Hunt’s is a church with a long history.
Hunt’s Memorial Methodist Church is one of the oldest Methodist churches in America. Its history stretches back beyond the American Revolutionary War. As early as 1773, a Methodist Society was meeting at the home of Phineas Hunt who had moved from Calvert County into the Greenspring Valley area in 1761. Phineas owned a tract of land between Brooklandville and Riderwood known as Beall’s Discovery, a part of which he subsequently deeded to the church which was to bear his name. It is on this tract that the present church building stands as well as his house and the Hunt family cemetery, which is nearby. The church structure has been altered over the years, but throughout the rebuilding and renovations the historical nature of this landmark church has been preserved.
In 1976, the site on which Hunt’s Memorial United Methodist Church congregation meets was designated an historical site in Maryland and received a roadside marker which is located at the Joppa Road side of the church. The Hunt’s congregation which has had uninterrupted existence since 1773, takes pride in the rich heritage that surrounds it and joy in its fellowship.
Hunt’s Church is a church with a friendly congregation that takes joy in its fellowship and pride in the rich history that surrounds it. All ages from a variety of religious traditions worship within a community of love and care as they nurture and support each other. The congregation has had uninterrupted existence since 1773.
Hunt’s old gray stone building located on the hill overlooking Joppa and Old Court Roads in Riderwood, Maryland, represents one of the oldest Methodist Societies in America. Its history stretches back beyond the American Revolutionary War. As early as 1773, a Methodist Society was meeting at the home of Phineas Hunt, whose family had moved from Calvert County into the Greenspring Valley area in the early 1760’s. Phineas owned a tract of land between Brooklandville and Riderwood known as Beall’s Discovery, a part of which he deeded to the church which bears his name. It is on this tract that the present church building stands as well as the old Hunt family cemetery, which is intact nearby. In 1780, the first of two log chapels was built, followed by a two-story stone chapel completed in 1877, core of the present day church building. The structure has been rebuilt and renovated over the years, but throughout, the historical nature of this landmark church has been preserved. In 1976, Hunt’s Memorial United Methodist Church was designated as an historical site in Maryland and received a roadside marker, which is located at the Joppa Road side of the church.
Hunt’s is considered to be the first Methodist church in the Greenspring Valley. Its creation and early years are entwined with the lives of the Hunt family who were an integral part of the Valley’s early history. Robert Barns, in The Greenspring Valley, Its History and Heritage, records that part of Beall’s Discovery, the tract upon which Hunt’s church stands, was acquired by Walter Smith in 1730. At his death, he left this property, plus two other Valley tracts, divided between his son, Walter, and his widow, Elizabeth (Chew) Smith, who later married Job Hunt of Calvert County. They had four sons before Hunt’s death in 1753. The widow and her three younger sons, Job, Samuel, and Phineas eventually moved back from Calvert County to Baltimore County where she bought 500 acres of Valley land, including part of Beall’s Discovery from her son Walter Smith, Jr., in exchange for a yearly rent. Barnes points out that at the time there were dwelling houses on the land, one of which may have been Hunt’s Meeting House, as the residence of Phineas Hunt came to be known in the late 1770’s. This particular house is still in existence today as a private residence, just northwest of Hunt’s Church. Upon his death in 1770, William Smith, Jr., left all of his Valley land and his share of his father’s estate to his three half brothers, Job, Samuel, and Phineas. Records of the time show that in 1773, planning to be remarried a third time to John Bond, Mrs. Hunt conveyed her real and personal estate, including the tracts of land that she owned, to her sons, subject to a yearly annuity to be paid to her during her lifetime. Thus by 1773, Phineas and his brothers were the owners of three large farms in the eastern part of Greenspring Valley. A present-day descendant describes the properties as being about 350 acres each: Job’s being in the vicinity of the present-day Park School on Old Court Road; Phineas’ lying between present-day Brooklandville and Riderwood; and Samuel’s stretching east to the present-day Kenilworth Mall area in Towson. The Hunt brothers and their families were connected with the Valley’s Garrison Forest English Church where Phineas was a vestryman from 1799 until 1809.
In his 1910 pamphlet, The Story of Hunt’s Methodist Episcopal Church, Reverend H. Wilson Burgan points out that it is not known exactly when or how Phineas converted to Methodism, or when preaching actually began at his home. He goes on to explain, however, that as early as 225 years ago Phineas Hunt’s home had become a preaching appointment, along with 29 others, on the Baltimore circuit. He opened his home as a meeting place for Methodists and as a stopping place for itinerant preachers traveling the circuit. Francis Asbury writes of preaching at Hunt’s house on September 3, 1773, and again on three occasions in 1777. During this period, the Methodist preachers (earning $64.00 a year plus a few traveling expenses) would visit a neighborhood and preach for a day or so and then move on. It might be months before they came again, so they would assign someone as class leader to lead the society in their absence. In 1773 at the age of 22, Phineas Hunt was made class leader and held the title for the next 64 years of his life. In his later years he became affectionately known as “Father Hunt” by many of his class members.
