Reading Room: Architectural Beginnings

Foundry Chapel, the common name for the first Foundry Church, was a modest brick structure, 30 feet wide by 50 feet long, located just two blocks east of the White House at 14thand G Steets, N.W.  Dedicated on September 10, 1815, it provided a home for a congregation that was organized in 1814 with 38 persons, 20 white and 18 black. Until 1817 when it became a separate charge, it shared its pastors with the Georgetown, now Dumbarton, church. By 1820, membership had grown to 256.

Galleries supported by wooden columns overlooked the floor of the new sanctuary.  The gallery on the west end was used for the choir; Black members of the congregation sat on the north and south sides.

Near the high pulpit on the east end there was a pew reserved for the president. Made of better-finished wood and cushioned, it was the only pew with a door. Nearby, about three-fifths of the distance from the 14th Street entrance, were two cast-iron wood-burning stoves. There was a cellar for the storage of supplies. The Jefferson stables were across the street.

Brass sperm-oil lamps that hung under the galleries provided lighting for the evening services.  Offerings were collected in velvet bags attached to the end of long poles.  On occasion, the glass shades on the lamps would come crashing to the floor when struck by an errant pole.

Tobacco-chewing members had access to cuspidors stationed in the aisles, a practice that came to an end in 1831 when some 50 Methodists from Foundry and other Washington churches complained to the Baltimore Annual Conference meeting at Foundry.  “The practice of chewing tobacco has grown to such an extent amongst our members, and others who regularly attend our houses of worship, and has become so great a nuisance in the house of God as to require serious attention.” Considering the matter the Conference voted unanimously to disprove the practice of spitting tobacco juice “on the floors and in the Pulpits of our Church.”

Sarah Vedder, who attended Foundry as a child and young lady from 1830 to 1851, writes in her memoir “Reminiscences of the District of Columbia,” that at this ‘Meeting House,’ as all the Methodist churches were called at that day . . . the women sat on one side and the men on the other . . ..” Mrs. Vedder , writing in 1909, observed that “The Methodists of that time differed greatly from those of today.  They could, like the Quakers, be told by their dress. The material (worn by the women) was either silk or merino, light color. ‘Ashes of roses’ was the chosen shade, shawl of the same shade, or white, a close bonnet of satin, white or black, and of peculiar shape, or a white leghorn, trimmed with a ribbon passing over the top; not a loop or a bow anywhere. In summer the shawl was generally of Canton crepe or silk. No Methodist ever appeared on the street,” she continued,  “without some kind of drapery.”


Content for this article, originally titled "Life at Foundry Chapel" was adapted from “Castings from the Foundry Mold,” by Homer L. Calkin and “Reminiscences of the District of Columbia, 1830-1909” by Mrs. Sarah E. Vedder. Calkin materials are used with permission from Papers of Homer Calkin, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Iowa.