CROWNSVILLE, Md.— Tiny St. Paul’s Chapel in Crownsville has a big mystery.
Since St. Paul’s was consecrated in 1865, an unknown number of parishioners chose the small church grounds, at the intersection of Crownsville Road and General’s Highway, as their final resting place.
There are a couple of dozen stones in the graveyard bearing names like Anderson, Brown, Grimes, Proctor and Worthington. Some have tumbled, and others are no longer legible.
A recent survey turned up 76 unmarked graves. Sharon Beard, who volunteers on the committee researching the church’s history and the graveyard, believes she has names for about 25 of those in the unmarked graves.
She compared two lists of graves compiled years ago and found many names not common to both lists. Another list found online turned up two or three more names, she said.
“We may never know which names belong to which graves. Only God knows that,” Beard said.
The congregation was trying to determine how much graveyard space was available for potential burials.
In November the church hired a company that scoured the acre with ground-penetrating radar — basically a sled equipped with radar and an antenna that detects buried material up to 7 feet deep.
Each of the potential unmarked graves were double-checked and marked. Later, they were tagged with small white flags.
The Anglican congregants built a larger chapel attached to the small original building in 2008.
“When we excavated the new church building we did not find any graves,” said Fred Blair, a lay minster at St. Paul’s, standing amid the white flags and amidst the remaining stones. “Perhaps someone knows who might be buried here. Maybe they can solve the mystery.”
St. Paul’s was built as a satellite chapel of St. Stephen’s Church to meet the needs of those hoping to worship on Sunday without having to traverse rutted roads by horse and buggy.
Two spinster sisters named Brown donated the small parcel between the road and the Baltimore and Elkridge Railroad.
The original structure, now on the National Register of Historic Places, was most remarkable for its simple design, deemed to be taken from 19th-century architect Richard Upjohn’s book “Rural Architecture,” which included several designs for small parishes.
Activity waned after World War II and the chapel was used by the chaplain of Crownsville State Hospital for a brief period beginning in 1966, according to documents supporting the chapel’s national register nomination.
After the hospital stopped using it, the chapel was mostly used for the occasional wedding or funeral.
The Anglicans took possession in 1986.
But Beard and others hope they can identify the remaining graves from the Episcopal Diocese records or elsewhere.
“We are determined to find every name for each flag out there,” Beard said.
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