In these early years, Methodists were not a separate denomination but members of the Church of England. They were simply a religious party within known for its methodical ways and its piety and zeal. Those people attending meetings at Phineas Hunt’s home were members of the Garrison Forest English Church, known today as St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Garrison, Maryland. In his book, The Garrison Church, Reverend Allen explains that the Methodist preachers held their meetings at a different hour or day from the scheduled services so that members could attend both. The Methodists in those days referred to their places of worship as meeting houses and referred to the English church as “the Church.” All members at this time, including Methodists, received the sacraments only from the established church. Phineas was an ardent, active Methodist, yet he maintained his membership in the Garrison Forest Church his entire life.
Throughout the years, although he remained affiliated with the St. Thomas Parish, Phineas actively pursued the practice and advancement of Methodism. His spiritual guidance and determination were the force behind the establishment and early growth of Hunt’s Church. In his church history, Reverend Burgan quotes from the writings of Reverend Henry Smith who was a pastor at Hunt’s in 1806 and again from 1833-34 to describe Phineas Hunt. “The Hunts were the first who believed and turned to the Lord when they heard the Methodist preachers.” Phineas was seen as “a counselor of the youth, an exhorter to the sinner, an example to Christians, a minister of peace to the sick and the dying.” Smith praised Phineas and his wife Suzannah’s religious characters and interests. He said that “Phineas Hunt was a man thoroughly imbued with Maryland hospitality and brotherly kindness.” And that “Sister Hunt was one of the neatest house-keepers, and all attention to the preachers, and their house could not fail of being one of the best preachers’ homes.” He explained how “Brother Hunt had the affection and confidence of his class, and indeed all of his neighbors.” He further noted, “I never knew a man that loved to talk about experimental religion more than did Father Hunt.” In 1900, Mrs. Rebecca Rider, for many years a member of Hunt’s church, remembered Mr. Hunt from when she was a little girl. She said that he wore knee breeches and that his hair was curly and that he allowed it to grow long and curl over his shoulders. She explained that he was noted for his “piety, usefulness, and liberality”. She remembered that Phineas and his brother Samuel, who had also been active in the church, usually sat side by side near the front of the church during worship services. She recalled that as a child, she heard much of the “upright religious characters” of both brothers and how they had “laid the foundations upon which others have builded the walls of Zion.”
Due in large part to the personal leadership and spiritual guidance Phineas provided to the little class meeting at his home, the Hunt’s Methodist Society continued to grow despite the ravages of the American Revolutionary War. By 1780, the congregation had grown too large for the Hunt family home, and Phineas gave a part of his land for the erection of a log chapel. Four years later at the Christmas Conference of 1784 held at Lovely Lane Chapel in Baltimore City, the Methodists officially broke from the Church of England and became a separate denomination. Burgan’s history records point out that on September 4, 1786, the Hunt society, now organized as a Methodist Episcopal Church, officially bought the ground on which the log chapel stood. Hunt conveyed 3/4 of an acre of Beall’s Discovery to the church trustees (William Stone, Samuel Hunt, Michael Kramer, Josua Bowen, and Daniel Isgrig) in exchange for twenty schillings. Click here to view a copy of the Baltimore County Land Records recording the sale. In the deed, Phineas requested that the chapel be called “Look Together”, but because he was so much a part of the church’s history, the congregation continued to use the Hunt family name. Francis Asbury was superintendant of the church at the time. He later wrote of preaching at the Hunt’s chapel once in 1787 and again in 1789. He described the chapel as a log building with one large room, which contained a back gallery for slaves. The church faced Joppa Road and was known officially as Hunt’s Methodist Episcopal Church. By 1826, the congregation had outgrown its log chapel, and a larger, more suitable log building was erected, again facing Joppa Road. At this time, a second confirmatory deed was drawn up and conveyed to the church trustees, probably to correct an error in the original 1786 deed.
Ten years later in 1837, Phineas Hunt died at the age of 86. His brother Samuel died 2 years later in 1839. Phineas’ wife, Suzannah (née Gott) Hunt, died in 1847. All three are buried in the Hunt family graveyard, not far from their beloved church. In 1874, approximately one hundred years after Phineas Hunt opened his home for Methodist meetings, the cornerstone was laid for the building of a permanent two-story stone structure. In 1877, the gray stone sanctuary was completed. It faced Old Court Road, a narrow red clay road then referred to as Hunt’s Lane. Today the remains of this old chapel stand as the core of the present-day church.
Much has happened to Hunt’s Church in the years that have followed. It has been rebuilt, remodeled, and repaired. Its followers have multiplied, scattered, and multiplied again. It has grown from a little church of colonial times to the suburban church it is today. In 1998 Hunt’s congregation celebrated its 225th year. It remains an active church ready to meet the challenge of a third century … On the hill since 1773, serving the Lord.
Hunt’s Memorial United Methodist Church merged with Carrolls-Gills United Methodist Church in 2010.
Sources of Information:
The Garrison Church, Sketches of the History of St. Thomas Parish, Baltimore County, Maryland 1742-1852
The Greenspring Valley, Its History and Heritage (volumes 1 and 2)
The Story of Hunt’s Methodist Episcopal Church
Hunt’s collection of bulletins, programs, news clippings, etc. housed in the Bicentennial Parlor