In early 1974, the Guilford Garden Club set its sights on a bi-centennial project that would encompass the old and the new. Downtown Baltimore was undergoing a transformative revitalization. Within the Inner Harbor development area, stood the Old Otterbein Church – a historic building in need of attention.
The Church, erected in 1786, is the oldest church in continual use in the city of Baltimore. Built for about $5000 by Jacob Small, of brick brought to America as ballast on English ships, this small Georgian church with multi-paned arched windows containing some of the original sashes still rang the original bells. The church’s namesake, Reverend Philip Wilheim Otterbein, is buried on the grounds.
The restoration work undertaken by the Guilford Garden Club’s Otterbein Committee garnered the support of the Charles Center Inner Harbor Management Corporation. Club members volunteered to remove old shrubs, weeds and trees. The Committee solicited bids for extensive renovations to the hardscape, resulting in the replacement of existing concrete paths with period brick as well as the installation of granite steps and a table monument for Otterbein’s grave marker. With these improvements, the Church regained its eighteenth century aura. The capstone of these efforts was the planting of an eighteenth century specimen tree – a Washington Hawthorne. As reported in the local news, the tree planting orchestrated by the club was attended by Mayor William Donald Schaefer, Walter Sondheim, chairman of the Charles Center Management Corporation and other city officials.
The Club continued to support the Church after this initial undertaking. In 1976, we donating money to help fund the replacement of the aging roof. In 1980, the club planted 400 spring bulbs. The “Guilford Garden Club Memorial Garden” was installed in coordination with Maxalea in 1981 – an almost maintenance free garden of shrubbery, complete with a stone and bronze marker in appreciation of our continuing support. The club continued to advise and assist in the maintenance of various aspects of the landscaping on the church grounds throughout the 1980s.
In 2007, the church called upon the club for advice and assistance taming the overgrown churchyard and restoring several areas that had been damaged during renovations to the adjacent Convention Center. GGC members worked with church members to clear invasive plants from the property and replaced them with native plants. Donations were solicited from various exhibitors at MANTS (Mid-Atlantic Nursery Trade Show) which allowed the effort to include many trees and large shrubs.
Almost 50 years after the partnership began, inspired by the marker in the Guilford Garden Club Memorial Garden, the church has once again sought the advice of the club, as the gardens on the historic property mature and evolve. This partnership has happily endured across several generations of both the Old Otterbein Church and the Guilford Garden Club.