At a first glance, Washington's Dumbarton Church is a handsome example of its 19th-century style, but nothing special enough to compel a stream of visitors. Just a handsome neighborhood church.
But not. It is, among other things, the 'mother church' of all of Washington's other signficiant Methodist churches and is one of the oldest continuously active Methodist churches in the world, celebrating its 250th year. In its early days, it was nearly unique in welcoming both white and free Black worshipers, as well as enslaved people with their masters.
During the Civil War, it served as an emergency hospital for the wounded of Bull Run, and its Abolitionist bishop, Matthew Simpson, was a friend and confidante of Lincoln, who visited at the church. Before the Civil War,
All that considered, the banner over the main entrance has deeper meaning than in many other places. And yet, as with so many other stories, it's complicated. In 1813, many of the Black members, who had been seated only in the balcony, left to form Mt Zion church, which continued to be affiliated with Dumbarton. Abolitionist bishop notwithstanding, the church badly split when the war started, and members served on both sides.
The Civil War era didn't mark the end of activism at Dumbarton, with members involved in many causes. In recent years that's included not only civil rights but also the movement for statehood for the District of Columbia. Some of the quilts and other items on display inside are part of that campaign.
The church as we see it now, obviously, is a far cry from 1772, and it's also a far cry from the building it put up in 1849 to fit its growing membership. The Romanesque facade and styling date to 1897, which is also when nearly all of the current stained-glass windows were installed.
The church is on Dumbarton Street, a quiet street a short walk from busy Wisconsin Avenue, which is lined with shops and eating places. Dumbarton Street, by the way, is one of the few to keep its name when Georgetown was rolled into Washington in 1871.
And congratulations to George G, who recognized our One-Clue Mystery!