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A Driving Tour of Religious Sites in the Sugarloaf Area

The earliest settlers who came to live near Sugarloaf Mountain arrived with their religious beliefs. Beginning in the 1700s, the people who settled here made sure that small plots of land were set aside to build a place where marriages could be celebrated, births could be recognized, death could be mourned. They built small churches to meet their spiritual needs, to hold their family and personal celebrations, to provide a setting for larger social events. Churches were places of worship but also organizations that met community needs.

Because the Sugarloaf area was sparsely populated and transportation was difficult, the first rural churches tended to be quite small, designed to serve families who lived nearby. Buildings were constructed by local craftsmen on small plots of land, often donated by a family or community leader. They offered a place where people gathered for Sunday services and social events, maybe a schoolroom as well, and land for burials. These early churches often relied on “circuit preachers” – a Methodist or Baptist or Episcopal minister who would travel from one church to another on a fixed schedule. As the population grew and churches added members, there was the opportunity to add a full time minister who would then become a part of the community, adding stability and identity to the congregation.

Early in the Sugarloaf area history, churches were built to serve only white members because, prior to the Civil War, black people were prevented by law from gathering, even in a church. Later, when patterns were loosened somewhat, blacks could gather, but only under white leadership. This was true in Maryland and elsewhere, but further north, in Philadelphia and in New York City, black leaders emerged in the late 1790s who objected to these policies and formed all-black denominations that took the names African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) and A.M.E. Zion. But it would be another 60 years, in the 1860s, before all-black churches were created in the Sugarloaf Area. Once this happened, these churches became strong focal points for black people living throughout our rural area. Several sites highlighted on this trail were organized to serve black communities during the era immediately after the Civil War.

The Rural Churches Trail can be driven East to West, or vice versa. Our list begins at the eastern end, with Site 1 located about a mile from I-270. Driving directions assume you are going east to west. If you have a good map or GPS, it will be easy to drive this trail in the opposite direction, beginning at Site 15 on River Road, the western-most site.

1. Cedarbrook Community Church
Leave I-270 at Clarksburg, Exit 18, and go east on Stringtown Road. Approximately 1.3 miles from the exit ramp, just after you cross Snowden Farm Parkway, the church will be on your left. This new building is a non-denominational evangelical church. The congregation itself is new -- it began meeting in a Gaithersburg movie theater in 1989 -- and as it grew, it was able to purchase land in Clarksburg. The congregation moved into this building in 2000. The building is also home to Cedarbrook Academy, a school whose purpose is to oversee home schooling of children (grades K-12) from a number of churches in the area.

Directions to next stop: Return to the intersection of Stringtown Road and Snowden Farm Parkway and turn right. When Snowden Farm ends, turn left onto Clarksburg Road, Rt. 121. Before you get to Route 355, Fredrick Road, Spire Street will intersect on your left side. Turn left here.

2. Clarksburg United Methodist Church
Spire Street, just one block long, is named for the very recognizable spire of Clarksburg United Methodist Church, built on a hill overlooking Route 355, Frederick Road. This small white frame church is home to one of the oldest faith communities in Montgomery County.

Before you move on, take some time to stroll through the adjacent cemetery. Directions to next stop: Go to the traffic light at the intersection of Clarksburg Road and Rt. 355, then head north on Rt. 355 for one mile; turn left on Comus Road.

3. Clarksburg Seventh Day Adventist Church
As soon as you turn onto Comus Road, look left. Sitting atop a grassy hill is a small brick building with a white steeple. This church was built originally for the Clarksburg Baptist Church, but in 1998, it became home to the Clarksburg Seventh Day Adventist Church (formerly known as Upper Montgomery Seventh Day Adventist). This congregation is relatively new in the Sugarloaf area, drawing families from Frederick and Montgomery Counties.

Directions to next stop: Continue on Comus Road for about ¼ mile, crossing over I-270. The first driveway on your right after crossing the interstate highway has a tall stone wall with an engraved granite stone to mark the entrance to the Garden of Remembrance.

4. Garden of Remembrance Memorial Park
If the metal gates are open, you may want to visit this serene modern cemetery, The Garden of Remembrance. This is a Jewish cemetery opened in the 1990s by a board of Jewish leaders who wished to provide a facility open to all branches of their faith community. Twenty Jewish congregations in the DC metropolitan area now partner in operating this cemetery; individuals who are not affiliated with a congregation may be buried here as well.

