Jedediah M. Grant, Erastus Snow, William Bosley, and John F. Wakefield began missionary work in Maryland in 1837. Snow and Bosley worked in Washington County, where they organized a branch. Elder Snow also reported preaching in Greencastle, Pa., and baptized more than a dozen people in the village of Leitersburg, Md., just south of the Pennsylvania state line. John Murdock was the first missionary in eastern Maryland, arriving in Baltimore in 1841.
An LDS newspaper, the Mormon Expositor, was begun in 1842 in Baltimore but was soon discontinued. In 1844, both the Whig and Democratic national political conventions were held in Baltimore. At that time Heber C. Kimball and Lyman Wight of the Quorum of the Twelve traveled there to persuade delegates to support Joseph Smith’s candidacy for the presidency of the United States. While in Baltimore, they received definite word of the Prophet’s martyrdom, having earlier heard rumors about his murder.
Following the removal of the Church from Nauvoo to the Great Basin, little missionary work was done in Maryland during the remainder of the 19th century. Occasionally Latter-day Saints studied there, including future apostles James E. Talmage (1883-1884) and Joseph F. Merrill (1896-1899) at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University. Elder Merrill’s stay followed the re-establishment of missionary work in the area, under the direction of the Eastern States Mission in New York City, and he and his wife served in Maryland’s largest city as local missionaries.
The Maryland Conference (as mission districts were then known) was organized in June 1899. When the first conference was held in Baltimore in 1901, there were no Latter-day Saints living there except a few Utah students. A Sunday School was organized not many years later, and missionary work was extended to Havre de Grace, Frederick, and Salisbury. By 1920 missionaries were also working in Annapolis, the state capital. The first branch was organized in Baltimore in April 1923 and an existing church was purchased as a meeting place. That structure was sold to raise funds to buy a building site, which was selected in 1934 by President Heber J. Grant, who returned to Baltimore a year later to dedicate the meetinghouse on Mayfield Avenue.
By the 1930s, as the federal government’s New Deal programs brought numerous Latter-day Saints to Washington, D. C., in search of employment, the nation’s capital became the focal point for the Church in central Maryland and northern Virginia. A small branch functioned briefly in Capitol Heights, Md., toward the end of World War I, but it was in 1938 that the first permanent outpost of the District of Columbia Church was established in Maryland at Chevy Chase. Later that year, the Capitol District was organized, including the Washington Branch, the Chevy Chase, Baltimore, and Greenbelt branches in Maryland, the Arlington Branch in Virginia, and the Fairview Branch in Pennsylvania. In June 1940, those branches became part of the new Washington Stake.
As the growing population of Washington spilled into the Maryland countryside, over the next several decades, farming communities were transformed into suburbs that extended ever further beyond the limits of the District of Columbia. During the 1950s, as increasing numbers of Latter-day Saints came to the area to work, teach or study at local schools and settled in suburban Maryland, additional wards were established at College Park and Silver Spring, the Baltimore Ward was divided, and a branch was established at Annapolis.
The College Park Ward was typical of others in the area, initially extending across many small communities but then shrinking in size as the LDS populations of those other towns grew and new wards were created. With similar growth following in the next decade, the first Maryland stake was created in 1970, with headquarters at Silver Spring, and later in the 1970s additional stakes were created at Baltimore and Suitland. Maryland’s Church membership stood at nearly 18,000 by 1980.
As the Church expanded in the suburbs surrounding Washington, social and economic conditions deteriorated in the inner city. This led Church leaders in Salt Lake City to select Maryland as the site for several important developments in the metropolitan area. In 1960, the Eastern Atlantic States Mission was created, with headquarters in Bethesda, which increased the number of missionaries in the area. The mission became the Delaware-Maryland Mission in 1970 and was renamed the Washington D. C. Mission in 1974, but the headquarters remained in Bethesda.
More significantly, when the First Presidency announced the Washington Temple in 1968, the site selected was in Kensington, Md., where the temple was completed and dedicated in November 1974 and a major LDS visitors center was built in 1976.
In recent years, many new wards and branches and additional stakes have been created in Maryland. A substantial share of the state’s LDS population has been quite transient, with students leaving as they complete their schooling and others drawn away by employment or military transfers. In some areas ward and branch boundaries have been frequently realigned, not only to accommodate changes in numbers but also to better meet the needs of local members and congregations. This has especially been the case in Baltimore, where local Church leaders have reached out to inner-city residents, whether Latter-day Saints or potential investigators.
Meanwhile, a handful of Maryland LDS congregations have functioned outside the Washington-Baltimore corridor, some of them for more than 40 years. In 2004, these included the Oakland Branch of the Clarksburg West Virginia Stake and five wards of the Martinsburg West Virginia Stake in the western part of the state, as well as the Salisbury Ward and two branches of the Wilmington Delaware Stake on the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay.
Membership was 38,517 in 2003. In 2005, membership reached 38,439.
Andrew Jenson, “Maryland Conference,” Encyclopedic History of the Church, 1941; Julian C. Lowe and Florian H. Thayn, History of the Mormons in the Greater Washington Area: Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Washington, D. C. Area, 1839-1991, 1991; College Park Ward, 1979; Afton Hepworth Hobbs, Reflections on the Salisbury Branch: A history of the early growth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the lower Delmarva Peninsula, 1989; Susan Buhler Taber, Mormon Lives: A Year in the Elkton Ward, 1993; Frederick Ward (1947-1997): In Commemoration of The Pioneer Sesquicentennial Celebration and of the 50th Anniversary of the Founding of the Frederick Branch, 1997; A History of The Baltimore Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1974-1999, 2003.