Deteriorating 19th c. Black Church & Cemetery Reborn as Small Museum & Meeting Place
Cherry Hill AUMP Church in Granite, MD
April 23, 2015
Today, we visited the results of a project almost fifteen years in the making – the historic Cherry Hill African United Methodist Protestant (AUMP) Church (BA-2399). It’s just one project among others being spearheaded by local African American historian and author, Louis Diggs.
The small “colored church,” as it was commonly called, is in Granite, MD, in western Baltimore County. It’s located on Offutt Road, one block east of an intersection with Granite Road.
The church was built in 1887 and served a black community from western Baltimore County in the wake of emancipation and the Civil War in the late 19th century. Although the black community that pooled its funds and efforts to build the one-room church dispersed for unknown reasons, their wooden structure surprisingly survived for decades after they left. But by the late 1990s and early 2000s it was on the verge of collapse due to neglect, disrepair and a lack of interest or funding.
According to Beverly Griffith, quoted in an article dated Feb. 23, 2000, “the black population around Granite in the late 1800s was one of the five largest black settlements in Baltimore County. Blacks worked in the quarries alongside Irish, German, Scottish and Italian immigrants.” (Community Times)
Numerous quarries dotted Baltimore County’s western region, and it wasn’t uncommon for emancipated African Americans to settle close to the same area where they were once enslaved, or to lease land from large property owners or former slave holders.
Images from the late 1990s reveal Mother Nature almost overtook the small wooden structure. In 2001, a Girl Scout troop engaged in cleanup efforts on the landscape around the structure. Finally, in 2009, $300,000 in grant funding was appropriated for renovations and restoration of the structure thanks to the efforts of Louis Diggs, Richard Lee, Lenwood Johnson, state Del. Adrienne A. Jones and the Friends of Historical Cherry Hill AUMP, Inc.
Arthur Hirsch described the condition of the building in the Baltimore Sun prior to the start of the project: “The roof buckles here and there, the foundation admits sunlight in places and dry vines cling to the wooden walls and ceiling. Graffiti scrawlers got inside…. The piano that once filled the tiny church with ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’ lies broken on its back in a corner.”
Today, the project is nearing completion. The site is on the verge of becoming a small museum and meeting place to harbor the stories of enslaved and emancipated African Americans and their communities in Granite and Baltimore County. The old church now survives for the foreseeable future as a memorial to the rich history and heritage of 19th century African Americans in Baltimore County.
But with each success comes new challenges. Baltimore County’s champions of African American history and heritage are aging, and to date few appear willing to fill their shoes or to carry the torch. To maintain and preserve sites like Cherry Hill operating budgets need to be developed, sustainable funding identified, new research performed, tours docented and essays written.
To get more involved with the Friends of Historical Cherry Hill AUMP, Inc. contact Betty Stewart at 443.854.8288 or firstname.lastname@example.org.