Directions to next stop: Turn right when leaving the Garden of Remembrance and continue on Comus Road. Go two miles to the second stop sign, Old Hundred Road. Turn left. In about ¼ mile you will see an unmarked gravel driveway on your right; it leads into a small flat grassy area.

5. Abandoned Seventh Day Adventist Church
Pulling into this driveway will allow you to get off the busy road for a brief look at a unique old church, but please note that this is private property.

Near the driveway you will see a wooden one-story building that is quite overgrown with vines and shrubs. Behind this building is a small cemetery. For about thirty years, until 1939, this was a Seventh Day Adventist Church. It was built in 1917 by a local resident, Ralph Dennison, who had moved with his family from Washington, DC to a farm in the country. When he saw there was no nearby church to serve his family and others of his denomination, he built one. He wisely put a tin roof on the building and it is this roof that even today protects the building from decay.

Directions to next stop: Re-enter the paved road, going back the way you came on Old Hundred to Comus Road, then turn left, toward Sugarloaf Mountain.

6. Pearre Family Cemetery
A few miles along Comus Road, turn right on Barley Fields Road and go all the way to the circle at the end. As you come round the circle, on your right will be a small plot of land surrounded by a fence. This is the Pearre Family Cemetery.

James Pearre was an early settler in the Comus area. In the early 1770s, he received a land grant that encompassed several hundred acres near the base of Sugarloaf Mountain, land that now straddles the line between Frederick and Montgomery Counties. Today, you see large new homes and a modern road, but for many generations, this land was farmed by descendents of the original Pearre settlers. The property stayed in the Pearre family for many generations, until it was finally sold in 1948.

Directions to next stop: Return to Comus Road and turn toward Sugarloaf Mountain. Before you get to the mountain entrance gate, you will pass Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard, which is a stop on our New Farm Trail. If the tasting room is open, you can get a snack here and perhaps enjoy a taste of local wine.

7. East View, Sugarloaf Mountain
Sugarloaf Mountain is a unique place whose geology, natural environment, history and recreational opportunities are described elsewhere in our trail guides. You may wonder why a trail of rural churches has brought you to a site known for hiking and wildflowers.

Once a year, Sugarloaf Mountain’s East View Overlook is the site of a community religious event: an Easter Sunrise Service. Just before dawn each Easter Sunday morning, hundreds of people from near and far gather to watch the sun come up and recall the Biblical story of Easter morning.

Directions to next stop: Drive down the mountain and at the entrance area, turn right on Mt. Ephraim Road toward Dickerson. In about 1.5 miles, turn left on Barnesville Road. Your next stop will be in the Town of Barnesville.

8. Barnesville Baptist Church
The hilltop setting of this traditional, evangelical Southern Baptist Church sits amid a sheltering stand of large white oaks and serves as a landmark in the charming town of Barnesville. The building’s cornerstone was laid in 1869 and on September 24, 1871 the church was dedicated.

Directions to next church: Go west on Barnesville Road 0.2 mile into Barnesville, then turn left on Beallsville Road (Highway 109S) and drive 1.8 miles. Mt. Zion-Warren United Methodist Church is on the right.

9. Mt. Zion-Warren United Methodist Church
Another building known as the Old Meeting House occupied this site before the current church was constructed. It was a multi-purpose building that served the residents of the Mt. Zion’s African American community as a church, as well as a school and meeting hall. Records indicate that in 1876 Reverend Elijah Awkward (or Awkard) was the first pastor at the Meeting Hall. He served this congregation and three others in the area: Warren, Elijah and St. Paul’s Church.

Directions to next site: Head southwest on Beallsville Road for 1.8 miles, at the light turn right on Darnestown Road (Highway 28 W) and at the first left (just 258 feet) turn left on W. Hunter Road. The Cemetery is on the right as you turn.

10. Monocacy Cemetery
Monocacy Cemetery occupies the property that was once the site of an Episcopalian church called the Chapel of Ease of All Saints parish (also known as the Monocacy Chapel). Records indicate that the chapel was here as early as 1737, well before the Declaration of Independence. At that time there were few churches in Maryland and this was one of only two Anglican places of worship located between Rock Creek in Washington, D.C. (30 miles southeast of this point) and Frederick, Maryland (20 miles north).

