From soaring steeples capped with fancy wrought ironwork finials to humble one-room country churches, photographer Paul Yoder has put his top choices of architectural styles of God’s houses in his just-released book.
“Maryland’s Eastern Shore Historic Churches” is 162 pages filled with 515 photos and illustrations showcasing churches throughout the nine counties of the Eastern Shore.
“There’s 116 churches featured in the book, and that’s a small number compared to all the churches on the Shore. I based my selection on architectural merits and/or historical significance,” he said.
Yoder’s work offers congregations throughout the Shore an insight into shared historical perspectives and unique bonds. Church architecture is distinct and often embodies immediate visual ecclesiastical symbolisms. His book presents architectural styles that tell the story of the evolution of design tastes and fashion in brick, granite and wooden churches, some from the 18th century, others just decades old.
It is architectural style and details, he discovered, that gives each church individuality, presence and spiritual definition. Yoder presents the no-frills construction of the nationally famous Quaker’s Third Haven Friends Meeting House in Easton, to the pull-out-all-the-stops robust eye-catching excitement of Christ Episcopal in Cambridge, with its unusual eyebrow window on the slated roof with its stained-glass panels, to the even more ornate Trinity United Methodist Church in Salisbury with its superb granite block work to its Romanesque-style accents.
“When I was younger, I wanted to be an architect, but never had the math skills. I’ve always loved architecture and to write the information about the churches in my book, I just did basic research. A lot of information came from the Maryland Historic Trust, or websites hosted by individual churches for their histories and architectural definitions.”
Through his lens, Yoder captures churches and meeting houses with the simplest of details — board and batten exteriors, shuttered windows, a single modest cross capping the roof, or ocular windows with geometric colored glass designs within. Some churches have powerful strong Gothic and Romanesque lines reminiscent of distinctive Medieval castle landmarks of Europe, even some with buttresses.
Others are built in the “high Victorian style,” sometimes with patterned slate roofs and soaring, piercing steeples and ornate and lofty bell towers. Whether Gothic or Victorian in design, both styles usually come with an abundance of stained-glass windows.
By their nature, churches become landmarks, and their architecture, plain or over the top, merits historical distinction and visual appreciation.
The concept of the book began in 1984 when Yoder, then a college student at Salisbury University, found ecclesiastical architectural gems on the Shore’s three lower counties. Then he discovered more in the six northern counties.
“It was the rich history of religion on the Eastern Shore and architecture that really intrigued me,” he said. “I just felt drawn to these structures.”
Though he lives in Emmaus, Pa., his photographic soul is comfortably at home on the Shore. He figures there’s at least 5,000 hours of time invested in producing the book, as well as driving more than 10,000 miles throughout the years.
“My wife has always supported me on this project. She used to ride along, but she got tired of sitting in the car while I took photographs,” he said with laughter.
The hard-cover book fills a documentary niche, he said. “Basically, it’s a synopsis of the history of each selected church. I've not seen anything remotely close to this type of book, focusing on regional church architecture and history.”
He has spent the last three years in the production phase of his self-published book. It is a project that has allowed him to be his own graphic designer, author and publisher.
When Yoder started shooting his photos about 30 years ago, the preferred format was black and white negatives. Now he’s processing today’s state-of-the-art digital photos. Yoder presents his work in a shared style of delicate photographic texture and vision.
It is a book offering numerous examples of blends and distinct prominent styles of church architecture on the Shore.
He has found and documented churches which are often, with their individual nuances, one-of-a-kind structures. Some, like St Patrick’s Chapel in Conowingo, Busick’s Church in Barclay and Salem M.E. Church in Church Hill, look more like schoolhouses of the late 1800s and early 1900s, but all church designs are equal in importance in telling the development of church architectural history on the Shore.
It was in Dorchester County where Yoder discovered the most diverse and noteworthy architectural vernaculars — 18 examples.
His photo documentary is history-making, as it is the first book dedicated to bringing together a pictorial record of the tastes and evolving styles that defined 300-plus-years of architecture.
“It’s amazing what you can discover down country roads,” he said. “Even the smallest of churches often have unique architectural details which make them special and hint at a neighborhood’s personality.”
Rural churches are typically wood frame structures, and are almost always painted white, with open belfries that allowed the ringing bell to be heard over marshes and farmland when families in rural America often walked to services. Often, limited financial resources of the congregants mandated minimalism in the church’s plain and utilitarian architecture, but it was beautiful in simplicity.
“Maryland’s Eastern Shore Historic Churches,” Yoder’s first book on church art, architecture and history, may be ordered through his website, paulyoderfoto.com, and through select retail outlets.
Paul Yoder will be signing books at The Greyhound Bookstore in Berlin, Nov. 25, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and appearing as a guest speaker at the Dorchester County Historical Society in Cambridge, Nov. 29, 5 to 7 p.m.