When you think of archaeology, you may not think of new artifacts being found all the time here in Maryland. But according to our guest, Director of Archaeology for Anne Arundel County Stephanie Sperling, there may be things worth digging up in your backyard!
The Ceres Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church located outside of Burkittsville in Frederick County was listed as an Endangered Maryland site in 2014.
The Ceres Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church sits just outside the boundaries of the historic town of Burkittsville in western Frederick County. The site which is situated next to a vineyard includes a church and a cemetery. Graves in the cemetery date from 1870-2010 and it is the final resting place for some prominent African-Americans from Frederick County. The one-story frame church was constructed in 1870 according to the corner stone. The church has been vacant since 1984 and in 1999 it appeared in the movie “The Blair Witch Project.”
The church and cemetery together are a great example of a post American Civil War African-American rural church. Ceres Bethel AME Church was an active congregation of free blacks in 1858 when it acquired the parcel of land where it is currently located today. The congregation stayed together throughout the Civil War and by 1870 was both large and affluent enough to build and sustain a church building of this size. At the time this church was built two surrounding communities each had their own AME congregation, but both of those buildings have since been lost. Today this church stands as an example of rural church architecture and as a testament to the size and influence of the African-American community in the area in the late 1800’s.
Since appearing in “The Blair Witch Project” the church has been an attraction for ghost-hunters and thrill-seekers who have vandalized the building. With no current congregation to maintain the building, it will continue to be damaged by trespassers.
The Frederick Preservation Trust nominated the Ceres Bethel AME to Endangered Maryland with the hope of publicizing the fragility of this building and the significance of church. The property owner, the African Methodist Episcopal Church Second MEC District, is located in Washington, DC and has not found a use for the building. Members of local civic organizations and the Mount Zion AME Church of Knoxville have done some maintenance on the church and the cemetery, but the church needs to be repaired and occupied if it has a chance to survive.