Wildwood Baptist Church has its origin in the 19thcentury, when the surrounding community was referred to as “Rabbit’s P.O.” or “Beane.” In 1821, members of Old Seneca Baptist Church branched out and to form a new church, The Bethel Baptist Church of Montgomery County. The new church applied for membership in the Baltimore Association in 1822, and over the next 6 years held worship services in various members’ homes.
Years later, The Bethel Baptist Church divided into two separate churches, one keeping the name Bethel Baptist, and the other taking the name The Baptist Church at Rockville (or Rockville Baptist Church). Several meetings took place to discuss establishing a permanent meeting house, including a meeting in the grove of O.S. Wilson on Georgetown Road in 1856, and several meetings at the Magruder School House at Beane in 1858. The church’s prayers were answered in 1859 when the Bohrer family offered a tract of their land to erect a church and accompanying cemetery.
In 1862, groundbreaking began on the new church, located on “Spider Hill”, across the street from the location where the church members were holding a protracted tent revival (the area of present day Wildwood Shopping Center). The church was named Mount Zion Baptist Church (affectionately known as “The little church in the Wildwood”).
The new church soon found itself intimately involved in the Civil War. Tradition holds that Confederate General Jubal Early’s troops used the church to quarter and care for troops, and were at the church in July 1864 during a battle against Union Colonel C.R. Lowell. The Sunday Star published an article on October 15, 1916, describing this event:
“… a brigade of cavalry, the 2nd Massachusetts and the 10th New York, numbering 800 effectives and commanded by Col C.R. Lowell, was camped near Falls Church, VA. This force was called to the defense of Washington, and it was this force or a part of it which struck Early’s advance near Rabbitts branch.”
The actual Rabbitts Branch location was described as being near a store owned by Isaac O. Rabbitt and Mt. Zion Baptist Church.
The church not only survived the war, but also began to thrive. In 1868, the church incorporated as The Baptist Church at Rockville. In 1883, after a few dozen members were granted letters of dismissal years earlier, Mt. Zion Baptist Church was formally established again and the land was given to the Deacons of the church (by the Deacons of The Baptist Church at Rockville).
In 1894, Mt. Zion Baptist Church helped establish a new church at Travilah. The church continued to grow, along with the surrounding community, necessitating expansion to serve the needs of the congregation. A new sanctuary for Mt. Zion Baptist was built and dedicated in 1910. Church records indicate that, at the dedication of 1910, offerings taken by the congregation paid the entire debt off in one day.
The church was remodeled and expanded in 1950, adding an educational wing (later to be named the C.A. Brubaker Educational Wing). It was in the 1950’s that the church helped establish yet another church, the Montrose Baptist Church. By the 1962 (100th Anniversary), the congregation at Mt. Zion Baptist Church numbered around 600 members.
In the early 1970’s, Mt. Zion Baptist Church was renamed Wildwood Baptist Church, taking its name from the heavily wooded area surrounding the church, and reflecting its affectionately known title of “The little church in the Wildwood.” The neighboring community followed suite in naming the Wildwood Shopping Center and Wildwood Manor residential area.
Wildwood Baptist Church underwent another building addition in 2004. In 2011, the church refurbished and restored the sanctuary to better reflect the appearance of the original sanctuary. In 2012, the church will celebrate 150 years of worship.
Wildwood Baptist Church is associated with the Southern Baptist Convention of Maryland and Delaware. It is also one of the oldest churches (and the only one in Bethesda) affiliated with the Montgomery County Baptist Association.
The cemetery at Wildwood Baptist Church dates back prior to the church’s establishment in 1862 and contains several hundred gravesites. Familiar names you can find include family members of the Beanes, Magruders, Veirs, Rileys, and Darcys. Doree Germaine Hollman (1890-1975), historian of the Bethesda area, is also buried there.
History derived from Maryland Historic Trust document drafted in 1976, and from Church records.