud the original community must have felt to be able to build this tribute to our Lord; how much love must have poured from each stonemason, carpenter, and housewife that worshipped in the original log cabin and each succeeding building.

During the eighteenth century, the area was populated by families of woodcutters and charcoal burners who supplied fuel needed in the forges and iron smelting furnaces along the banks of the Gunpowder River. Robert Strawbridge, the great Methodist pioneer and minister, found a wilderness collection of sod houses and log cabins on a trip to Towson around 1776 and arranged a camp meeting for the workers and preached to them there. This area was on present day Joppa Road near what is now Cowenton Avenue between Belair Road and Philadelphia Road and the future site of the Camp Meeting Chapel.

Harry Dorsey Gough ( http://www.bcplonline.org/info/history/hist_pe_founder.html), married to Prudence Carnan Ridgely, began purchasing land about 1770 and acquired from the Ridgely estates some additional thousands of acres. He eventually owned three miles on both sides of the existing Belair Road, north, south and east of the Gunpowder Falls. Belair Road was then called Gough Road and extended into Baltimore City where he kept a townhouse and where Gough Street still exists. The Gough’s were devout religious people and often entertained notables of that era, including Bishop Francis Asbury, at their Perry Hall Mansion. At the Christmas Conference in 1784, Francis Asbury was ordained the first American Methodist bishop. (For a complete history of Methodism at this time, see "200 Years of United Methodism: An Illustrated History" at http://www.drew.edu/books/200Years/200UM/homepage.htm.) Bishop Asbury continued to visit the home of the Gough’s, frequently preaching at the Perry Hall Mansion chapel and later credited the Gough’s meeting house as the birthplace of Methodism in America.

Although the Gough’s had a chapel attached to their home, Mr. Gough took great interest in the camp meetings where the circuit riders preached. When the camp meeting worshipers decided to build a permanent building for their church, Mr. Gough stepped in and said, "Take what you have subscribed and build a schoolhouse to school your children, and I will get you a meeting house." Mrs. Gough’s brother gave them an acre for a meeting house and burying plot. In 1807, the original log church, called Camp Meeting Chapel, was built about 140 feet east of the present chapel.

An excerpt from an article on “Perry Hall,” which was published in a souvenir booklet appearing about 1908 was recorded by Osborne P. Beall: “On March 19, 1809, Asbury’s journal relates that he ‘went to the camp meeting near Perry Hall, and I preached in the chapel. …. As I rode by the groves of the elders of the Gough family, the image of my dear departed Harry Gough was very present to me.’ There was erected in this vicinity, in 1807, by Harry Dorsey Gough, on ground donated by “Governor” Charles Ridgely, a chapel, which was known as Camp Chapel.”

John Buck, Esq. was the leader of the mostly poor people using Camp Meeting Chapel and he superintended the work from beginning to end. By fall they had a neat, well-finished log meeting house that was large enough for the neighborhood. Mr. Buck lived on Philadelphia Road near White Marsh Farm and he continued to attend Camp Meeting Chapel as one of the original trustees through at least 1841. He died in 1847 and is supposedly buried in the cemetery, although no stone was found by the Baltimore County Genealogical Society in their recent compilation of gravestone names.

Freeborn Garrettson, a Methodist circuit rider and conscientious objector who served his calling with Bishop Asbury, wrote in his journal on July 6, 1809:

"Accompanied by our cousin, Presbury and other relatives, we repaired to what is called Camp Chapel. It is beautifully situated in a forest, at a distance from any house. As I rode up my mind was solemnly impressed when I saw such a number of horses and carriages, fastened to the trees, and the people waiting for the word. I had a sweet time speaking from Cor. V. 11-21."

As time passed, forest gave way to farmland. Work at the Ridgely forges and work in woodcutting became scarce until 1846 when the forges were reopened. In 1848 the Chapel was closed and no services were held for two years. When the Chapel was reopened, some of the names on the rolls at that time were Henry Akehurst, wife and son Charles and daughter, Louisa; Joshua Bevans and wife, daughter Amanda (later Mrs. Charles Akehurst) and other children; Mrs. Keziah Brooks and sisters; Samuel Pinkerton and wife and Mrs. Beamer. Shortly afterwards these names were added: William Penn and wife, Mary, daughter of Henry Akehurst; John Penn and wife, Emily, daughter of Henry Akehurst; Isaiah Baker and wife and family, Eli Gambrill and wife; Gibbons Moore and family; Len Ferguson. A walk through the cemetery will show the tombstones of many of these families.

The log structure held camp meetings and regular services until 1871 when it was torn down. The logs were sold to make a cow stable and the pulpit and sashes were given to the African Americans who were building a meeting house on ground given to them by Mr. Gough. It is believed that the stone steps from the first Camp Meeting Chapel were ballast on ships from England since sandstone was not quarried in Baltimore County in 1807. A new church, our chapel, was erected on the property in 1872 using the original sandstone steps and the chimney bricks. According to the souvenir booklet Osborne Beall excerpted, the original deed conveyed ten acres of land to the Camp-Meeting Committee of the Great Fall Circuit, but eight acres of this tract were sold February 15, 1869 to Samuel Pinkerton. The remaining two acres are adjacent to the present chapel.

In 1954, an education building, Fellowship Hall, was built. After WWII, suburban development began to replace the farms. The present sanctuary building was constructed near the chapel in the mid-1960s and dedicated on May 23, 1965. During the early hours of August 29, 1983 the 112-year-old chapel was struck by lightning and caught fire. The structure remained standing, but heavy fire and water damages were realized. Fortunately, the chapel was insured and the congregation was able to restore the historic building, including two stained glass windows, an organ, and piano. A painting of the head of Jesus Christ and a century-old Bible were rescued during the fire. Although the painting was unharmed, the Bible had to be restored from water damage. When the restoration was complete, even the penciled notations of former pastors could be seen. Unfortunately, the Bible was later stolen and has never been recovered.

Today, as Camp Chapel prepares to welcome a new community being built around the church; plans are well underway for the construction of a new building with more office space and for the sorely needed additional parking. As one church member said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we still had the eight acres that were sold to Samuel Pinkerton in 1869.”

Through the years these buildings have faithfully served woodcutters, charcoal burners, farmers, suburbanites, rich and poor, famous and unknown: All the people of Camp Chapel who have witnessed and continue to bear witness to the love of Jesus Christ.

The cemetery continues to serve Camp Chapel worshipers, just as it did the entire community in 1817 when young Rachel Jones died at age 17 years, 1 month, and 3 days. Her stone is the oldest in the cemetery. In 1999 the Camp Chapel cemetery and chapel became part of the Baltimore County Historic landmarks.


Sources for this history are:

"200 Years of United Methodism: An Illustrated History Electronic Edition," text by John G. McEllhenney. 1984. [http://www.drew.edu/books/200Years/200UM/homepage.htm]

"Camp Chapel United Methodist Church…160th Anniversary," by the 160th Anniversary Committee Carville M. Akehurst, Chairman; William M. Balderson, Minister. 1973.

"Cemetery Inscriptions of Camp Chapel United Methodist Church, Ebenezer United Methodist Church and Hiss United Methodist," compiled by the Baltimore County Genealogical Society. 1999.

“Excerpt from article on “Perry Hall,” by Osborne P. Beall, Cottage Road, Stevenson, Md.

Personal interview of Carville Akehurst, 5/2000.

"Perry Hall and the Methodist Church: 1784-1850" by David Marks, Historian, Perry Hall Improvement Association [http://www.bcpl.net/