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Storer College
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The Curtis Freewill Baptist Church was dedicated in 1896. The Freewill Baptist Church was instrumental in the establishment of Storer College and prior to the church’s construction the congregation held their meetings in buildings on the college campus. The church remained closely tied with Storer College through its years of active operation and was primarily an African American congregation in the 1900s until the college closed in the 1950s. Curtis Freewill Baptist Church is now owned by the National Park Service. 


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The Freewill Baptist Church was a Protestant Christian denomination prominent in the United States in the 19th century Abolition Movement. In the early American religious debates between predestination and having the ability to earn salvation, the Freewill Baptists emphasized personal choice and education. During the Second Great Awakening of the early 1800s the Freewill Baptists quickly announced their anti-slavery stance and advocated for education of free persons of color prior to the Civil War. During and after the Civil War, the Freewill Baptist Church was dedicated to setting up schools for freed people and educating African American men as ministers. Members of the church, including clergymen Alexander Morrell and Nathan C. Brackett, were crucial in establishing Storer College at Harpers Ferry.

Bracket and Morrell, along with establishing the college, also established a Freewill Baptist congregation in Harpers Ferry that met at different times in the Brackett and Morrell Houses and the chapel in Anthony Hall. In the 1880s the congregation decided to build a separate church building for their meetings. The church plot was initially part of the federal property granted to the trustees of Storer College in 1867. Storer College’s trustees signed the deed for the lot to the grantees of the new church on February 1, 1890 for the cost of $1 (although the change in deed was not officially put into record by the county clerk until 1894).

Much of the funding for the new church building came from donations from members of the Freewill Baptist Church. The estate of Silas Curtis donated $800 on the condition that the church be named in his memory. Curtis was an ordained Freewill Baptist minister and a founder of the church’s educational society. The cornerstone and foundation for the church were laid September 29, 1889 but the rest of the building was not finished until after 1894. Most of the construction occurred in 1895 and the church was dedicated May 27, 1896. The church remained closely tied to Storer College and in the 1900s was a primarily African American congregation.

The deed of ownership for the Curtis Freewill Baptist Church passed between the church and the college during the years of its operation. As early as 1913 the General Conference of Freewill Baptists indicated that the deed should be transferred back to Storer College, although it seems to have not been officially transferred and filed until 1952. By the 1950s it appears that there was no active congregation using the church for worship. Curtis Freewill Baptist Church was part of the property purchased by the National Park Service in 1962. After 1976 the NPS renovated the church for use as an auditorium and meeting space and in 2004-2006 members of the Historic Preservation Training Center did restoration and repairs to the masonry, roof, and windows. 

Description from the 1980 National Register of Historic Places Nomination for Harpers Ferry National Historical Park:

“The Curtis Freewill Baptist Church (Park Bldg. No. 75) was erected in 1892 on the west side of Jackson Street between Fillmore and Washington Streets. It has a stone basement, a brick main story, and a crenelated square brick tower at the east end of the south elevation containing the entrance doors. It was named for Rev. Silas P. Curtis of New Hampshire, a Storer College founder, and served the college until 1955. The basement has been refurbished.”

Description from the 2000 National Register of Historic Places Registration for Storer College:

“The Curtis Freewill Baptist Church occupies the end lot along the west side of Jackson Street and the corners of Fillmore Street. The church is a one-story brick structure on a half story stone foundation built into the hill with six over six windows with wooden lintels. A replacement shed roofed entrance (a similar structure appears in historic photographs) protects the door in the western-most bay of the lower level, south elevation. The foundation stones are stuccoed on the south elevation and struck to appear as cut stone. The body of the church is five bays deep and three bays wide in the gable ends. Windows along the south and north elevation are sash, multipane over two with colored glass and brick arched over the scroll cut wooden arched lintels. Windows in the east gable end include a central three part large arched arrangement with paired multipane colored sash windows with a fixed arched glass above; it is topped with courses of arched brick headers. Two arched colored sash windows with two courses of arched brick headers are on either side of the central window. The gable peak is slate shingled with a diamond shaped ventilation window. The steeply pitched roof is sheathed with slate with several rows of scalloped slates adding a decorative element.

The battlemented square bell tower, located on the southeast corner of the church body, has the main church entrance on its south elevation. The entrance consists of double four paneled doors with a fanlight window above, capped by three courses of brick header round arches. Immediately above the brick arches is the sandstone date stone engraved with the date “1894” and the name “Curtis Freewill Baptist Church.” Above the date stone is a diamond shaped four-pane colored window; a matching window is located on the east elevation of the tower as well. The tower then has a slight recess in the brick wall with a decorative zigzag top course, within this recess is a large slatted ventilation window with a two course brick header arch above; this arrangement is repeated on all four elevations of the tower. Finally the battlements at the top of the tower are stepped out several courses from the surface of the tower below. A very shallow hipped roof covers the tower within the battlements.”

