Prelude to a Parish
Georgetown began life as a seaport founded by Scots traders to ship Maryland tobacco to Glasgow and other ports. As a part of the colony of Maryland, it was founded in 1751 and named for George ii, then king of England. Its origins predate Independence in 1776 and the creation of The District of Columbia as prescribed by the Constitution (Article 1, Section 7) ratified in 1787. Determination of the site of the District came in 1790. At that time Georgetown had over 8,000 residents, 750 of which were slaves.
Explore Grace’s History in Gleanings From Grace
The seaport was at the foot of High Street, the present Wisconsin Avenue NW, and was overlooked by Brickyard Hill on which sat Peter’s Square. A prominent hostelry, Suter’s Inn, stood on the present location of Grace Church and was patronized by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Pierre L’Enfant. The portion of Georgetown below the present M Street NW. consisted largely of warehouses, small shops, boarding houses, and the establishments found in any brawling seaport.
Envisioned as not only a seat of government, but also of commerce and manufacturing, the fledgling city of Washington had modest beginnings. It could only boast two governmental structures, The Capitol, which comprised a portion of the present Senate side, and the partially completed White House, into which President John Adams relocated in December of 1800, for the initial convening of The United States Congress in that same month.
Plans for establishing a major seaport and manufacturing hub were also tentative and never materialized on the envisioned scale. Congress underwrote the construction of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal which opened in 1831. It never reached its intended terminus on the Ohio River or established a Trans Appalachian connection to the growing country’s interior. The creation of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad surpassed the capacity of the canal, and it was obsolete almost immediately as the preferred route to the interior.
Nevertheless, the canal found a niche, bringing coal from western Maryland and Virginia as well as wheat from the lower Potomac Valley which was, in its day, the breadbasket of the Central Atlantic. Warehouses, foundries and flour mills served the Georgetown port. Canal boat workers, sailors, wharf workers; foundry men and millers comprised the population of lower Georgetown.
Two major Episcopal parishes, St. John’s Georgetown and Christ Church Georgetown predated Grace Parish. The custom of the day financed the church by the payment of “pew rents” which residents below the canal could not afford to pay. Yet both parishes felt an obligation to serve that community, and each contributed to a mission church, initially held in private homes, ultimately in a small wooden chapel which stood in the southwest corner of the present churchyard.
By the early 1850’s three vestrymen of Christ Church founded the chapel, with services held by lay members and volunteer students from Virginia Theological Seminary. Only after the end of the Civil War, through the generosity of Christ Church member H.D. Cooke was the present Grace Church built.
Grace Episcopal Church, Georgetown, was founded to serve the laborers, craftsmen, shopkeepers, and watermen of the Georgetown waterfront. By 1857 regular services were being held in a wooden chapel that stood in the southwest corner of the churchyard, where the World War I memorial cross now stands.
The Evening Star reported in February, 1895, “… It is the only church here in a really poor district and whenever its pastor is not in the pulpit or fulfilling his own immediate wants he is out among his people dispensing aid to the unfortunate.”
Outreach to the community, particularly lower Georgetown, has remained a vital ministry of Grace Church. In the late 1960s programs were created for the many young people living on the streets of Georgetown, including job counseling, a food cooperative, advice on drug abuse and other programs. By 1970, the church and its grounds frequently served as an emergency crash pad for the homeless.
In 1987, Grace Church made a home for the Georgetown Ministry Center (GMC) for the homeless. This relationship has grown over the years and in September 2003 the GMC moved into their beautiful new facility built under the rectory and parish hall. This new facility provides private counseling space as well as a shower and a washer and dryer for use by the homeless served by the GMC.
Grace Church remains the only religious institution in lower Georgetown. Grace Church is committed to not only continuing its outreach program to the disenfranchised of the community, but also to providing a spiritual refuge for everyone living and working in the Georgetown area regardless of their religious affiliation.
Visitors to Grace find a warm welcome, wonderful music, and a heartfelt faith. Join us for a service, an event, or just a moment of quiet during your day.