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Parish History

A Short History of the Church of the Holy Trinity, Oxford

In 1850 getting to church could be a problem, particularly if one lived on Oxford Neck. White Marsh Church, at today’s intersection of Route 50 and Manadier Road, was about six-miles distant; Christ Church in Easton about twice that. These two churches comprised St. Peter’s Parish. There being no bridges over Trippe and Peach Blossom Creeks, the route to Easton followed Almshouse Road and Old Trappe Road respectively. To White Marsh Church one followed Almshouse Road right to the church’s door. Travel to Easton by horse drawn conveyance was a three-hour journey though a rider on horseback would cover the distance quicker. General Tench Tilghman, grandson of the famous aide to General George Washington, was a member of the St. Peter’s Parish Vestry. He petitioned the vestry to establish a “separate congregation” in Oxford. His reasoning included the distance to the St. Peter’s churches which must be traveled by the hundred or so congregants living on Oxford Neck, this travel influenced by time and weather. The petition was not received kindly by General Tilghman’s fellow vestrymen. General Tilghman and his allies persevered, however, and at the Sixty-Third Annual Convention of the Diocese of Maryland in May of 1851, approval was finally granted for a church to be formed in Oxford.

General Tilghman resigned from the vestry of St. Peter’s Parish and focused on the new church in Oxford. On August 11, 1851, the founders met and decided that the new church would be called the “Church of the Holy Trinity.” Soon after, the first vestry was elected. And, of course, General Tilghman was predominant.

On Easter Monday, May 15, 1852 the vestry met as was required by the constitution of the new Church of the Holy Trinity. The name of Mr. Richard Upjohn was reflected for the first time in the minutes of this meeting. General Tilghman had already invited Mr. Upjohn to visit Oxford and discuss a design for the new church.

Richard Upjohn was an Englishman and noted ecclesiastical architect specializing in Episcopal churches of an early English style, particularly churches of small congregations. He had published a book of designs for less affluent churches entailed Upjohn’s Rural Architecture. He founded the American Institute of Architects in 1857. General Tilghman wanted the best; Mr. Upjohn was retained. Upjohn provided plans in just three weeks’ time and included “a Nave, Chancel, Vestry, Robing Room, south Porch and Steeple, and so arranged as to be extended if necessary at any future time by the addition of one or more transepts.” Similarly, the bell tower-steeple could be added later if desired.

At the December 13th meeting of the vestry, Mr. H. F. M. Whitesides of the Diocese of Connecticut was deemed to be “the most suitable person for the Rector of the Congregation.” On New Year’s Day of 1853 Mr. Whitesides accepted his call. General Tilghman informed him that work would begin on the new church building in the spring, materials having already been acquired. Services would be conducted at the Maryland Military Academy in Oxford until the new church became available. The first “parochial report” given at the 1853 convention stated that 15 communicants were attending the academy services, a few less than the 100 predicted by General Tilghman in his petition to the vestry of St. Peter’s Parish.

In 1855 a fire destroyed most of the Maryland Military Academy. For myriad reasons, it was not rebuilt and many of its faculty left Oxford. The church building at that time consisted of some partially built walls. In 1861 the War Between the States commenced and the families of Oxford, like those of the remainder of the nation, focused on the horrors of citizens warring against citizens. Communicants from Holy Trinity met in the new St. Paul’s church in Trappe but remained a separate body.

General Tilghman never worshipped in the little church Mr. Upjohn designed and to which he had devoted so much energy and time. The partially completed church became overgrown with vines and looked more like ancient ruins than a church under construction. But, finally, construction was resumed and the first services were held August 26, 1894. The church thrived while reflecting the up and downs of the times and the many ups and downs of the town of Oxford. In October of 1945 a catastrophic fire gutted the little stone church.

The Church of the Holy Trinity might be called “the little church that could.” Soon after the fire, congregants and the vestry began efforts to augment the insurance proceeds which were estimated to be only half what was needed to restore the church. The Church of the Holy Trinity became famous for its “oyster suppers” the oysters for which were donated by watermen, many of whom were congregants. Parishioners secured loans guaranteed by be their homes; donations were received from family members who had long since moved but whose hearts were still in the church in which they were baptized or confirmed, the little stone church in Oxford, bazaars and oyster suppers and fund raisers of every kind all added to the rebuilding fund. The Church of the Holy Trinity opened its doors again for Christmas services 1947.

Today the Church of the Holy Trinity continues to offer its warmth and its beautiful setting to all of the Oxford community, its visitors and travelers arriving by boat and by land, offering the love and message of Jesus Christ. The church is a fine example of architecture of the now very famous Richard Upjohn with beautiful stained glass windows by the also famous Willet Studios. The church grounds and the peaceful columbarium adjacent to the Tred Avon River seem to say, “Rest. Enjoy this gift from God.”

Much of this offering was taken from The Church of the Holy Trinity, The First 150 Years produced by The Holy Trinity History Committee in 2001 and available at the church.