St. Barnabas

St. Barnabas is known for being a welcome and loving church in Sykesville, MD. The church has been in Sykesville since the 1840’s.


INTERVIEWER: Butch Willard is going to give us a brief history of, uh, St. Barnabas Church.

BUTCH WILLARD: Hi, this, this is just a couple pictures showing, uh, some views around St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Sykesville, Maryland. It was, uh– the cornerstone was laid in June, 1850, as this slide shows. Everyone is welcome. The one noteworthy thing about our parish is it is truly an open, warm, and loving community that welcomes all.

It has a long history. Many of these pictures shows the church back in the 1840s and the 1850s. Originally, St. Barnabas was, uh, uh, found– founded out of its mother parish, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in downtown Baltimore. And there’s a history of chapels of these being founded.

First, St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Garrison Forest. And then, later, uh, Holy Trinity. uh, Church in Eldersburg was formed. This slide shows who the best three were in the late 1700s, prior to the Revolutionary War. And it shows that– names that are still common in our community: Brown, Tevis, Dorsey, and Warfields were some of the early church leaders.

And it also talks about Reverend Robert Strawbridge, who was one of the early United Methodist founders. And in fact, at New Windsor, there’s a Strawbridge United Methodist Church that’s doing business to this day, that dates clear back to the Revolutionary War period.

This slide shows Susanna Warfield, who was one of the early founders of St. Barnabas. She lived 90 some odd years. She petitioned Bishop William Whittingham to build a chapel of ease in Sykesville, Maryland. And she and James Spikes, the– James Sykes, the founder of Sykesville, and Susanna’s parents were all busy with the best three and, uh, supporting the church and then building the church for the community of Sykesville.

The earlier church in Eldersburg had been Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. This slide shows Holy Trinity. It’s no longer there. Today, if you were to go to this location, you’d see that that ground grows a really fine garden. Uh, the old cemetery for Holy Trinity is still there today, and many of the early congregants are buried there at Holy Trinity, just behind the Bob Evans restaurant in Eldersburg.

A couple slides of the Bibles used at Holy Trinity, uh, in the early 1800s. The picture to the left is, uh, Reverend Robert Pickett. Uh, he lived in Sykesville, was the Episcopal priest, and is buried at Holy Trinity Church. When he died in the late 1800s, he was then the oldest living Episcopal minister in the United States.

This picture to our right here, actually shows, uh, Deacon Poole, later to become, uh, Father Poole, who was, uh, doing– holding services in the old Holy Trinity Church in Eldersburg. This slide shows nothing more than the location of the Holy Trinity Church.

If you fast forward to– all the way up to 1850, you’ll see Sykesville was a growing community. James Sykes was in town. He had built property and, uh, cotton and grist mill, had a factory, and were employing immigrants from England and Wales. Sykesville was growing.

The bottom left picture shows the old Sykes Hotel and the bottom right picture does as well. And they actually show Sykesville, before it was a, uh– uh, it even had a paved road.

The Chapel of Ease in Sykesville was born. Susanna Warfield to the left and Bishop Whittingham. When Barnabas was created, uh, actually Whittingham traveled from downtown Baltimore to Sykesville.

I assume on a horse. He might have taken a train. His– we actually have his minutes. He traveled 27 miles, met at James Sykes, uh, home where they had a– a congregation walk to the church and they load– laid the cornerstone with 200 people in attendance.

This slide shows his notes, where he was in town. Um. Later, the Holy Trinity Church became abandoned. It was used as a stable where they kept horses and cows and goats. Just prior to that, the Methodists– or, excuse me– the Baptists in the Eldersburg area had used the church for their services.

This slide shows, uh, an early Episcopal rectory that was built here in Sykesville in the late 1800s. It still stands today. If you go up College Avenue, you can drive right to and look down on this church, and it looks almost identical.

Susanna Warfield’s picture to the left. To the right, is the– what I believe is the old Warfield plantation, later to become the Warfield Academy for boys. It was an Episcopal champion, uh, college for, uh, youth– males.

Across the street, after Sykes had died, Marion Hugg purchased the property. He was the son of Jacob Hugg, a very successful Baltimore mariner. And this, this building stood in what is now wood. There’s old runs and foundations. This, this mansion actually burned in the 1930s.

Just a couple pictures from, uh, downtown Sykesville in the, in 1920s. The bottom picture shows a church bazaar, where many of the congregations from the various churches held their services here. This picture shows the Holy Trinity Episcopal cemetery in Eldersburg of which also there’s an– an– an Episcopal cemetery at the St. Barnabas Church, both with people interred who were born in Revolutionary and Colonial periods.

