History of St.Thomas' Parish
Saint Thomas’ Episcopal Parish, Croom, Maryland was created out of the northern portion of St. Paul’s Episcopal Parish (1692) in 1850. Saint Thomas’ Parish has been under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Washington since 1895 and prior to that time, the parish was under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Maryland. St. Thomas has included four congregations: St. Thomas’ Church, Croom, Church of the Atonement, Cheltenham, St. Simons Mission, Croom, and The Chapel of the Incarnation, Brandywine, all in Prince George’s County, Maryland.
Saint Thomas’ Church, located in Croom, was built between 1743-1745. The original church building was a simple, yet well designed, English Georgian “auditory” church constructed by Daniel Page. Until 1850 it was known as Page’s Chapel. The longest-serving rector during the colonial period, 1728-1775, was John Eversfield. The church was also the home church of Bishop Thomas John Claggett, the first Episcopal bishop to be consecrated on American soil. The church was “Victorianized” in the 1850s and 1860s and a bell tower in memory of Bishop Claggett was added in 1888. The church was renovated in the 1950s to incorporate Victorian and Colonial elements within a harmonious design. The parish register has recorded approximately 875 graves. The graves date back to the mid-1740s. St. Thomas’ Church is a Prince George’s County Historic Site and is also on The National Register of Historic Places.
St. Simon's Mission
In 1896, St. Simon’s Mission was established in Croom as an African-American parochial mission by the Misses Susie, Kate, and Elizabeth Willes as a Sunday school during the rectorate of their brother, Reverend Francis P. Willes. Two Sunday School classrooms were moved across St. Thomas’ Church road and the mission chapel was established on land purchased by Miss Susan Willes. It became an independent mission in 1902 under the auspices of the Diocese of Washington. In 1964, the congregation of St. Simon’s was integrated with that of St. Thomas. The buildings of St. Simon’s were demolished in the early 1970s. The cemetery was the first cemetery in Croom for African-Americans. The site of St. Simons’s Mission is a Prince George’s County Historical Resource Site.
Blessed Pauli Murray
Pauli Murray, the first African American female priest in the Episcopal Church and declared an Episcopal saint in 2012, had a special connection to St. Thomas Parish. As a child and the niece of the Vicar of St. Simon's, she spent formative years at St. Simon in the shadows of St. Thomas Church before integration came to the Parish. As a historian, attorney, poet, and teacher, she worked throughout her life to address injustice, to give voice to the unheard, to educate, and promote reconciliation between races and economic classes.
Chapel of the Incarnation
In 1916 the cornerstone for the Chapel of the Incarnation was laid in the railroad town of Brandywine. The architect and builder was William J. Palmer of Washington, DC. Palmer who designed the chapel in the Spanish Mission style. The chapel is unique in that it is one of the few, and perhaps only, examples of this style in southern Maryland. Bishop Harding consecrated the chapel in October 1923. The Chapel is home to the offices of Community Support Systems a non-profit community assistance organization. The Chapel maintains an active congregation. The Chapel of the Incarnation is a Prince George’s County Historic Site and is also on The National Register of Historic Places.
Church of the Atonement
In April 1874, the Church of the Atonement was opened in Cheltenham to serve the southern portion of the parish. Bishop Pinkney of Maryland consecrated the church in 1875 during the rectorate of Samuel R. Gordon, the parish’s longest-serving rector to date. When the Chapel of the Incarnation was opened in 1916, the congregation at the Church of the Atonement declined and soon the church fell into disuse. In 1947, the church was deconsecrated and demolished. Graves in the cemetery date from the mid-1870s to the present time.
The Atonement Cemetery is located in Cheltenham at the site of the former Church of the Atonement (1875). Located across Rt. 301 from the Veteran's Cemetery, the cemetery is owned and maintained by the parish.
More information about the history of St. Thomas' Parish or Southern Marland can be found in a recent book, "Faith & Tobacco" by Franklin Robinson Jr.
To help with the maintenance of our historical landmarks and site, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the 1850 Fund. More information about the fund can be found on the website.