A tradition that began in a shady grove on Watersville Road in 1857 was continued Saturday when 65 Davis descendants gathered to celebrate the restoration of their historic family church.
Davis Meetinghouse, also known as the Carroll Primitive Baptist Church, is nestled on a peaceful corner on the outskirts of Mount fTC Airy. The 25-by-35-foot wooden structure has been the setting for Davis family get-togethers of varying frequencies since it was built 137 years ago.
The newly painted white building with its green shutters and doors stands as a testimony of the importance of family and tradition. Like their forefathers who created the sturdy church from hand-hewn beams and boards, Davis kin worked together over the past six months to sand, scrape, paint, patch, repair and rewire the building for future family use.
With the exception of painting and plastering, an all-volunteer work force restored the meetinghouse, said Sykesville resident Nimrod Davis. The church retains much of its original decor including the pulpit, pews and pine flooring.
One of its two chimneys was torn down and electric fixtures were added years ago, he said.
Mr. Davis, who has been president of the Davis Foundation for the past two years, said ground for the church was donated from the large estate of Henry Shipley Davis.
"Amos Davis, my great-great-grandfather, donated $700 for [construction of] the church," he said. "At one time the entire Davis family lived within four to five miles of the church."
Mr. Davis grew up near the church in Watersville -- a town that has "slipped away" through the years. In the 1930s, when he was a youngster, the town was declining but still had a store, post office, hotel and train station.
"In 1894, when Mount Airy was incorporated, Watersville was larger than Mount Airy," he said.
Long ago, church services, held once or twice a month at the meetinghouse, kept the Davis family close.
Mary Shutt, a Fallston resident and eldest Davis descendant, remembers holiday trips from her Harford County home to attend family church services at the Davis Meetinghouse. She remembers there was "great singing" during the services and bountiful after-church buffet lunches.
"It was the kind of church where everyone was hugging . . . each other -- an old-fashioned church," Mrs. Shutt said.
The meetinghouse also has a long history of use by the Primitive Baptist Church that continues to the present. Mr. Davis said his cousin, the late Frances Elliott, was a "mainstay in keeping the church in operation." The Davis Foundation was formed in the early 1980s "when the church tried to assume ownership of the building," he said.
The birth of the foundation resulted in the creation of a master address list of all known Davis descendants -- it now lists 125 families. The tradition of holding family meetings was resurrected by the foundation about 10 years ago with the start of annual Davis reunions.
Saturday's reunion featured a pit-cooked beef, music and a table brimming with food prepared to share with Davis relatives. A chart of the Davis family tree helped participants retrace their lineage. The day also featured a cake auction and a brief $H foundation meeting.
Mrs. Shutt, the daughter of Virginia Harriet Richmond Davis Fleming and George Fleming, was honored at the reunion for funding the restoration with a $5,000 donation.
"The church looked lovely and the people all came and enjoyed the day," she said. "There's elegance in simplicity, and that's exactly what that church shows."
The importance of preserving the church for future family use was a tradition passed to Mrs. Shutt by her "Aunt Frances and Aunt Georgie."
"I'm trying to keep the church occupied and in order," she said. "Wooden buildings go down very quickly -- you have to keep them up."
"The church goes on," said Mrs. Shutt. "If you're a Davis, you go to the yearly meeting."
Mr. Davis also recognizes importance of tradition. The retired construction manager said he joined the Carroll County Genealogical Society and has spent some time tracing the origins of the Davis family.
He said they may be descendants of Sir James Davis, the Englishman who owned the Virginia Company.
"I knew we were English," he said. "I didn't realize the family tree went that far!"
Just a reminder that Meet-the-Teacher Night and the school year's first PTA meeting will be held at Winfield Elementary beginning at 7 p.m. Sept. 8.