Tour of Historical Churches Provides a Walk Through History
Augusta, Georgia – On Sunday, October 25, 2015 churches in downtown Augusta will once again open their doors for visitors to take a walk through their churches and through history. The participating churches are all listed in the National Register of Historic Places and represent many firsts for the community as well as their denominations. While each church is proud of its individual history and historical buildings, the goal of the tour is to highlight the impact these institutions have had on Augusta for more than 200 years. “We decided to present this encore tour because of the great feedback we received from visitors last fall,” said Rachel Gregory of Sacred Heart, head of this year’s planning committee.
The tour is self-guided and tour maps can be picked up at any of the participating churches on the day of the tour. The tour times are from 1:00pm – 5:00pm. See the tour guide for specific times for each church.
Participating churches are Holy Trinity Catholic Church, First Presbyterian Church, Thankful Baptist Church, St. James United Methodist Church, Metropolitan Community Church of Our Redeemer, First Christian Church, St. John United Methodist Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, Union Baptist Church, Sacred Heart Cultural Center, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox, St. Paul’s Church and Springfield Baptist Church. The Southern Bible Institute and Seminary (old First Baptist) is supporting the tour and highlighted on the tour map, but the building will not be open to the public.
A brief history of each church follows. More information can be found online through the support of Historic Augusta, Inc. www.historicaugusta.org
Holy Trinity Catholic Church, 720 Telfair St. Open for Tour 1:30-5:00pm
Contact: Helen Griffin, 706.722.4944
Church of the Most Holy Trinity, formally organized in 1810, is a monument to one of Georgia’s earliest Catholic communities and is the oldest surviving Catholic Church building in Georgia; however, the first visit of Catholics to the Augusta area is recorded in 1540, with De Soto’s expedition. Beginning in the 1790s, Catholics from France and Ireland began settling in Augusta. The present church edifice was consecrated on April 12, 1863. The church was known as St. Patrick from 1863 until the downtown churches of St. Patrick, Immaculate Conception, and Sacred Heart merged in 1971 to be the Church of the Most Holy Trinity. Two bishops and seven priests are entombed beneath the altar.
First Presbyterian Church, 642 Telfair St. Open for Tour 1:00-5:00pm
Contact: Sandy Lanclos, 706.262.8820
First Presbyterian Church of Augusta was incorporated in 1804. Woodrow Wilson’s father, Reverend Joseph Wilson, was pastor of the church from 1858-1870. During the Civil War, the church was used as a hospital for soldiers, and young Wilson had a clear view of the horrors of war from the manse across the street. Today, an active congregation of more than 1,600 still worships in the original structure designed by famed architect Robert Mills, who also designed the Washington Monument. Building on its rich past, First Presbyterian’s mission is to Restore People and Rebuild Places through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. www.firstpresaugusta.org
Thankful Baptist Church, 302 Walker St. Open for Tour 1:00-5:00pm
Contact: Joe Johnson, 706.724.2187
Thankful Baptist Church was founded on April 26, 1840 under the name “Independent” in an area of Augusta known as “Pinched Gut.” It was the first daughter church established out of Springfield Baptist Church that emerged from the Silver Bluff Baptist Church, both being among the oldest African American churches in the country. On May 13, 1898, Civil Rights Activist Dr. W.E.B. Dubois spoke at Thankful; and during the Civil Rights era, Thankful was active in organizing non-violent protests for racial equality. Over the years, Thankful has given life to other churches including Macedonia Baptist Church in Augusta. www.thankfulbaptist.org
St. James United Methodist Church, 439 Greene St. Open for Tour 1:00-5:00
Contact: Anne Barton, 706.722.8373
