Twins William R. Weems and Daisy W. Selden remember joining St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Foggy Bottom when they were 11 years old. That was in 1910.
The 700 block of 23rd Street NW today boasts office and apartment buildings, and is dominated by the modern halls of George Washington University. In those days it was mostly frame town houses, which the twins remember being lighted by kerosene lamps with privies in the back yard.
St. Mary's was 43 years old at the time Weems' children joined, and the red brick buildings that currently house the church -- a chapel and a parish hall -- had been around since 1887.
Today the two buildings designed by Smithsonian architect James Renwick have been designated Washington landmarks. The church celebrated its 120th anniversary last month.
Most of St. Mary's parishioners ride to Sunday Service by car or public transportation these days, but Weems and Selden, now 87, have childhood memories of traveling in the fall from their family's farm outside Rockville, first by horse and buggy and then by streetcar to spend the winter in Washington so they could attend school.
Weems recalls that times were simpler and safer: "You didn't have all the murder you have now," he said. "You didn't have to lock your doors."
Selden recalled: "We had dances on Friday nights in the parish hall. We had punch, lemonade and cookies. Folks like Louis Brown and Gordon Wells would play songs on the piano."
On Saturday afternoons, there were sewing classes at the parish hall, and afterward Amanda May Bechtler, a deaconess of the church, would hold a stamp club. The stamps were a way children could save their money. They'd buy stamps for a penny, a nickel, a dime or a quarter and place them in a stamp book. When the school year was up in June, Bechtler cashed them in.
Mary Lancaster, who was christened at St. Mary's in 1900 at the age of six months, lived five doors from the church and remembers how Bechtler traveled about the neighborhood and brought children to church to be confirmed. Lancaster said Bechtler would stand in as godmother to children in the church and "she'd buy them new clothes and shoes for confirmation if they needed them."
A plaque commemorating Bechtler's work hangs in the chapel.
Lancaster also remembers Ethel Roosevelt, daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt, who taught Sunday School at St. Mary's.
"Back then we had Sunday School at two in the afternoon, and people liked to come out and to watch the presidential carriage; it had a driver and a footman, and people would watch from their porches."
Milton Harris Sr. was confirmed a member of St. Mary's in 1921, "And I've been an active member ever since," he said. "I lived right around the corner on 23rd and H streets. I was in and out of this church all the time.
"We had a clinic -- a doctor's office. You could register for 5 cents. If you stubbed your toe or stepped on a nail, you could get it looked at. If it was necessary, they'd refer you to the hospital on 17th and New York Avenue. Back then, most of the kids in the neighborhood got vaccinated at St. Mary's."
The church was formed in June 1867 as St. Barnabas' Mission, a place where black Episcopalians could worship without being subjected to the unwritten discriminatory rules of some of Washington's white churches. It changed its name to St. Mary's Mission in September 1867.
Because of problems involving the deed to the church's property and retaining enough members to become a self-sufficient parish, 20 years elapsed between the church's inception and construction of the buildings that now house it. The chapel features chancel furniture designed under Renwick's supervision and stained glass windows from Lorin of Chartres, France.
St. Mary's congregation numbers between 175 and 200 members today. The rector is the Rev. John E. Wilbur.