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Old Christ Church

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1771–1772. 1952 foundation replaced. Chipman's Pond Rd. at Christ Church Rd., east of Laurel
  • (Photograph by Matthew Aungst)
  • Old Christ Church (HABS)
  • (Photograph by Matthew Aungst)

Regular services ceased in 1850, so the church's subsequent survival in pristine condition seems almost miraculous. Robert Houston (not Holston, as sometimes given) sold land east of Chipman's Pond mill dam in September 1772 to Stepney Parish, Maryland, along with this church he had just built. The edifice served as chapel-of-ease for Stepney (chapels-of-ease made it more convenient for people in remote districts to attend services) and was, in fact, technically in Maryland until a boundary dispute was settled in favor of Delaware in 1775. Originally called Broad Creek Chapel, it was nicknamed “Old Lightwood” for its heartpine construction, never painted inside or out (the exterior turned red from a coating of insect-and-rot repellent in c. 1951). The plan, a 40 × 60foot, gable-roofed rectangle with two front doors leading to double aisles, was a traditional one on the Eastern Shore, and historian Harold D. Eberlein (1962) pointed out that the building was “virtually a replica in heart-pine planks of the brick Stepney parish church,” Green Hill, eighteen miles away in Wicomico County, Maryland. The barnlike gables have a kick that overhangs a cove cornice along the eaves. Walls are of matched boards. The mellow interior with its shallow-vaulted wooden ceiling has become deservedly famous. The forty-three box pews show early graffiti—pew numbers, rents, and names of renters—and a Catherine Wheel inscribed on pew #13. The original east-end altar table, storage chest, and communion silver survive. In the middle of the north wall stand a raised pulpit with sounding board and a reading desk. John Chipman purchased the nearby mill from Robert Houston in 1812, and Chipman's Mill (1884) stood at the outflow of the pond. It was, until abandoned in the late 1940s, one of the few remaining Delaware gristmills powered solely by water. Intact with its water turbine grinding apparatus as late as 1977, it has subsequently disappeared.

Writing Credits

W. Barksdale Maynard


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W. Barksdale Maynard, "Old Christ Church", [Laurel, Delaware], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of Delaware

Buildings of Delaware, W. Barksdale Maynard. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008, 296-296.

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