Group works to preserve history of local church

There are those who spend their days in Sussex County enjoying its beaches, its shopping, its small-town feel. And then there are those who spend their days working to preserve landmarks in the county, such as the members of the Friends of Prince George’s Chapel in Dagsboro.

The Friends planned to host a chicken dinner on Friday at Bethel United Methodist Church – one of many fundraisers they host throughout the year to help maintain the chapel, which is owned by the State of Delaware, but leased by the Town of Dagsboro, which then releases it to the Friends.

According to Friends Secretary Kim Frey, the chapel was built by Maryland Anglicans in 1755, because, at the time, the Dagsboro area was considered part of Maryland. Following the Revolutionary War, when most Anglicans went back to England, the chapel became a place of worship for Episcopalians. After several periods of disrepair and remodeling, the last regular congregation left the chapel in the early 1900s.

The state purchased the chapel, although the town retained possession of the cemetery adjacent to the structure, and it existed as a museum before closing in the 1980s. At that time, Margaret Morris, president of the Friends, approached the state about what could be done to preserve the historic site.

“It’s beautiful inside, and it’s one of our treasures that we have here in town, and it’s something that should be taken care of,” said Morris, who is 92 years old.

She said she feels so passionately about the chapel because many of her family members – including her husband, who was killed on the beaches of Normandy in 1944 – are buried in the cemetery.

Although there are no regular Sunday services held there today, the chapel – which was added to the Register of National Historic Places in 1971 – does host special events throughout the year, Frey said.

“As a rule, we’ll have a sing-along sometime after Christmas, usually in the first week in January, and people seem to enjoy that, because people like to sing and people like music,” said Morris.

She said the chapel also hosts an early-morning service on Easter Sunday each year, so people can watch the sun rise. Beyond those two events, the chapel is open to whatever the community needs.

“We have weddings, baptisms, whatever’s wanted,” Morris said. “We do quite a few a year.”

However, Friends of Prince George’s Chapel Treasurer Linda Dukes said that it has gotten more difficult to maintain the chapel recently, thanks to a sluggish economy.

“The different things that we have done to try and raise money have not produced nearly as much for us in the last couple of years as it used to,” she said.

She said the town maintains the exterior of the chapel, but the Friends are responsible for the utilities, expenses, cleaning and repairs. If any expenses exceed $1,000, she said, the State steps in to help. The Friends have no set budget and rely on fundraisers, like Friday’s chicken dinner, to keep them afloat.

Frey said the number of people who want to support Prince George’s Chapel is also getting smaller and smaller, but that maintaining the building is still important because it preserves religious heritage in the area.

“The Friends have worked really hard to keep it open,” she said.

Frey, Morris and Dukes said any member of the public or groups that are interested in seeing and learning more about the chapel are welcome to make an appointment for a personal tour at any time.