Christ Rock Church renovations started — August 6 2012

CAMBRIDGE — A small but enthusiastic crowd gathered July 17 to watch Christ Rock Church raised up four feet from its foundation — the first step toward its renovation.

Wolfe House and Building Movers of Bernville, Pa., proved up to the task of raising the circa 1875 church, working for building contractor Victor MacSorley. MacSorley and his crew can now begin the task of building a new foundation, onto which the historic church should be settled in a few weeks. Then Wolfe house movers will return to carry out a reverse operation of Tuesday afternoon’s job.

Renovation of Christ Rock Church is finally possible through the efforts of the Friends of the Stanley Institute — the one-room schoolhouse across the road from the church. Both buildings have important roles in the history of the black community in this area.

Friends of the Stanley Institute President Herschel Johnson credits his entire organization for working to raise nearly $350,000, primarily through grants, to finance renovation of Christ Rock Church. It is, in part, because of this effort that Johnson recently received the Heart of Chesapeake Country Heritage Area’s Individual Achievement Award, though Johnson credits all of the members of the organization.

Johnson said the project has received a total of $250,000 in grants from the Maryland Historical Trust, including two $100,000 grants through its African American Heritage Preservation program. A total $100,000 in matching funds is also required for these grants, nearly all of which has been raised, Johnson said, through fundraising and donations.

Once a new foundation has been created and the old church has been set back in place, MacSorley said, the church will receive new siding, shutters, some new windows to match existing stained-glass windows and other improvements.

The goal, Johnson said, is to restore Christ Rock Church as it appears in a 1931 photograph in the Stanley Institute museum’s collection. The photograph was taken 20 years after the last renovation of the church in 1911.

Looking at the old timbers revealed in preparation for raising the structure, MacSorley points to beams original to the 1875 structure and believes siding matching from 1889 suggests that is when the bell tower was added to the church.

One mystery is found on the back of the church’s cornerstone. The front of the cornerstone duly notes that dates of construction and renovation of the church in Cambridge.

The back of the stone reads, “Simpson Chapel, the Rev. C.A. Horsey, 1889 — the same year the major renovation, with the bell tower addition, occurred at Christ Rock Church.

An Internet search shows a Simpson Chapel United Methodist Church in Rio Grande, Ohio, and a Simpson Memorial Chapel in the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

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