St. Mary's Community Center
A Church-Turned-Community Center in Hampden
The story of Hampden’s name can be traced back to St. Mary’s Community Center. Originally established as St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, the congregation started meeting in Hampden in the 1850s. Under the leadership of Henry Mankin this congregation petitioned the Diocese of Maryland for a new Episcopal church for his neighborhood, which was accepted in 1854. Mankin also named the neighborhood in honor of John Hampden, an English politician. Mankin admired him for the stand he took on taxation of the American colonies. Prior to American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams were among those who referenced John Hampden to justify their cause.
The congregation’s original location was at Falls Road and 36th Street. However in 1858 the city needed this location for a reservoir, and along with the surrounding properties, condemned the original location. Today the reservoir is no longer in use and is now part of Roosevelt Park. Without a location to meet the congreation went a year without services. On May 31, 1860 construction began on a new church on Roland Ave.
At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, St. Mary’s first reverend left to become a chaplain for the Union Army, yet he did not resign his commission. He reported in 1863 that the church was burned down, but not before the carpeting had been stolen. In addtion Union soldiers camped on what is today Union Ave and stole the wooden fence for firewood. While the Federal Government did compensate the parish in a settlement, it was not enough for it to continue its work. The parish nearly closed. It was not until 1872, after the first reverend resigned, that a new rector was elected. A year later the congregation was able to raise the funds to lay a new cornerstone to rebuild the church where the structure stands today.
St. Mary’s operated as a church until 1999. It evolved into the St. Mary’s Community Center in 2002. Today the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory performs in the center’s Great Hall. This company recreates as closely as is possible the staging conditions, spirit, and atmosphere created by Shakespeare’s theatre company during the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods.