I’m lucky to live near one of Maryland’s oldest and (in my opinion) most interesting and varied State Parks: Patapsco Valley State Park. The park is long and narrow, running about 32 miles along the Patapsco river from Sykesville, MD down into Baltimore City. The Patapsco Valley has been called the cradle of the industrial revolution in Maryland and a history of mills and railroads intermingles with a remarkable natural beauty. Nature has reclaimed much of the land, but the past still hides in the woods, waiting to be discovered like buried treasure.
One of the more remarkable slices of hidden history can be found in the Daniels area of Patapsco. Daniels was once a thriving mill town that was abandoned and then wiped (mostly) clean by floods from Hurricane Agnes in 1972. In that section of the park, you can walk along the remains of Alberton Rd. into the “heart” of the town where the mill workers lived. You can still see old foundations, walls, abandoned cars and appliances as well as a few more intact structures. One of the more hidden and intriguing of those structures are the remains of St. Stanislaus church.
It can be found up a hill from the river, on the Baltimore County side. From what I’ve read, St. Stanislaus Catholic church was struck by lightning in 1926 and burned down. Today, only a partial shell of the stone church is still standing and it’s almost completely obscured by trees. Not much remains now; a few partial, stone walls and a small, overgrown cemetery.
The first time I stumbled upon it, though, it was clear that, even in that state, St. Stanislaus was still being used as “holy ground.” In one of the last standing corners of the church was a small shrine of sorts. There were candle stubs, a “tapestry”, and a journal recording the thoughts of the “pilgrims” that had visited. There was a kind of “presence” within those crumbled walls that was at once frightening, humbling, and beautiful. The place demanded a kind of quiet reverence, not because of the grandeur of the structure, but because of the power it still held in the hearts and minds of those visitors.
The images of St. Stanislaus have stuck with me, and I often think of what makes a space “holy” for people. I’m sure it varies from person to person. For some, it doesn’t require stained glass and organ music. The colors of the fall leaves and the songs of the birds are enough. I can relate to that.
All the above is a VERY long introduction to a Sijo poem I wrote that tries to condense all those thoughts into 45 syllables…
The church’s stone shell hides in trees
swallowed by the leaves and scrub
Building lost to lightning strike
congregation to river flood
In the last standing corner
candles burn. A new holy place