Rev. Henry Rowland’s years in Berkeley Springs – a family recollection

by Pat Keys

Special to

The Morgan Messenger

“You can tell a gentleman by his shoes.”

This old saying referred to the care a gentleman would give his shoes and accordingly, the care and love that would be given to all his things.

In this case, the pair of shoes belonged to my Grandfather, the Reverend Henry H. Rowland (born September 30, 1884 on a farm one mile north of Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, and officially place of birth was listed as Delmar, Tioga, Pennsylvania).

The Reverend was the Pastor of Frances Asbury Methodist Church (known today as Trinity Asbury United Methodist Church), located on Wilkes Street in Berkeley Springs, directly behind the Star Theater.

In the summer of 1941, my Grandfather came to Berkeley Springs from Camp Springs, Maryland, where he was Pastor of a Methodist Church there, and brought his family. Besides his wife, Mildred Ament, he brought along his two sons, Charles and Robert (my Father, who is the last sibling of his clan to be with us today, will turn 95 this month), daughters Anne, Jean and Margaret, along with Anne’s son George.

In the nineteen teens, after marrying Mildred Ament in 1911, Reverend Rowland took his bride to China, where he was the Head Master of a Christian School in Changli.

Following two miscarriages, they subsequently had two children (Jean and Charles). Off and on, the Reverend and his family did several tours in China until the late nineteen teens.

As the years went by and more children were added to the family, daughter Anne married twice and had borne a baby girl, Claudia Anne, after son George.

In 1942, Anne died in February. Her Mother Mildred passed away suddenly in June 1942. Eventually, my Grandfather adopted Anne’s first child, George, while Claudia Anne was brought up by her father’s relatives.

Henry Rowland’s boyhood shoes and a photo of him as young man, saved as a family heirloom.

Reverend Rowland’s tenure at the Methodist Church covered most years during the period from 1941 until he retired in 1958, I believe.

Frances Asbury is Number 23 on the Berkeley Springs Walking Tour. According to the Walking Tour brochure, the church was built on the southeast corner of Congress and Wilkes Street in 1890, the second church on the site.

Henry and Mildred Rowland, August 9, 1911.

The parsonage for the church at that time was located at the intersection of Routes 522 and 9, next door to the St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, on the property now known as the offices of realtor Coldwell Banker Premier.

My mother, Marian Michael Rowland, lived at the Methodist Parsonage with the Reverend (her father-in-law), while my father, Robert Rowland, was a Merchant Marine during the latter years of World War II.

Mother came home from the hospital after my sister was born in August 1945, and they lived at the Parsonage until my folks decided to move to Baltimore, where more job opportunities were available in the post-World War II era.

After a time, Reverend Rowland and his wife second wife Ethel (Somers), who he had married in 1945, moved to 304 Congress Street, between the Ice House and the Morgan County Library. It was a lovely yellow single-family, two-story house that I visited frequently to see them.

Ethel had been an organist at Frances Asbury Methodist Church. As time moved forward, the house on Congress Street was demolished and the land where it stood was taken over by the grounds of the Ice House and parking area of the Library. Grandfather lived there until he passed away in 1968, on my birthday, November 30th while being treated for melanoma cancer at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

Mildred and Henry Rowland, 1941.

A walking reverend

Family history aside, my Grandfather, the Reverend, could be seen “walking” all around the Town of Bath in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.

While he owned a car, he preferred walking in reliable shoes to trek around town, always in hopes he could meet and greet folks, as well as talk to local folks or visitors. He was just that kind of man.

I always found him to be warm and caring and attentive to any queries that one might have about religion or everyday life. His attention to his “flock” was emulated in his attention to his fellow man and was admired by many.

Indeed, he was a “gentleman” who cared not only for his “shoes” but for every detail of his life and those around him. He made you feel at ease no matter what was on your mind. The love and devotion he gave to his shoes transcended to the love and devotion he gave to the Lord and all the folks he encountered during his walks around town.

Ethel Sommers and Henry Rowland.

His early shoes, circa 1890-1895, are in my possession, and I try my best to keep them preserved. Even early on, one can notice that the heels were worn down a bit giving the impression that at an early age, Reverend Rowland was “walking” everywhere — a tradition he carried with him throughout his life.