Christ Church, Port Tobacco Parish an Episcopal Church was established by land grant in 1692. The county seat was moved to La Plata in 1895 and the church building was moved in 1904.
Christ Church, commanding a position in the heart of La Plata since 1904, existed in Port Tobacco probably as early as 1682, before the Province of Maryland officially formed 30 parishes by the Act of 1692. Four of the thirty parishes were in the original Charles County: William and Mary (Wayside), Port Tobacco, Durham, and Piscataway (St. John’s). Port Tobacco Parish has had an interesting history and nurtured in its congregation at least three very distinguished colonists contributing to the founding of this great nation. They are: Thomas Stone, signer of the Declaration of Independence; John Hanson, President of the Congress under the Articles of Confederation; and Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer signer of the Constitution of the United States of America. Dr. Gustavus Brown, a physician of George Washington residing at nearby Rose Hill, supported this church also.
In the early days taxes were paid in pounds of tobacco, the medium of exchange, and every taxpayer regardless of religion was levied 40 pounds for the support of the established church. In 1696 Port Tobacco and William and Mary Parishes had 250 tithables and 10,320 pounds of tobacco. Christ Church finances have suffered through the building of several structures in the 320 years of its history. In 1709 according to Town Records of the Commissioners, a petition from the Vestry of Port Tobacco Parish refers to the amount of money and tobacco already expended on the church building and begs that an additional 1000 pounds of tobacco be imposed on the parishioners. Between 1751 and 1753 another structure was built. That building eventually was destroyed by a windstorm on January 20, 1808. Between 1808 and 1816 a $20,000 lottery (the last of its kind) for a new church was provided by the Maryland Legislature with construction begun in 1815 on a site in the public square at Port Tobacco. This church was consecrated June 28, 1818. The petition (Port Tobacco Records of 1810), stating the location, indicated that the new site would be very near the old one that “hath stood on said lot for nearly a century past.” The 1815 brick church slowly deteriorated and in 1884 was torn down, and a new church of honey-colored sandstone acquired from a quarry on Aquia Creek (Stafford County, Virginia) was erected in Port Tobacco.
In 1895, a new courthouse was built in La Plata where “all the action was” following the arrival of the railroad. The dedication took place in 1896. With the prodding of the Vestry in 1900 by two very active and determined ladies of the Ladies Aid Society, Christ Church in 1904 was carefully disassembled, stones marked, and hauled by ox cart to the new site very similar in position to that in Port Tobacco next to the courthouse. The cost of moving the church was $950.00 and the cost of rebuilding it $3,850. (The land on which Christ Church now stands was purchased on June 6, 1904 from Mary A. and Adrian Posey for $321.88 and originally was part of The Hermitage, property of F. Brooke Matthews.) The leaders in this move were Mrs. Lilla Roberts and Miss Lizzie Hamilton (for whom the Hamilton-Roberts House is named) and these two ladies were appointed by the all male vestry to serve on the Building Committee. At that time before women were allowed to vote, this was considered quite an accomplishment. Through the financial aid and labors of these women and others like them in the parish, who produced church dinners, strawberry festivals, bazaars, concerts, card parties, and other events, our stately gothic church was able to be reconstructed on its present site. The first service was held on Easter Day in 1905.
Tragedy struck in 1906 when the church furnace caused a fire that destroyed stained glass windows in the church and the interior walls and part of the exterior, but records indicate that the parishioners, undaunted and generous, quickly restored the church within a few months.
Thirty-one stained glass windows grace the narthex and the sanctuary. Some are by the famed Tiffany Glass Company, and all were given as memorials to parishioners. The three large narthex windows celebrate Maryland, the Episcopal Church, and the history of Port Tobacco Parish, while the narrow windows flanking the front door feature music and flowers. In the sanctuary, the large triptych window over the altar portrays Faith (anchor), Hope (cross), and Love (Christ). The windows next to the pews are each unique, having been donated at different times, and above the pews are windows showing flowers of the Holy Land. The flower windows on the east side of the chancel portray the life of Christ, and the single window by the organ console honors church acolytes.
In the 1760’s, Dr. Gustavus Brown, physician to George Washington, donated the first organ to Christ Church. Other organs replaced it over the years. Today, a Wicks organ from Highland, Illinois, graces the sanctuary, with its 799 pipes located in the rear gallery. The tallest pipes are 16 feet high, while the shortest are smaller than a pencil.
Christ Church nearly suffered tragedy again on April 29, 2002, when a devastating tornado ripped through La Plata, destroying much in its wake, including trees, the church roof, and many windows in the parish hall and Hamilton-Roberts House, but fortunately its force was thwarted by protective covers installed in 1982 of the stained glass windows. Not one memorial window was damaged, and by the grace of God those attending a meeting in the Hamilton-Roberts House that horrific night lived to tell about it.
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Port Tobacco Parish
112 E Charles St
PO Box 760
La Plata, MD 20646
Monday - Friday
9:00 am - 1:00 pm
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