Choirs merge to raise money for Tolson's Chapel restoration

September 12, 2008|By MARLO BARNHART

SHARPSBURG -- History will be made Saturday when the doors of St. Paul's Episcopal Church open for a 7:30 p.m. gospel concert during Sharpsburg Heritage Days.

A merged choir featuring singers from St. Paul's and Asbury United Methodist Church in Hagerstown will perform five or six separate selections and two combined songs during the free concert.

The history is the blending of two congregations that once had Sharpsburg in common -- during and after the Civil War. Asbury was the mother church of Tolson's Chapel, which was founded by freed slaves in 1866 at 111 E. High St. in Sharpsburg.

Edie Wallace, a local historian and member of St. Paul's choir, is also the chairwoman of the Tolson's Chapel restoration work now under way.


"This is a first for us," Wallace said of the merged choir. "The idea came out of our discussion about how to help the restoration work at the chapel."

Through donations, the concert is raising funds for the continuing restoration of Tolson's Chapel, a former African-American Methodist Church in Sharpsburg.

"We tried to develop a membership list in the spring and contacted Asbury," Wallace said. "A couple of their members showed up and we hit it off right away."

From there, it grew into the plans for today's concert. St. Paul's choir director Crystal Brown will play piano and organ, while her husband, Jimmie Brown, plays cello.

Asbury member Mel Jones is enthusiastic about the collaboration -- not only for the merged choir but also for the future of the chapel.

Descended from members who attended the chapel, Jones is now on the Tolson's Chapel board. "There is a lot of heritage here with a lot of our people in the chapel cemetery," Jones said.

"We are so happy to join with you here in this historic effort," the Rev. Sharon Gibson of Asbury said to St. Paul's members.

Saturday's event will be dedicated to Virginia Cook, the cornerstone of the Tolson's Chapel church, who died a few years ago.

A Philadelphia native, Wallace and her husband moved to the Frederick area, then to southern Washington County. She works for Paula S. Reed and Associates, a cultural resources consulting firm.

While working on her Goucher College master's thesis from 2000 to 2003, she began seeking out information on African-American resources, including rural communities that no longer exist. That led her to Tolson's Chapel.

Owned by the United Methodist Church until 2006, the chapel was first acquired by the nonprofit Save Historic Antietam Foundation. Then this year, the Friends of Tolson's Chapel board took ownership, Wallace said.

"Some work has been done to restore the log building," Wallace said. The hope is that someday it will be open on occasions for tours.

Those wanting more information may contact the chapel board by sending e-mail to

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