Just Where was Queen’s Chapel?

When I moved to DC decades ago and first drove out Michigan Avenue I noticed it suddenly became Queen’s Chapel Road as it crossed the Maryland border. What queen? I wondered. What chapel? And then I kept running across little pieces of Queen’s Chapel Road in nearby DC. Just a block or two here and there. It got me curious so I looked into it. 

What we now know as 18th Street, the original eastern boundary of Brookland, was once part of Queen’s Chapel Road, which ran from the Hyattsville area all the way to Bladensburg Road. It was the route to the Catholic chapel on the colonial estate of the Queen family. Queen’s Chapel stood near the intersection of present-day 20th and Evarts Streets, NE in Langdon, and it has quite a history.

Marsham Queen was part of the wealthy Queen family, who first came to Maryland in the late 17th century. Through marriage, the Queens came into a huge tract of land in the early 1700s that stretched from near Bladensburg to this area and beyond, and their name and influence is all over the region. Though Queen family tradition says that in 1721 Richard Queen built a mansion in what is now the Langdon area, Richard wasn’t born until 1725, so it was most likely his father, Marsham Queen, who built their home. The Queens were slaveholders, as were most of the colonial landowners in the area, and the enslaved workers were likely the actual builders of the mansion, one wing of which was reserved as a Catholic chapel.

Library of Congress. Click to enlarge
Illustration from Evening Star, March 23, 1901

Though Maryland had been founded by Catholics and was open to all religions, by the early 18th century Catholics were a persecuted minority, unable to practice law or to teach, and with severely restricted voting rights. Mass could only be held in private houses, which is why Marsham Queen put the chapel within his home. Family tradition says he soon built an outdoor chapel but disguised it as a smokehouse. Catholic families from around the area, along with their slaves, would come here to worship. Services were held at best monthly, with priests coming from Bohemia and St. Mary’s City. It seems to have been officially called St. Mary’s chapel, but Queen’s Chapel is the name that stuck.

Other than oral tradition, the first real evidence of Queen’s chapel is Richard Queen’s will from 1793, in which he bequeaths two acres of land “where the Roman Catholic chapel now stands.” to Bishop John Carroll, the bishop of Baltimore. A copy of that hand-written will is at the Catholic University archives. 

Queen’s Chapel was burned during the Revolutionary War era, seemingly by accident, and rebuilt. Then in 1814, after the battle of Bladensburg, the chapel burned for a second time when the British torched it as they marched downtown to burn the Capitol and White House. Once more it was rebuilt. Finally during the Civil War, some Union soldiers camped nearby heard stories that the Queens were Confederate sympathizers (many were, though some were in the Union Army) and were former slaveowners. They set the chapel alight and prevented neighbors from putting out the blaze until it had burned to the ground for a third and final time.

The ruins stayed that way, unused and forgotten, until 1908, when a new church was built on the site and christened St. Francis de Sales.

St. Francis De Sales church, 1910. Willard R. Ross Postcard Collection, DC Public Library

In the 1920s, St. Francis de Sales moved to its present location at 20th Street & Rhode Island Avenue NE, and the church they had built just twenty years earlier on the foundations of the original Queen’s Chapel was torn down. The site of Queen’s Chapel was absorbed into Evarts Street and Langdon Elementary School.

Original site of Queen’s Chapel at 20th and Evarts Streets NE.

Queen’s Chapel was one of the first Catholic places of worship in Maryland. Together with St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, founded in 1712 about 2 ½ miles away, the spiritual needs of early Maryland colonists in this area were well tended to. 

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