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A Brief History of Zion United Methodist Church

Zion Church, first known as Garrettson Chapel, has a rich heritage dating back to 1780, just twenty years after the first Methodist Societies were formed in America in 1760 and four years before the first General Conference, the 1784 Christmas Conference at Lovely Lane Chapel in Baltimore, at which the Methodist Episcopal Church was founded. At that conference Francis Asbury and Freeborn Garrettson among others were ordained elder, and Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke were appointed Superintendents, an office later to be known as Bishop.

The first Methodist sermon in Dorchester County was preached by Rev. Freeborn Garrettson in 1779 at the home of Squire Airey, near Salem, Maryland. There was so much excitement caused by the preaching of Wesley’s Methodist doctrine, that in 1780, Garrettson was arrested at the home of Mr. Airey for preaching without a Maryland license and imprisoned for 16 days in the old Cambridge Jail, which stood at what is now 613 Locust Street directly across the street from the present Zion Church parsonage. The town’s people fed Garrettson through the jail window where he daily held church services. Through the efforts of Francis Asbury, Governor Thomas S. Lee of Maryland, President Caesar Rodney of Delaware, and with his bail paid by Mr. Airey, Garrettson was released from jail. Dorchester County remained a “hotbed of Methodism!”

Zion claims Freeborn Garrettson as one of its founders. In fact, the three stained glass windows in the side of our current sanctuary depict (l-r) John Wesley, Francis Asbury, and Freeborn Garrettson. Garrettson hall is also named after Freeborn Garrettson. Up until 1800, the congregation of Garrettson Chapel was a Methodist Society likely meeting in people’s homes. In 1800, a lot on the west corner of Mill and Church Streets (now 312 Mill St.) was purchased and Garrettson Chapel, later known as Zion Chapel, was erected. On April 18, 1802, Bishops Asbury and Whatcoat visited the new Chapel.

By 1845 the congregation had outgrown its building on the west corner of Mill and Church Streets. The trustees decided to relocate the church to the northwest side of Race street about midway between Muir Street and Gay Street. The cornerstone of the new church was laid in 1845 and the building was dedicated on August 19, 1846 by Bishop Edmund Storer Janes. The building was built of granite, pointed and penciled with a 166 foot high steeple. The building was remodeled in 1881 and again in 1908.
On Saturday, July 31, 1910, a fire was discovered in the hay loft of LeCompt & Harper’s stables at 2:20 am and subsequently swept through the Cambridge business district destroying homes, businesses, warehouses, and Zion Methodist Episcopal Church. While devastated by the loss, the congregation immediately made plans for Sunday School which was held that same day at 2:15 pm at the Old Auditorium Theater on Gay Street where the old City Hall now stands. Services were subsequently held at Phillips Hall on the corner of Gay and Muse Streets where the armory now stands. Phillips Hall was the temporary home of Zion until the new building was completed. The value of the building was estimated at $25,000, but the church only had $9,500 in insurance. Regardless, the trustees stated that “no time will be lost in rebuilding.” This would not be the only time that the Zion congregation’s building would be totally destroyed by fire.
In September, 1910 the Trustees purchased the lot on Locust Street for $10,000, where the present Zion was built at a cost of $85,000. The first service was held in 1912. Fourteen years later, the mortgage was burned in 1926.
On January 1, 1950, a devastating fire totally destroyed Zion Church, which was still in debt from the remodeling of 1949. Though shocked and saddened, the congregation, under the leadership of the Rev. Alton S. Miller, had the determination to go forward.

The decision was made to rebuild. Assistance came from the entire community. The rebuilding was completed in 1952. On Sunday, October 29, 1967, the mortgage burning ceremony was held during the pastorate of the Rev. Otho G. Brewer, Jr.

Through the generosity of Capt. Levi B. Phillips, Sr. who died in 1946 leaving Zion a legacy, a lovely parsonage was built next to the church. Constructed of granite, it was dedicated in 1952.

The Phillips-Roszelle Memorial Church Parlor was planned during the pastorate of Dr. John E. French.

In 1968, when the Methodist Church merged with the Evangelical United Brethren Church and Zion became Zion United Methodist Church, the senior pastor, Dr. Howard M. Amoss, was a delegate.

During the pastorate of the Rev. William H. Owens an Endowment Fund was established in 1972.

In 1973 a History and Records Room was decorated and furnished by Mr. and Mrs. Granville Hooper. The Book of Remembrance contains many important gifts made to Zion by its devoted members.

The Zion congregation is grateful for the rich blessings God has bestowed throughout the long and eventful history of our church and pray that God’s guiding hand may continue to lead us in the future as in the past.