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Harford designates 135-year-old historically Black church as county landmark

The 135 year-old Clark's Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church located in the 2000 block of Kalmia Road in Bel Air has been designated as a Harford County Historic Landmark. The church has one of the oldest historically Black congregations in the Bel Air area.
The 135 year-old Clark's Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church located in the 2000 block of Kalmia Road in Bel Air has been designated as a Harford County Historic Landmark. The church has one of the oldest historically Black congregations in the Bel Air area. (Matt Button / The Aegis)

At any one point during a pre-pandemic church services, Clark’s Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church had at least four generations under its roof. Its heritage and history run deep and have been formally recognized with the church’s designation this week as a Harford County historic landmark.

The 135-year-old Bel Air church has one of the oldest, historically Black congregations in the Bel Air area.

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Curtis White, the vice chair of the church’s board of trustees said the designation was more than a formality, but a commemoration of those congregants who came before them, some of whose families are still on the church’s roster.

“For those ancestors and people who came before us, it was, I felt, how to pay homage to make sure their work and dedication and what they believed in just does not go to the wayside,” he said.

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County Executive Barry Glassman requested the designation for the church and adjacent graveyard, which was unanimously approved by the Harford County Historic Preservation Commission, and by a vote of the County Council on Tuesday.

A corner stone carved with the year 1883 located on the 135 year-old Clark's Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church located in the 2000 block of Kalmia Road in Bel Air. The church, which has one of the oldest historically Black congregations in the Bel Air area and was recently designated as a Harford County Historic Landmark.
A corner stone carved with the year 1883 located on the 135 year-old Clark's Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church located in the 2000 block of Kalmia Road in Bel Air. The church, which has one of the oldest historically Black congregations in the Bel Air area and was recently designated as a Harford County Historic Landmark. (Matt Button / The Aegis)

The one-story, stucco stone church was built on Kalmia Road between 1883 and 1885 as a replacement for an even earlier building. The congregation, originally comprised of free and enslaved African Americans, has occupied the property since 1855.

“We are proud to protect this important piece of Harford’s history during Black History Month,” Glassman said in a statement. “With this designation, we can preserve the building and the story of its African-American congregation for future generations.”

The church is predominantly Black, but its doors have long been open to anyone of any race, White said, and its congregation of about 100 reflects that. The church is currently conducting services through Zoom during the pandemic, and though congregants miss the building itself, they are close-knit and can stay in touch with their church-families other ways.

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“Even though we are not physically in that church, we can still call and talk to our members, our fellow congregants,” White said. “We are not missing a beat, but we miss being in our home.”

According to a background report compiled by the Harford County Historic Preservation Commission, the church’s new designation comes with limitations on development of the property to keep its character.

“Once designated a Harford County Historic Landmark, all future uses, subdivision, alteration and new construction on the Clark’s Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church property shall be appropriate to the historic character of the property, its setting and the surrounding area,” the report states.

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