CENTENARY – A BRIEF HISTORY
- The first Methodist stronghold in this area began with a great revival in Moore’s Chapel (now Mt. Pleasant Church). So many were converted, it was impractical to try to house the classes in the Chapel. Leaders began to hold classes in their homes. George Adams, one of these leaders, lived on a farm about one mile south of Odd Fellow’s Cemetery gate. This group grew, and felt they were far enough away from the Chapel to organize a society of their own. Plans were made, money collected, and a movement launched to erect a church in 1802. It was named Zion Meeting House.
The site selected was the one we now occupy and a Bond of Conveyance, which gave them the right to build, was secured from the owners.
- To fully comply with the law, a congregational meeting was called to elect trustees and incorporate the Church. Trustees elected were Samuel Williams Jr., George Armstrong, William Polk, Henry Bacon, Thomas Townsend, Samuel Jacobs, and Joshua McGee. These and their successors in office were to hold the property in trust for the congregation forever. We have a hand written copy of this deed which states for the sum of “one hundred dollars, current money in the State of Delaware”, that Thomas and Eleanor Skinner, his wife, grants unto the trustees lot number 31 on which Zion Meeting House of the Methodist Episcopal Church now stands. Eleanor Skinner was a daughter and heir of Barkley Townsend who laid out “Laureltown” in 1802.
The first church on this corner of Back and Corn Streets, now Market and Poplar Streets, was plain, substantial, 36 x 40 feet, gallery around three sides, no heating, and lighted by pine knots stuck in earthen sconces. Benches were hewn planks without backs.
- A motion was passed by the Trustees to give the building to the colored people, and erect a new church on the same spot occupied by the first Zion. Trustees were appointed to remove the building and continue to hold it in trust for the colored people, since no colored man could hold public property at that time. The building was moved to Townsend Street and became their first church. It continued to be their home until we sold them another church and the first one became the first colored school for the town. This building was evidently torn down about 1924 to make room for their new cement block building.
New Zion was larger than the old - 40 x 50 feet, with a gallery – and was the first in Laurel to be lighted with lamps and heated with stoves.
- Another great revival was held and so many were converted the church could not hold all its people. A larger building was needed. It was framed in the yard of Isaac W. Sirman, and on the removal of New Zion for the black people to use as their second church, the frame was moved to the site of the other two churches and reassembled.
The church was 48 x 70 feet, two story, with a high spire in the front center which faced Market Street. Inside was a vestibule with winding stairs leading to the auditorium located on the second floor. Directly in front of the main entrance was a hall leading to the Sunday School rooms. It was heated by tall furnaces placed on the first floor with pipes leading through the upper floor. It was carpeted and had oil lamps.
The matter of a name was debated at great length. Two Zions could easily be differentiated as “Old” and “New”, but a third Zion? At this time, the general Methodist Church was beginning preparation for the Centennial of American Methodism and under these circumstances; the congregation took the name of Centenary.
- Records indicate that stained glass windows were added when the church was repaired and changed at this time. An alcove was built on the south end for their first pipe organ. The total cost of these improvements was $2,000.
These first stained glass windows were reportedly moved into the current building. Were they designed and built by William Reith of Philadelphia? None of them are signed, but we know that he did not always sign his work. He had established his own business in 1887, and erected a five-story office/manufacturing facility, built to his specifications, on the west side of 134 Seventh St., Philadelphia. A great-great granddaughter is in possession of a medal awarded to him for work submitted in competition at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 1893. In 1901, his catalogue refers to work “all over the United States”.
- The General Conference ruled that there should be an Official Board to control the financial and official projects of the church. We have this first minute book, in the fine penmanship of Victor C. Hitchens. This book reports the activities of Centenary during the period of construction of the present building by William D. Haddock and Co. of Wilmington. Mr. Leon Crawford, also of Wilmington, was the architect.
- Ground was broken for the new Centenary Church on September 7, and the minutes read “the Rev. George C. Williams, pastor of the church, turning a shovel full of dirt, being assisted in the operation by Orlando V. Wootten, Jr., the two year old grandson of John W. Wootten, who designed the old church.”
The last service in the old building was on July 11. It was then dismantled, the material taken to Delmar, and used in the construction of several houses which are located on the west side of US 13A, just after crossing the Maryland State line.
1912 New Centenary was dedicated on September 22, of this year.
- The Educational Building was completed and dedication services were held in September of this year.
During this same construction period, changes were made in the sanctuary, which included enlarging the choir loft, moving the pulpit forward to improve acoustics, and fully opening a center aisle.
- Construction took place to restore the choir loft and chancel areas to recapture the design originally built into the church to enhance the physics and acoustics.