Another picture of the cemetery. This picture actually shows the Warfield’s site, which has in it buried George Frazier Warfield, his wife, Rebecca Brown Warfield, and Susanna Warfield, and her brother William Henry.

The, uh, the windows in the church are absolutely beautiful. If anybody can come, they’ll see the Christ window at– at– at the altar. Also, the various colored glass windows all date back to the 1800s, and were given by, or for, or in memory of the Warfield family or various relatives and associated families.

More slides that show those. There’s a lot of memorials to different people who have been significant, uh, champions in the church. And if, if you tour the church sometime, you’ll be able to see all the names that are noteworthy. And there’s many people have been generous for a lot of years.

INTERVIEWER: It is Thursday, April 7th, 2011, and I am here with Eleanor Mercer and Ross Brooks, the uh– some of historians from here at St. Barnus– St. Barnabas. Um. And, uh, yeah, I’m just going to ask you some questions about the history of the Church here. Um.

Uh, I had asked you this before. When do you think the congregation was at its largest, at its smallest. Is it a growing congregation?

ELEANOR MERCER: Well, uh, it’s probably at its largest right now. Um. I can remember when I first started to attend, that there might be 16 people on a Sunday, and we shared a minister, a priest from St. John’s at Ellicott City, and he would run up and do one service at St. Barnabas and then jump in his car and run to St. John’s at Ellicott City, and preach his next service. So I think that might have been the smallest congregation at that time.

INTERVIEWER: OK, and, uh, are there differences among the members of the Church, or is it a pretty homogeneous group.

ELEANOR MERCER: Oh I think we’ve blended pretty well, but of course there’s the old-timers and the new-timers.


ELEANOR MERCER: But I think that’s typical of any church.

INTERVIEWER: Good. Um. And, uh, who was the church established to serve originally? Like what, what kind of community would the church have seen in its early days?

ELEANOR MERCER: A farm community.

ROSS BROOKS: Well, also, it was– to– it was originated to serve the communicants that were living in Sykesville, uh, who had been brought over from– well, actually they immigrated from, uh, England and Wales– and this was encouraged by James Sykes. And naturally, to work at his factory, and uh– factories, I should say–

And uh, when they came over, they, they were for the most part, they had to be, uh, Church of England members. So the faith was very, very similar. Well, historically, it follows from Henry VIII on down. But um. I guess that’s about it.

INTERVIEWER: And, uh, what kind of affect did the church have or did the church history have on the Civil War in the area?

ROSS BROOKS: Well, we were in the middle of it, so to speak. I know we, um– “we”, the congregation then was, uh– there was some division in the congregation. Some northern sympathizers and other southern sympathizers. Um The Warfields, as an example, uh, who were direct sponsors of the formulation of the present church.

They were– had some slave owners and– I mean, they were slave owners, and they encouraged their slaves to go to St. Barnabas. And for that reason, there was a balcony that was built, uh, for the slaves, the seating of the slaves, and which was very common during that period. And, um, hmm–

INTERVIEWER: That’s OK. Uh, you had mentioned something about, uh, some Civil War soldiers marching through town?

ROSS BROOKS: Oh yes. General Stewart of the CSA had two columns. Actually it was one column, came right up, uh, present Route 32 and marched through town. And when they did that, they caught a couple sentries, uh, Union sentries, on the bridge– and they were supposed to be guarding it– and they were promptly taken by, um– as prisoners. And of course, as the column near– neared, the bridge was fired.

And um. And there was another column that went up through Hood’s Mill, and they joined up on Route, um– or on Liberty Road, just above the town. Eldersburg. And then they– together, they went up to Westminster. And, uh, I guess you know about the, the little battle that was fought in Westminster. And, uh, let’s see. anything else– Yeah, it was– I would imagine if I was a communicant at the time, and standing in front of St. Barnabas church, I could probably see the column as it passed by, uh, on the–

INTERVIEWER: OK, uh, you had mentioned that, uh, the St. Barnabas Parish House was used for a lot of local, uh, church bazaars and as a community meeting place. Could you talk to us a little bit about that?

ELEANOR MERCER: Yes, uh. I guess it was in 19– 1950s. We had the largest, uh, meeting place around and we would sponsor a country fair. And the different churches around would each rent a table. And the ladies would, uh, display their needlework, their knitting, their, uh, artwork. Remember the Jones sisters, local artists in Sykesville would have a table. And St. Joe’s had a table and the Methodists had a table. So it was– a good time had by all and all of the church is doing good and made some money.

INTERVIEWER: Hmm. Very nice.

ROSS BROOKS: It generally lasted, what, three days?

ELEANOR MERCER: Three days. Uh-huh. And we had meals, sold food. So, it was very nice.

