CAMP SPRINGS

Praise for a Base Chapel

Acres of grassy fields at Andrews Air Force Base are broken occasionally by streamlined modern buildings, massive concrete runways and old fighter planes positioned with their noses to the sky. The landscape is a picture of uniformed military precision.

Until, that is, one stumbles upon a small patch of land at the base's eastern edge where wispy old trees shade a little clapboard church, its delicate Gothic features framed by a hilly, 19th-century graveyard of worn tombstones.

What is this dreamy place? And how did it get here?

Those are the questions U.S. Air Force Col. Patrick Harris asked himself a few years ago upon arriving for a new assignment at Andrews and finding himself drawn to what the base called "Chapel Two."

The generic name gave him little insight, so Harris decided to write a proposal to study the history of the place. It was well-received and volunteers "came out of the woodwork" to delve into Chapel Two's past, he said. The result: a three-year effort that culminated in a 52-page book this month that traces the church history back 200 years.

It has novel-like readability, complete with tales of natural disasters, war, racial tension and ghosts. It is perhaps the only church in the country that has been taken over by the government twice--both times hostile--once during the Civil War and again in 1943.

"This is the kind of place you find, then you can't leave," Harris said. "It looks like a little, down-home, small-town church. And to find it on a military base is pretty unique. You fall in love with it."

That's exactly what happened to a team of about 12 volunteer researchers and writers who formed the Chapel Two Committee. There are three other chapels to choose from on the base that are bigger and newer, but all 12 volunteers developed a devotion to Chapel Two over the years that made the option of worshiping elsewhere unthinkable.

"I've been all over the world, and this is my [favorite] chapel," said Leo "Chappy" Stanis, a retired Navy Commander who served as a World War II medic and a chaplain during the Vietnam War.

Chapel Two is nondenominational; its cream and green interior evokes a sense of calm. Its front-gabled design, with pointed-arch transom and stained-glass windows, is an example of "simple Gothic revival-style ecclesiastical architecture" and has "considerable historical significance," according to the county, which named it a historic site in 1995.

During their research, the authors found that Chapel Two was once Forest Grove Methodist Church and was the religious and social nucleus of two towns whose names are no longer on the map: Old Fields and Meadows.

It built a strong congregation in the early 1800s, then became embroiled in controversy when its members split over whether to support the North or the South in the mid-1800s. During the Civil War, it was taken over by the Union Army for a hospital and headquarters. Soldiers are still buried there.

The alleged ghost is a Confederate spy.

Once the church was returned to its congregants, heavy winds blew it from its foundation. It was rebuilt. Again, it was damaged by a storm in 1914 and rebuilt.

Through eminent domain, the federal government purchased the cemetery and church in 1943 when Camp Springs Army Air Corps Base expanded to include most of what is now Andrews, the book states.

Norman and Carol Young, of Upper Marlboro, who wrote most of "Historical Chapel Two, From the Beginning 1805 Through 1998," said parishioners and townsfolk were given three weeks to vacate and were angry enough to scrape their names off the stained-glass windows. They are still blank today.

But the resentment is gone. Chapel Two holds 150 people, and its Sunday Protestant and Catholic services are routinely packed to capacity with people who live at Andrews or have had some connection to it over the years and travel large distances to get to it.

Gloria Gilbert, a desktop publisher from Clinton who was hired to edit the project, is a recent Chapel Two convert.

"When I first came here I thought, 'Okay, this is military, so I'm going to have to be staunch,' " she said. "But there was none of that. It's so laid-back and warm. It's really like a wonderful surprise."

-- Susan Saulny

SEAT PLEASANT

Toward a Traffic Circle

For almost two decades, the traffic at a major intersection in Seat Pleasant has worried residents. They have been writing to city, county and state officials to try to find ways to calm traffic at the junction of Martin Luther King Jr. Highway, Addison Road and Seat Pleasant Drive. Last week, they began to think that all their letter-writing might have finally paid off.

About 25 Seat Pleasant residents listened Thursday as officials from the Maryland State Highway Administration presented design ideas for a traffic circle where the three routes converge at what officials said is "one of the most awkward intersections in Maryland."

"Right now, there is so much money for transportation projects," said Kevin Nowak, design manager for the highway administration. "If Seat Pleasant wants something done, now is the time to do it."

Highway officials presented seven options for installing the traffic circle, making a solid pitch with dozens of blown-up drawings and a slick video showing how the circles work well in European countries.

Financed with state transportation funds, the Seat Pleasant circle likely would cost $2 million to $3 million.

The intersection is not particularly dangerous to pedestrians or drivers, according to county police and the highway administration. About 200 accidents, from minor to major, have occurred at the intersection in the last three years. About 18,000 cars pass through the area each day.

Still, residents say that pedestrians struggle to cross the roads safely and that traffic moves too swiftly for businesses to capture the attention of passersby. And the intersection could become dangerous with expected increases in traffic, highway officials said.

As part of the proposed plan, the highway would be narrowed from six lanes to four for several blocks on each side of the circle. That would allow the city to install landscaped medians or parking areas. It also would slow traffic as it approaches the two-lane circle.

Making the area more attractive was a big plus for many of the residents who attended, most of whom support the plan.

"Let's see if we can get this money in our community and maybe we can get a sit-down restaurant there and some other nice places," said Thurman D. Jones Jr., a member of the City Council.

A traffic circle also is less expensive than an intersection with traffic lights, Nowak said.

The highway administration will hold several more community meetings to get responses from the community about their designs. Construction of the circle may not begin for a year or two.

The biggest concerns among the residents are which properties in the area will have to be purchased by the state. A Texaco gas station and an activity center for seniors may lose pieces of property, though how much is not yet clear.

Five years ago, there were no traffic circles in Maryland. But after the highway administration did a study, concluding the circles are a low-cost solution to congestion woes, the idea has been promoted in places such as Annapolis, Towson and Mount Rainier.

-- Mary Louise Schumacher

If you have an item for Prince George's Towns, please let us know. Susan Saulny coordinates the municipal coverage. She can be reached at 301-952-2036; fax to 301-952-1397; e-mail to saulnys@washpost.com; or write to Prince George's Towns, Prince George's Extra, The Washington Post, 14402 Old Mill Rd., Suite 201, Upper Marlboro, Md. 20772.