Today we have a pair of stained glass or leadlight casement windows, from a Silver Spring church that no longer stands. Dedicated in memory of Phillip and Caroline Eaglen, the windows were part of Mt. Zion United Methodist Church. The design is relatively simple; windows like these, complete with the dedication space at the bottom, are a common sight in late 19th and early 20th century American churches of many denominations. Each of our windows measures 48″ tall and 32″ wide, including the heavy wooden frames (complete with flourescent lights) that were added at some point. The windows were donated to MCHS in 1993 by Mr. and Mrs. Clifton Andrews.
Mt. Zion United Methodist Church was located on Georgia Avenue, in the Linden/Forest Glen/Montgomery Hills area of Silver Spring. Its history is somewhat obscure, with only a few clues located so far. The 1879 Hopkins Atlas (below) shows “Mt. Zion M.E. Ch.” on the Washington & Brookeville Turnpike (Georgia Avenue). To orient you: downtown Silver Spring is off the map to the right; the “turnpike” visible in the upper right is modern-day Colesville Road; the road at left that ends at Forest Glen Sta. is Forest Glen Road; the road that runs down to the bottom, including the home of freedman S. Lytton, is Brookville Road.
In 1935, Mary Doolittle Dawson wrote an essay called “Early Days in Linden” (parenthetical notes were added by Frances Wolfe in 1983): “The Laney House … was on the East side of the 7th Street Pike (now Georgia Avenue) opposite the colored Methodist church (the site now occupied by Safeway on Georgia Ave. and Seminary Place)…. Mrs. Rose Wilson Kerr tells me that this church was first used by the white Episcopalians and Methodists. Mrs. Kerr remembers being taken there as a little child…. This church, however, had passed into the hands of the colored people by the time our family spent the summer with the Laneys and there has been a colored church there ever since. Although the old church was torn down and a new one built on the same site.”
A 1937 survey of Montgomery County churches, conducted by the Works Progress Administration as part of the Historical Records Survey, included the Mt. Zion Methodist Episcopal Church – no street address – in Montgomery Hills, Silver Spring. The church was noted as “organized” in 1866; the “present building,” dedicated in 1916, was described as a “frame two story meeting house type, no bell, no special features.” Ms. Dawson’s story of the church’s origins is confirmed here, probably from history provided by Mt. Zion clergy or members: “The first church on this site was a white M.E. Church erected about 1825. This church was given to the colored people about 1866 and became known as Mt. Zion M.E. Church.”
Though a reference in a newspaper article shows that the church was still there in the early 1960s, by 1969 it was gone, replaced by shops. I haven’t yet found any images of the church, or information on when exactly it was torn down. It’s thought that the congregation was officially transferred to Van Buren United Methodist Church in D.C.
What of the couple whose names appear on the windows? For now, most of our information comes from census records (somewhat complicated by the fact that the name was recorded in various years as Eaglen, Edelin, Egland, Eglin, and Edlin). Phillip Eaglen (born circa 1840) married Caroline Bell (born circa 1845) in 1867; I haven’t found them in Montgomery County earlier than 1870, and don’t yet know if either of them had been enslaved. The Eaglens had at least 10 children, including William, Phillip, Helen, Harry, Mary Roberta, Olla, Ernest, Caroline, and John. By 1900, the family had settled in the Linden area, in an African-American neighborhood evidently known (to the 1910 census taker, at any rate) as “Monkey Hollow.” In the censuses, Phillip was variously described as a laborer or farmer; Caroline was usually “keeping house,” though in 1910 she was working as a laundress. Their children and grandchildren worked as gardeners, carpenters, housemaids, farm laborers, and hotel waitresses; grandson Arthur Eaglen served with the 808 Pioneer Infantry during World War I. The latest information on the Eaglens is the 1930 census, at which point the couple owned a house on Brookville Road in Linden (or possibly Lyttonsville, an African-American community) and lived there with their daughters Mary and Caroline, Mary’s husband John Potts, and their grandson Walter Eaglen. Both Phillip and Caroline (noted in 1930 as aged 93 and 87) presumably died sometime during the 1930s.
It’s not clear how the donors ended up with these windows, although a note in our files indicates that their maid, Sadie Kelly, was married to a man whose parents were acquainted with the Eaglens. Ms. Kelly is the one who supplied us with the name and location of the church.
The short version of all of this is, of course, “There’s still a lot more research to do.” Where did the Eaglens live before 1870? Who commissioned the windows in their memory? When was the church demolished, and why were these two windows saved? (Do any blog readers have information or photos to share?) Nonetheless, even with this moderate amount of info the windows are interesting artifacts, and they serve as physical reminders of a church – and a family – that might otherwise have been forgotten by local historians.
Interested in learning more about African American churches in Montgomery County? Visit our library!