INTERVIEWER: Very exciting. Um, you had talked a little bit about some services uh, in your earlier days of the Church that were done by candlelight?

ELEANOR MERCER: Uh, yes. I remember attending a Christmas Eve service where the church was lit by candlelight, and I was very impressed. I was a Methodist. I went with my to-be husband, and, um, I thought it was just beautiful. Of course, St. Barnabas is very beautiful inside.

Uh, there was two great big candelabras that had double rows of candles that went up. They’re now at the, um, museum of Sykesville. And, of course, we were always amused, because the little acolytes sometimes couldn’t reach all the way up to light the candles, and sometimes they almost knocked the candles out, onto the floor, but that made things exciting.

INTERVIEWER: There you go. How did World War II affect not just the Church, but the community?

ELEANOR MERCER: Well, you would notice that some of the farmers wouldn’t make it to the Sunday services because they were out in their field working, because everybody in the US worked around the clock every day. The factories and everything else, so the farmers also were out, harvesting and flouring and doing their thing too.


ROSS BROOKS: A little taste of the, uh, not the real war, but the real enemy– opposition. They were brought into the area and they were allowed to work on farms.

ELEANOR MERCER: Prisoners of war.

ROSS BROOKS: Yeah, prisoners of war. And, uh, I know that that happened in Howard county as well. Here too.

ELEANOR MERCER: Yes, we had some on our farm, and, uh, a guard, or two guards would drive them in in the morning and they would work on the farm. And we’d have to feed them. And of course, they’d sit around talking German and we didn’t know what they were saying, but it’s very interesting. I know I was scared to death. Um. They were probably very glad to be working on a farm, instead of shooting each other, and us.

ROSS BROOKS: I know my wife, um, had an aunt just across the, uh, river on Route– what is it– 7, I guess it is. In any event, she and her friend would come up with stay with her aunt for the summer, and that was one of the interesting things that they were aware of. Some of these German soldiers apparently were quite good looking.

ELEANOR MERCER: Right. Blonds.

ROSS BROOKS: Blonds, many of them, and they would flirt with them.

ELEANOR MERCER: Right. That’s true. And you’d fix a great big thrashing meal in the center of the day– in the middle of the day. It was a lot of work, but they did the farm work.

INTERVIEWER: Very interesting. What about some of the more current conflicts, uh, you had some soldiers and sailors overseas for the Gulf Wars and Afghanistan?

ROSS BROOKS: One of our, um, communicants was a reserve Naval officer and, uh, he was, uh, displaced from his family, and put in, um, Kuwait. And I think he was over there for about six months, and uh, I used to communicate on a regular basis with him. You know, letter writing and that sort of thing.

He said after he got back, um, you know, he, he always enjoyed receiving mail. And naturally, every serviceman does. And, uh, he shared a number of my letters with some of the other fellas, so–

ELEANOR MERCER: And that’s part of our outreach, too. We send packages overseas to our servicemen. You know, playing cards, candy, books, whatever we think that they could use. So we still do that.

INTERVIEWER: Very good. And, um– And I guess, uh, could you just talk a little bit about September 11th, and how that affected the church in the community, and how the Church responded to that. Well, you want to talk?


ROSS BROOKS: Well, in any event, um.

ELEANOR MERCER: Father Earl touched on that.

ROSS BROOKS: Yes he did. And he uh– he called a meeting for the evening of, um, September the 11th, 1951, I mean, 1991, I believe it was, anyhow. And just about everybody in the parish attended and was very prayerful. And for the most part, was very, uh, supportive.

Like any other group, uh, there were a few people that were against the Gulf War, and I think most of us were against war in general, but by the same token, we had no choice. And um. So, it– from that standpoint, it, uh, it stood alone. I don’t know whether any other churches in the community had similar services, but they probably did.

ELEANOR MERCER: I was like grief counseling. We got up and we, you know, spoke about how we felt about it. That was most of the, um, service. And then of course, we had a prayer service afterwards.


INTERVIEWER: Anything else you guys want to talk about, that the Church does or has done in the past or, uh, effect that it’s had on the community at all, anything really that you want to talk about?

ELEANOR MERCER: Not that I know of.

ROSS BROOKS: I know that we are an annual participant in the, um, annual Sykesville celebration, and uh, for the most part, we serve food. And uh.

ELEANOR MERCER: Don’t forget our pancake Shrove Tuesday.

ROSS BROOKS: Oh, that’s right. That’s right.

ELEANOR MERCER: We have reputation for our Shrove Tuesday pancake days.


ELEANOR MERCER: Sausage and pancakes. We have quite a following. But mostly, I would like to say that we’re a friendly church and we welcome everyone.

INTERVIEWER: Well, all right.