Otterbein Church (Baltimore, Maryland)

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Otterbein Church
Otterbein Church MD1.jpg
Old Otterbein Church in 2012
Otterbein Church (Baltimore, Maryland) is located in Baltimore
Otterbein Church (Baltimore, Maryland)
Location 112 West Conway Street at South Sharp Street, Baltimore
Coordinates 39°17′4″N 76°37′2″W / 39.28444°N 76.61722°W / 39.28444; -76.61722Coordinates: 39°17′4″N 76°37′2″W / 39.28444°N 76.61722°W / 39.28444; -76.61722
Built 1785
Architect Small, Jacob, Sr.
Architectural style Georgian architecture
Governing body Private
NRHP Reference #


Added to NRHP October 28, 1969

"Otterbein Church", now known as "Old Otterbein United Methodist Church", is a historic United Brethren church located in Baltimore, United States. The first "German Reformed" church was built to serve the German Reformed and some Evangelical Lutheran immigrants, and later entered the Brethren strain of German Reformed Protestantism in the later Church of the United Brethren in Christ. It is a two-story brick Georgian structure with a peaked roof, built 1785-1786, and features a square bell tower and an octagonal white "cupola-on-cupola", with much of the original wavy, hand-blown glass window panes still remaining. It had a major remodeling occurring in 1839, and some additional cleaning and restoration of its exterior brick walls and wall-fence surrounding the parish. The tower's bells date to 1789, and are still in use. That same year, the first Conference of United Brethren preachers was held and resulted in the official organization of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, with Pastor Philip William Otterbein, (1726-1813) as a bishop (five years after he participated in the "laying on" of hands on famous evangelist and missionary Francis Asbury, (1745-1816), ordained as the first bishop of the new Methodist Episcopal Church. He was later buried in the adjacent churchyard, surrounding the building.[2]

Old Otterbein Church was for decades surrounded for many blocks in every direction by very densely packed neighborhoods of rowhouses, businesses and factories/manufacturies, just east of the landmark Camden Street Station (built 1857-1866), and its railroad yards and longest warehouse in America for the famous Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, (first in America), and three blocks west of "The Basin" (now "Inner Harbor" area), of the Northwest Branch of the Patapsco River, with the crucial Harbor Port recently revitalized and known to tourists around the world).

In the last two decades, most of these former structures with houses, warehouses and factories have been razed and replaced in 1992 by the Oriole Park at Camden Yards baseball stadium which lies in its shadow, the new Baltimore Convention Center, built 1979, with a large 2002 addition, and several large glass-towered hotels of national chains, to its west, east and north.

To the south, is a large several-block sizeed remnant of the former classic "working-man's" small two-story brick rowhouses, some of which were torn down in Phase One for a proposed cross-town routing of Interstate 95, before long and sustained citizen protests and demonstrations re-routed the expressway further south where it skirts the residential neighborhoods of old South Baltimore and nearby historic Federal Hill, south of Locust Point to the Fort McHenry Tunnel and under the Baltimore Harbor/Patapsco River.

In the late 1970s, the spared rowhouses were offered up to prospective "urban homesteaders" for the famous "dollar a house" and were gradually renovated, updated and restored with additional homes and "row-house-like" apartments and condos constructed in between the older housing fabric, resulting in "Otterbein now being one of Baltimore's showcase neighborhoods visited now by thousands of tourists who stroll its now tree-shaded streets every week-end. Additional renovations and restorations have spread further southeast to the historically ancient black community of "Sharp-Leadenshall" (named for the two intersecting streets), which also had some new housing complexes built that have held their value in the decades since.

To the northwest of the old historic, now landmark church, jumping across the Camden Yards sports complex, the older community-shattering "urban renewal" style of the 1940's to 50's and 60's had spared also those neighborhoods, so "Pigtown"/Washington Village, Ridgely's Delight" with projects of individual house rows and new replica housing along West Barre Street and South Paca Street all the way to the "west-side" of downtown Baltimore's old "Loft District" along West Pratt, Lombard and Redwood Streets between South Howard Street with most of the major clothing and hat manufacturing structures that dominated American menswear business of the late 19th and early 20th Century (spared by the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904, are still there with their solid red-brick Romanesque architecture styles converted over into expensive apartments/condominiums. To the west end of these substantially changed areas is the new "inner beltway" around downtown of the landscaped parkway of Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard connecting into Russell Street extending into the Baltimore-Washington Parkway of Interstate 295 and running parallel to Interstate 395, which both exiting the downtown district of the city to the southwest alongside the other western end of the Camden Yards baseball and football stadiums, which crowd the surrounding streets near the church with sports fans several times a week in season.

The congregation played an important part in the early days and the organization of several American Protestant denominations. In the next century, the original Church of the United Brethren in Christ merged with the Evangelical Association later Evangelical Church to form the Evangelical United Brethren Church (E.U.B.). Meanwhile, on a parallel course, their former German and English Reformed Protestant brothers and sisters from the late 18th Century, which had evolved into the several Methodist Churches. After cooperating with the handful of other American Methodist denominations which had split during the mid-19th Century, first over the role of the historic supervising office of bishops. Methodist EPISCOPAL versus Methodist PROTESTANT Churches - where the word Greek word "episkopos" is used for the supervising "bishop", and the "M.E." Church felt it was important for the Methodists to continue with whereas the opposing simpler "M.P." 's counted on more local congregational authority. Later the other split, which also occurred and ripped apart most other American churches of the time, was over the issue of slavery, with the withdrawal of the Southern congregations into the Methodist Episcopal Church South. The three however unified in a celebrated historic ceremony in 1939, forming The Methodist Church, which brought "the family" back together again.

Then 29 years later, the Methodists reached out across their house to their fellow old German and English Reformed who were so close to them in the Colonial period, who had now been merged into the "E.U.B." Church since XXXX, to join them in 1968 with a wider fellowship now of the disciples of John, (1703-1791), and Charles Wesley, (1707-1788), former Anglican priests who advanced the popular enthusiastic revival of the faith to the old Anglicans in what they perceived as the stuffy old Church of England with those that their fellow missionaries Asbury, Strawbridge and B bb cooperated and fellowshipped with two hundred years before. This was now the wider evangelical and reformed Protestant heritage which came down to a new The United Methodist Church, which was now the second largest church body in America.

Now the old Otterbein Church which uniquely, more than any other congregation in America, had a hand on both sides and a heritage going back now some 230 years. With the new life and neighborhood and city visitors streaming past the ancient brick walls, enabled the congregation to reach out for a third century of mission to its new South Baltimore neighbors.

Otterbein Church was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969, which is maintained by the National Park Service of the United States Department of the Interior. With the creation in the mid 2000s of the new BaltimoreCity National Heritage numerous large plaques with illustrations and text have been posted around the downtown area along with a simultaneous publication of a map and brochure plus internet website, with tour guides leading various themed tours from the "Inner Harbor" visitors center pavilion, with prominent places published about the Old Otterbein Church and its structure and religious heritage.


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2008-04-15. 
  2. ^ "Maryland Historical Trust". Otterbein Church, Baltimore City. Maryland Historical Trust. 2008-11-21. 

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