The town of Mount Savage played a key role in the westward expansion of the young United States and especially in the development of railroads as an important means of transportation of goods and people.
Iron rails for trains were introduced in 1790 in Yorkshire, England. The Baltimore & Ohio Rail Road Company was chartered in 1827. In 1837 the Mount Savage Iron Works were built by the Maryland and New York Coal and Iron Company led by Benjamin Howell, an Englishman. The company had the distinction of rolling the first iron rails made in America. In 1844, the company built the Mount Savage Railroad to connect the mining and manufacturing operations with Cumberland and the National Road (and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal).
Many of the managers and staff of the Iron Company were English. The first Episcopal church services were conducted in 1840 at the Mount Savage Iron Works. Several historical records refer to the use of a Machine Shop for services, others refer to a Pattern House. Rev. John H. Kehler was the first minister to serve these people, quite like a missionary. Records place him as assistant to Rev. Hillhouse Buell at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Cumberland.
Mr. Kehler was a former Lutheran minister who had requested commission as a candidate for holy orders in the Episcopal Church. We know that Rev. Kehler missed a regularly-scheduled service in Mt. Savage on August 22, 1841, because of his own ordination by Bishop William Whittingham in Cumberland. Two days later, the bishop visited the congregation in Mt. Savage and held services in the Pattern House.
The Episcopalian families of Mt. Savage, having worshiped and gathered many times at the iron works, felt it important to meet and elect a vestry (governing church council). In May of 1841, this vestry sent its application to be recognized as a parish and be received into union with the Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. On June 27, 1841, a Sunday School was organized after morning services. On July 11, 1841, Rev. Kehler addressed the Sunday School commencement. There were 45 scholars and 10 teachers in attendance. The average attendance, according to records, was 100 scholars and 12-15 teachers.
In 1845, the Episcopal congregation in Mt. Savage was granted land from the Maryland and New York Iron and Coal Company to erect a church. In a parochial report in 1845, Rev. Kehler, signing himself missionary, announced that Christ Church (the name the church used at that time) had begun work on erecting a wooden church building with dimensions 45×26, at a cost of $1,000 ($34,000 in current dollars). The new church was consecrated by Bishop Whittingham on October 12, 1845. At this point, the name of Christ Church Parish was dropped and the name Saint George’s Church was selected.
This building stood until 1903, when the Standing Committee of the Diocese gave its consent for the destruction of the church built in 1845, in order that a new church might be erected on the same site. The last service in the old church was held by Rev. Dr. Nott on the morning of Sunday, April 26, 1903, and on Tuesday following, demolition of the old structure, so dear to many hearts, was begun. The tower containing the bell, which since 1850 had called the people to worship, was separated from the building and attached to the front of the Sunday School building.
The cornerstone for the new church was laid on June 6, 1903, by Bishop William Paret, and the church was consecrated on October 13, 1908. Services in the new church were to have begun on Easter Sunday, 1904, but due to the sudden death on March 8th of Rev. Theophilus Smoot, the first service was postponed until a new Rector was chosen. This large Gothic Church of stone and brick is the one we know and love today.
The old Sunday School building was torn down and a new Parish House was built by the men of the parish during the rectorship of Rev. J. W. Torkington, DD, with work being completed by May 15, 1924.
A stone bell tower was added to the church in 1952. This project was under the direction of the Rev. G. Stanley Schwind, and once again, much volunteer labor from the parish was used. Near the top of the tower is a row of native stone. There is a stone from each state of the union. Also made of stone is the Chapel of the Resurrection in the cemetery. On May 27, 1978, the Bell Tower and the Parish House were rededicated. The tower was dedicated to Father Schwind, and the parish House was dedicated to Rev. Dr. Torkington.
St. George’s Church proudly celebrated the 150th anniversary of an Episcopal presence in Mt. Savage in 1990, and the 175th anniversary in 2015.
To find out more about our church history, click the link below for more details and images.