The German Reformed Church in Burkittsville attained sufficient membership to support its own minister in 1846. In that year, the congregation withdrew from the pastoral care of Christ Reformed Church in Middletown and called their own minister, the Rev. George Lewis Staley. Boundaries were drawn up for the new Burkittsville Charge which was centered at the church in Burkittsville and encompassed the nearby communities of Petersville, Berlin (Brunswick), and Knoxville. Even before this significant year, the congregation's ministers had traveled to Knoxville and held occasional services as early as 1840.
The town of Knoxville was settled on the eastern outlet of the water gap where the Potomac River passes through South Mountain. A turnpike road leading from Frederick to Harpers Ferry (today's MD Route 180) passed through the village which grew rapidly in the late-1830s after the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal were constructed along the river bank below the town. The convergence of these transportation networks connecting the Maryland Piedmont with markets and ports on the Chesapeake Bay encouraged the growth of industries including mills and an iron furnace as well as commercial establishments.
In 1853, William Newton, Manasses J. Grove (founder of the MJ Grove Lime Company), Henry Kefauver, Ezra Willard, Robert McDuell, trustees appointed from the Burkittsville Church, acquired Lot 19 on the hilly western section of Knoxville known as "Rhode's Addition," named for the Rhodes family who owned and developed the neighborhood. Already standing on the site by this time was a stone foundation which later became the basement of the Knoxville Reformed Church.
Documentation indicates that the congregation struggled financially and may have experienced periods of dormancy in the 1850s and 60s. The church building was not finished at this time and in 1856, it was leased to the county school district for use as a schoolhouse. On the 1858 Isaac Bond map of Frederick County, the building is noted as “Ch. G.R. & P. Sch. 102.”
During the Maryland Campaign of 1862, the church was used as a hospital under occupation of the United States Army, likely housing soldiers wounded in the battle at Harpers Ferry. This was attested to in 1908 when the United States Congress awarded $410.00 to the “Consistory of Grace Reformed Church of Knoxville, Maryland.” The docket reads, in part “during the late civil war the military authorities of the United States took possession of the building and grounds of Grace Reformed Church of Knoxville, MD, and used and occupied the same as a hospital for a considerable period, and its property was greatly damaged thereby…”
At the end of the Civil War, the Knoxville Church rebounded under the leadership of its founder, the Rev. George Lewis Staley. He had returned to Frederick County after spending several years in Baltimore serving as the principal of Mount Washington Female College. In 1864, Rev. Staley bought the nearby Tyrconnel Farm and established Saint John's Female Seminary. In 1867, the Knoxville congregation was reported as active at the meeting of the Synod under the leadership of Rev. Staley. He set to work raising funds to complete the still unfinished church. In 1870, a part of the church property was laid out in lots and sold to form a cemetery, the beginnings of the present Knoxville Reformed Cemetery. The sale of these lots was used to benefit the completion of the Reformed Church and Rev. Staley reported in 1876 that this was accomplished. When the building was dedicated that year, the church was referred to as “Saint Stephen’s Reformed Church.”
The name “Grace Reformed Church” appears to have been chosen later and it was in use in 1908 when the congregation filed its claim for compensation from the Federal Government under the Tucker Act. This change may have occurred in 1886 when the congregation went through another reorganization during the pastorate of the Rev. Henry Irving Comfort, pastor of the Burkittsville Charge. Rev. Comfort was succeeded by the Revs. J. M. Mickley and W. C. Sykes, who also served Knoxville in the capacity as pastors of the Burkittsville Charge.
The congregation appears to have enjoyed its greatest period of prosperity in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. There was a Ladies’ Missionary and Aid Society at Grace Reformed Church that held benefits to support the church and missionary work. In 1891, the church was repaired including the replacement of its roof and the addition of a belfry to house a bell donated to the congregation by Mrs. Eliza J. Grove Inskeep of Moorefield, West Virginia. Mrs. Inskeep was a sister of Manasses J. Grove and had grown up in Broad Run and attended Resurrection Reformed Church in Burkittsville.
The Knoxville congregation were early supporters of creating a Reformed Church in Brunswick. In 1892, an effort to raise enough funds to secure a lot from the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was made but failed to garner the requisite funds to support the project. The effort continued for the next decade until 1906 when First Reformed Church of Brunswick was organized (this congregation worshiped in the building that is now Beans in the Belfry).
On June 14, 1914, Grace Church of Knoxville and First Church of Brunswick became congregations of the new Brunswick Charge. The ministers who served this charge included Rev. L. Nevin Wilson, Rev. William B. Werner, Rev. Robert L. Bair, and Rev. R. Franklin Main, who served the longest tenure from 1919 until 1935. Soon after his arrival however, the classis received report that the Knoxville congregation had disbanded. Its members joined First Church in Brunswick and the old Grace Church in Knoxville was sold in 1924. At this time, the cemetery was separated from the church lot and placed under the management of its own board of directors.
In its ninety-year history, the Burkittsville Reformed Church grew to include four congregations: Resurrection in Burkittsville, Grace/St. Stephen's in Knoxville, First in Brunswick, and Faith in Petersville. Of the three daughter congregations, Knoxville was the longest lasting.
Dedicated to preserving and interpreting the history of Burkittsville
3 East Main Street • P.O. Box 509 • Burkittsville, MD 21718
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