St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church in North Beach, MD has a fantastic back story! Here is where I found the most unlikely answer to a question I had been wondering about for quite some time.
First, some background information: “North Chesapeake Beach” (present day North Beach, MD) was quickly recognized as a desired area to develop and build summer cottages. A real estate company, The North Chesapeake Beach Land & Improvement Company was incorporated in March 1900, and began selling land lots that summer (which was also the year the Chesapeake Beach resort officially opened).
Two key figures in this story were Aaron R. & Margaret Townshend who were spending their summers in North Chesapeake Beach early on, at least by 1902. It appears that they originally stayed at the Hotel Calvert, located in North Chesapeake Beach, and possibly were involved in the management of it. In 1903 Mr. Townshend was listed in a newspaper article as an officer in The North Chesapeake Beach Land & Improvement Company (it is possible he was involved since the company’s beginnings). The Townshends were an integral part of the early settlement of North Chesapeake Beach.
Mr. & Mrs. Townshend made their presence on the beach more definite by purchasing land for a summer cottage. According to The Evening Star on 7/9/1905, Mr. & Mrs. Townshend’s “unique & pretty cottage” on Bay Avenue was finished and named “The Artmel.”
The Artmel became the location for euchre parties, dances, receptions AND the first Roman Catholic Mass to be held in North Chesapeake Beach. The mass was held on August 27, 1905, officiated by Father McGarra of Holy Cross Church in Brookland, Washington DC and reportedly filled the parlor and porches.
The absence of a church building in the beach was noted as a drawback for those wanting to purchase a lot for their summer getaways. So, in January of 1906, the owners of summer cottages made a plan to build a Catholic church. Mr. Townshend, although not a member of the Catholic church, took lead on this project (more about him later). Many fundraisers were held, both in the beach and in the cottage owner’s Washington D.C. homes. Mr. & Mrs. Townshend donated the land at the center of the settlement (where the current St. Anthony’s Church now stands). Mr. Townshend was also given the honor of naming the church. He chose St. Anthony because he was credited as the “great finder” on behalf of those who asked.
Mr. Townshend had some architectural experience and planned a simple 50′ x 150′ building. With new wood being too expensive, Mr. Townshend was savvy enough to find used but good lumber.
Here is where I found the answer to my burning question!
AND it is SO INTERESTING! Apparently, the Chesapeake Beach Railway Company purchased lumber and window frames from the Old Foundry Church (located: 14th & G street, in Washington DC) when it was torn down around 1903. The lumber was transported somewhere presumably in the beach for the purpose of building a church at some point in “south beach.” It however was left unused. Mr. Townshend secured the larger beams and window frames for the new church. And the BEST part of this story is that the remaining lumber and hardware needed was taken from the ABANDONED RACETRACK buildings in Chesapeake Beach! This is the answer to my question! What happened to the racetrack buildings that were never used!?! They went towards building a church of course!
An absolutely fantastic dichotomy of intentional use of the lumber! As reported in the Evening Star 2/24/1906 it was a “promising commentary on moral improvement.”
The original St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church in North Chesapeake Beach was dedicated in July 1906.
Plans for the altar were designed and donated by a famous local sculptor John Joseph Earley (b. 1881-1945). His studio is credited with sculpture for buildings in the DC area, including the Library of Congress, Franciscan Monastery, the main lobby of the Willard Hotel, the White House interior renovation for Roosevelt (and many more).
In addition to Mr. & Mrs. Townshend, often noted were the women that were interested in the new church who supported financially at the various fundraisers. There were musicals and teas given, a Mr. & Mrs. John M. McGill were often noted as being integral to the building and fundraising.
Mr. Townshend was born 1/3/1858 in Wilmington, NC and died in North Beach, MD on 7/10/1935. He was a Railroad Dispatcher for the B&O RR for a few years but spent most of his work life as a patent examiner for the U.S. Patent Office. He found time to build and finance homes in DC, and according to his obituary was a “pioneer of Woodley Park” and part of the original company that developed North Beach.
The present-day St. Anthony’s Church was dedicated in 1958.