Hunt’s Church History
Historians consider Hunt’s 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 Greenspring 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.
Job and Elizabeth had four sons before Job’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 eldest 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 house is still in existence as a private residence, just northwest of Hunt’s Church. Upon his death in 1770, William Smith, Jr., left all his Valley property 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.
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, the Reverend H. Wilson Burgan points out that it is not known exactly when or how Phineas converted to Methodism or when preaching began at his home. Burgan 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. Hunt 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, the 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. Hunt 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, Hunt actively pursued the practice and advancement of Methodism. His spiritual guidance and determination were the forces behind the establishment and early growth of Hunt’s Church. In his church history, the Reverend Burgan quotes from the writings of the 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 Hunt 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 Hunt and his wife Suzannah’s religious characters and interests. He wrote 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 Hunt 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 built the walls of Zion.”
Due in large part to the personal leadership and spiritual guidance Phineas Hunt 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: http://www.huntsumc.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Record-of-property-deed-1786.pdf
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 superintendent of the church at the time. He later wrote of preaching again 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. Hunt’’ 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.
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.