"Historic American Buildings Survey: Addendum to Curtis Freewill Baptist Church." Library of Congress. Accessed August 25, 2021. https://tile.loc.gov/storage-services/master/pnp/habshaer/wv/wv0300/wv0373/data/wv0373data.pdf.

"National Register of Historic Places Inventory--Nomination Form: Harpers Ferry National Historical Park." Accessed August 24, 2021. http://www.wvculture.org/shpo/nr/pdf/jefferson/66000041.pdf.

"National Register of Historic Places Registration Form: Storer College." Accessed August 24, 2021. http://www.wvculture.org/shpo/nr/pdf/jefferson/01000781.pdf.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Google Maps. Accessed August 24, 2021.

"1. PERSPECTIVE VIEW OF SOUTH (FRONT) AND EAST SIDE - Curtis Freewill Baptist Church, Harpers Ferry, Jefferson County, WV Photos from Survey HABS WV-278." Historic American Buildings Survey, Creator, Freewill Baptist Church, Storer College, and Silas Curtis. Curtis Freewill Baptist Church, Harpers Ferry, Jefferson County, WV. Jefferson County Harpers Ferry West Virginia, 1933. Documentation Compiled After. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/wv0373/. Accessed August 24, 2021.

"2. PERSPECTIVE VIEW OF SOUTH (FRONT) AND WEST SIDE - Curtis Freewill Baptist Church, Harpers Ferry, Jefferson County, WV Photos from Survey HABS WV-278." Historic American Buildings Survey, Creator, Freewill Baptist Church, Storer College, and Silas Curtis. Curtis Freewill Baptist Church, Harpers Ferry, Jefferson County, WV. Jefferson County Harpers Ferry West Virginia, 1933. Documentation Compiled After. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/wv0373/. Accessed August 24, 2021.

"3. PERSPECTIVE VIEW OF NORTH (REAR) - Curtis Freewill Baptist Church, Harpers Ferry, Jefferson County, WV Photos from Survey HABS WV-278." Historic American Buildings Survey, Creator, Freewill Baptist Church, Storer College, and Silas Curtis. Curtis Freewill Baptist Church, Harpers Ferry, Jefferson County, WV. Jefferson County Harpers Ferry West Virginia, 1933. Documentation Compiled After. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/wv0373/. Accessed August 24, 2021.

"Perspective view looking southwest - Curtis Freewill Baptist Church, Harpers Ferry, Jefferson County, WV Photos from Survey HABS WV-278." Historic American Buildings Survey, Creator, Freewill Baptist Church, Storer College, and Silas Curtis. Curtis Freewill Baptist Church, Harpers Ferry, Jefferson County, WV. Jefferson County Harpers Ferry West Virginia, 1933. Documentation Compiled After. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/wv0373/. Accessed August 24, 2021.

"East elevation - Curtis Freewill Baptist Church, Harpers Ferry, Jefferson County, WV Photos from Survey HABS WV-278." Historic American Buildings urvey, Creator, Freewill Baptist Church, Storer College, and Silas Curtis. Curtis Freewill Baptist Church, Harpers Ferry, Jefferson County, WV. Jefferson County Harpers Ferry West Virginia, 1933. Documentation Compiled After. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/wv0373/. Accessed August 24, 2021.

"Perspective view looking northeast - Curtis Freewill Baptist Church, Harpers Ferry, Jefferson County, WV Photos from Survey HABS WV-278." Historic American Buildings Survey, Creator, Freewill Baptist Church, Storer College, and Silas Curtis. Curtis Freewill Baptist Church, Harpers Ferry, Jefferson County, WV. Jefferson County Harpers Ferry West Virginia, 1933. Documentation Compiled After. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/wv0373/. Accessed August 24, 2021.

"Interior view of nave, looking west toward altar - Curtis Freewill Baptist Church, Harpers Ferry, Jefferson County, WV Photos from Survey HABS WV-278." Historic American Buildings Survey, Creator, Freewill Baptist Church, Storer College, and Silas Curtis. Curtis Freewill Baptist Church, Harpers Ferry, Jefferson County, WV. Jefferson County Harpers Ferry West Virginia, 1933. Documentation Compiled After. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/wv0373/. Accessed August 24, 2021.

"Interior view of nave, looking east - Curtis Freewill Baptist Church, Harpers Ferry, Jefferson County, WV Photos from Survey HABS WV-278." Historic American Buildings Survey, Creator, Freewill Baptist Church, Storer College, and Silas Curtis. Curtis Freewill Baptist Church, Harpers Ferry, Jefferson County, WV. Jefferson County Harpers Ferry West Virginia, 1933. Documentation Compiled After. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/wv0373/. Accessed August 24, 2021.