The Brightwood area was originally part of a rural, sparsely populated county when DC was established. Built in 1832, Emory United Methodist Church demonstrates the growth of the Brightwood community spanning over 180 years. Emory was the only southern Methodist church in DC that had been founded before the Civil War.
During the Civil War, union forces demolished the congregation’s first church on the site to incorporate its high vantage point into Fort Stevens. The church played a pivotal role in the Civil War, as the church stood on the eastern section of Fort Stevens, one of a network of sixty-eight forts, ninety-three batteries, and over twenty miles of rifle trenches that protected DC during the Civil War. Fort Stevens was the only fort ever to be directly attacked and the site of the only significant military engagement within DC. Of all the city’s military Civil War sites, this one has the greatest national significance because it was here that the only credible military attack launched on the nation’s capital was repulsed. It was on this spot that President Abraham Lincoln, during the Battle of Fort Stevens, became the only sitting U.S. president to directly come under enemy fire.
Following an appeal to local authorities, a small group associated with the church was given permission to temporarily utilize the public school building on Military Road, known today as the Military Road School, for worship. The church slowly reorganized and its membership gradually expanded between 1865 and 1866. In 1867, under the leadership of Reverend W. H. D. Harper, the church formally reorganized under the authority of the Baltimore Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church and incorporated into the Bladensburg circuit. Plans to construct a stone chapel were completed by 1867. Construction of the chapel began in 1870 and was led by Charles Vance, a member of the Methodist Church in Bladensburg, who donated his time and labor to the project. The chapel was constructed just south of the church’s former brick structure demolished during the Civil War.
Church membership continued to grow as Brightwood’s population rapidly increased throughout the 1890s and early 1900s with the advent of the streetcar. As the church continued to grow, so too did its influence in the community. However, hit by the devastation of war again in 1917 with the United States’ entrance into World War I, Emory lost several congregants to the military and through its services during the war. After the war ended, church leaders ministered to an overwhelming number of soldiers treated at Walter Reed General Hospital in the early 1920s. During this time, Emory’s minister, Dr. Forrest J. Pettyman saw the need for a larger church to better serve the growing neighborhood and needs of the congregation.
By 1922, the modest stone chapel was demolished and replaced with a new structure. The elegantly fashioned Classical Revival church’s most striking features include its pediment portico, dentilled cornice and frieze, massive Doric columns, granite walls, and terracotta trim. The church commissioned the prominent architecture firm of Milburn, Heister and Company to prepare plans for the new church and upon completion, the design was lauded to be “one of the handsomest churches in the city.”
DC Inventory: February 12, 2014
National Register: August 28, 2015