Directions to next church: Turn left on to West Hunter Road and then turn right onto Darnestown Road (Highway 28). Continue straight ahead after the stoplight for 1.0 mile and then turn right onto Jerusalem Road. Continue on for 0.9 miles and turn right onto Jerusalem Church Road. The church is the first building on the right.

11. Jerusalem Baptist Church
This small brick church sits in the heart of the Jerusalem community, established here by African Americans more than 150 years ago. The first church members met in a log home built in 1874. At that time it was one of the few black Baptist churches in Montgomery County. In the early 1900s a two-story frame building was constructed by a local resident, George Dorsey and served as the chapel. When that structure burned, a new church was built in 1922 at this location on land donated by the Clarke family.

Directions to next stop: Turn right onto Jerusalem Road and continue southeast for .07 miles. Turn left on Beallsville Road (Highway 109) for .02 miles. Elijah United Methodist Church is on the right.

12. Elijah United Methodist Church and Cemetery
The original church on this site was built in 1871. At one time, there was also a community building, known as Loving Charity Hall, behind the church. As there were no public schools for African American children at the time, it served as the site of a school for the children in this area and the Jerusalem community (site 11). When the original church was destroyed by fire, the present sanctuary was built in the 1950s.

Directions to next stop: Turn right onto Route 109/Elgin Road and drive 0.5 miles into the town of Poolesville. Go left (SouthEast) at the four way stop turning onto Fisher Avenue. Go 4.6 miles to 16500 Whites Ferry Road, where you will find the Dawsonville Mennonite Church on your right.

Note: Several churches in the town of Poolesville are featured on the Poolesville Walking Tour. For example, Poolesville Presbyterian Church, where Confederate soldiers surrounded Union troops during the Civil War, will be on your right before you reach the four-way stop. If you turn right on Whites Ferry Road, you’ll see St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, one of the oldest church building in Poolesville, built in 1849. The congregation is much older than the building – its roots go back to Colonial times and a small chapel located on the land we now call Monocacy Cemetery (Site 10). If you take time to investigate the town, you’ll see several restaurants where you can stop for refreshments before proceeding east on Whites Ferry Road toward the next stop.

13. Dawsonville Mennonite Church
Built in 1889, this structure was originally known as the Dawsonville Primitive Baptist Church. It is a rectangular one and a half story white frame church with tall round-headed windows similar to some of the earliest colonial churches. The foundation is made from blocks of Seneca sandstone, a building material used for many local structures including the distinctive Smithsonian Institution building known as “the Castle” on the Mall in Washington, DC. (It is quite likely that these blocks came from the Seneca Stone Mill, a site on the Seneca Sandstone Biking Trail.)

Directions to next church. As you leave the church property, turn left (west) on Whites Ferry Road Route 107 to the next road and then make a left onto Sugarland Road. Turn left onto Sugarland Road and drive 3.4 miles. Turn right to stay on Sugarland Road and drive for 0.7 miles. St. Paul’s Community Church is on the right.

14. St. Paul’s Community Church
This historic church was built in the center of a community known as Sugarland Forest. Freed slaves who purchased the land from local white owners established the community in 1871. By 1900, there were about 40 families living and working on about 200 acres. It was a self-sufficient African American township comprised of a church, school, post office and store.

Directions to the last stop. Turn left out of the church property and go northeast on Sugarland Lane for 0.4 miles. Sugarland Lane becomes Sugarland Rd. Go 1.8 miles and then turn right at the intersection of Partnership Road. Go 1.7 miles and turn right onto River Road. The Kunzang Palyul Ch’ling Buddhist Temple will be on your left.

15. Kunzang Palyul Ch’ling Buddhist Temple
The Kunzang Palyul Ch’ling Buddhist Temple is a center for Buddhist study and spiritual practices. It was founded by Jetsunma Ahkon Llamo (Alyce Zeoli) in the tradition of Vajrayana Buddhism. In the beginning, the community met in Kensington, MD, but moved to River Road (a house on seven acres) when it outgrew that original space. Since April 1985, it became a World Prayer Center where a 24-hour prayer vigil dedicated to the end of suffering for all sentient beings takes place.

You’ve now reached the end of The Rural Churches Trail. Thank you for sharing our interest in the culture and history of the Sugarloaf Mountain region. We hope you will add comments about your visit to our blog.

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