St. James Methodist has served Augusta almost 160 years from 1856, and has hosted two United States presidents: William Howard Taft and Dwight Eisenhower. Its Gothic structure and belfry enhanced the original building in 1887. An Austin 3-Manual Organ replaced the 1895 Hook & Hastings in 1950, retaining its beautiful pipes as a functioning façade. There are more than 20 stained glass windows gracing the sanctuary and entranceways. Famed architect G. Lloyd Preacher designed its 1916 parsonage. Outside stands the nation’s oldest Confederate monument built by St. James Sunday School, honoring its 24 members and other Augustans killed in the Civil War. It was dedicated in 1873. The first Bible used in the pulpit is preserved and displayed in a glass case. www.stjamesaugusta.com
Metropolitan Community Church of Our Redeemer, 557 Greene St. Open for Tour 1:00-5:00
Contact: Ann Willbrand, 706.722.6454
Metropolitan Community Church of Our Redeemer is a Gothic Revival jewel built as Holy Trinity English Lutheran Church in 1887, Augusta’s first English-speaking Lutheran congregation. Shortly after the German and English Lutheran congregations merged in 1921, they built the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection and sold this church to a Christian Science congregation that has been in Augusta since 1906. The Metropolitan Community Church of Our Redeemer (originally MCC Augusta), which has been in Augusta since 1987, purchased the church as its first permanent home in 2003. The church is welcoming to all, including the LGBT community. www.mccoor.com
First Christian Church, 629 Greene St. Open for Tour 1:00-3:00pm
Contact: Nila Witker, 706.722.2911
The First Christian Church congregation was organized in 1835 in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Campbell by Dr. Daniel Hook, a physician and later mayor of Augusta. In 1836, the great Augusta philanthropist, Mrs. Emily Tubman, joined the church and proved to be a driving force in its development, just as she influenced the city. In 1842, Mrs. Tubman financed the construction of a frame church on the 700 block of Reynolds Street. It was used until the present church was completed, then served as a women’s high school named for Mrs. Tubman. The present church and all surrounding structures were built between 1874-76, again with Mrs. Tubman‘s generosity.
St. John United Methodist Church, 736 Greene St. Open for Tour 1:00-5:00
Contact: Nichole Kuehl, 706.724.9641
The St. John congregation is one of the oldest in Augusta, formed in 1798 as Augusta’s Methodist Society under the leadership of Stith Mead. In 1800, Mead purchased the Greene Street lot for $500, and in 1801, the congregation built its first meeting house. In 1844 the present brick sanctuary, built by William Goodrich, replaced it; and the old meeting house was rolled on logs to become the sanctuary of Springfield Baptist Church. St. John’s brick exterior was modified in 1893 to the Romanesque Revival style. To celebrate the church’s bicentennial in 1998, the interior sanctuary was restored to its former Victorian character. The magnificent Dobson Pipe Organ was added in 2003. A recent campaign has raised money to clean the magnificent 1893 stained glass windows and make several other improvements throughout the buildings. Visitors are welcomed for Sunday worship, Wednesday night fellowship and study, and special concerts throughout the year. www.stjohnaugusta.org
Southern Bible Institute and Seminary, (Old First Baptist) , 802 Greene St. (not open for the tour)
Designed in 1902 by architect William F. Denny, this building is a fine example of the Beaux-Arts style and features many characteristics indicative of the style, including decorative garlands, floral patterns, and symmetrical façade. The present building is notable for its cross-gable plan, its copper dome, its monumental Corinthian columns and its tremendous arched windows. The congregation moved to West Augusta in 1975. This building has subsequently been used for fledgling Southern Baptist congregations and since 2003 has been used by the Southern Bible Institute and Seminary. The Baptist Praying Society was established in Augusta in 1817, and completed their first building on this site in 1821 with John Lund as their architect; it was in that building the Southern Baptist Convention was founded in 1845, eventually becoming the largest Protestant denomination in the world.
Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, 825 Greene St. Open for Tour 1:30-5:00pm
Contact: Carolyn Gary, 706.724.8792
The beautiful granite structure at this site is the culmination of the history of the early Lutheran Church in Augusta. In 1859, the St. Matthew’s German Lutheran Church was established, and services in this church were conducted entirely in German. In 1883 a group of younger members withdrew and organized Holy Trinity English Lutheran Church on the 500 block of Greene Street. The two churches reunited in 1921 and became the “Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Resurrection.” The church is designed in the English Gothic Revival Style. The heavy granite form features the traditional tall nave flanked by lower side aisles and divided by buttresses. The red entrance doors signify entering God’s family, the church, through the blood of Jesus Christ. Over the doors is the symbol of Martin Luther known as the Luther seal. The interior, still following the English Gothic style, is also rich in symbolism and is built in the shape of a cross with a center aisle. It features a magnificent pipe organ and two large stained glass windows, one over the white marble altar depicting the last supper and another in the left transept known as the “Good Shepherd Window” showing Jesus tending his flock. www.churchwiththereddoors.org
Union Baptist Church, 1104 Greene St. Open for Tour 1:00-5:00pm
Contact: Deacon Cooper, 706.722.3001
Union Baptist Church was founded in 1878 by former members of the Springfield congregation. In 1883 they acquired a building that had been built as a white Presbyterian church at the southwest corner of 11th and Greene Streets, but had more recently been used by a black Methodist congregation. In 1887 the Union congregation hired the Augusta architectural firm of MacMurphey and Story to enlarge and remodel the former building, which resulted in the outstanding Carpenter Gothic edifice that remains today, completely intact. Restoration of the building has been ongoing through a partnership between the Union Baptist congregation and Historic Augusta, Inc.
Sacred Heart Cultural Center, 1301 Greene St. Open for Tour 1:00-5:00pm
Contact: Rachel Gregory, 706.826.4700
Built by Jesuit priests between 1898 and 1900 and known for three-quarters of a century as Sacred Heart Catholic Church, this magnificent facility is now the cornerstone structure of Augusta’s historic district and a popular facility for a variety of social, cultural and business functions. Welcoming the visitor are 15 intricate brickwork styles and 94 stained glass windows that herald the Romanesque and Byzantine architectural design. www.sacredheartaugusta.org
Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox, 953 Telfair St. Open for Tour 1:00-5:00 pm
Contact: Alexandra McClain, 706.495.6147
There was no organized Greek Orthodox Church in Augusta until 1911. In that year, a group of 162 Greeks, assisted by Father Dimitrios Petrides, a Greek Orthodox priest from Atlanta, organized the first and only Greek Orthodox Church in Augusta to date and thus received its official charter; 1911 is recognized as the birth year of the church. Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church is believed to be the oldest religious building of Greek Orthodox design in the Southeastern United States, being built in 1921. The design of the original church is very similar to the present design. www.holytrinityaugusta.org
Springfield Baptist Church, 114 Twelfth St. Open for Tour 2:00-5:00pm
Organized in 1787 by Jesse Peters, the Springfield Baptist Church is the oldest independent African-American Church in the nation in continuous existence. This church helped bridge the transition between slavery and free citizenship and has stood as a focus for black community life. The first building, which was erected in 1801 by Augusta’s first Methodist Society, was moved from Greene St. to Reynolds St. in 1844 to become the home of the Springfield Baptist Church. That original structure was then moved to the rear of the lot when the new brick church was built in 1897. It remains in use as their fellowship hall and is a major landmark from the early free-black community of Springfield. In 1867, Morehouse College, the nation’s only all-male, historically black undergraduate institution, was founded in the basement of Springfield Baptist Church as Augusta Institute by William Jefferson White, as requested by Rev. Richard C. Coulter and Rev. Edmund Turney, while Henry Watts was serving as pastor. The school moved to Atlanta in 1879 and was renamed Morehouse College in 1913.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 605 Reynolds St. Open for Tours 1:30-4:30pm
Contact: Sid Shields, 706.724.2485
St. Paul’s began as a small chapel beside Fort Augusta in 1749, a parish of the Church of England. The first two church buildings were damaged or destroyed in the French and Indian and Revolutionary Wars. After being incorporated in 1818 as an Episcopal Church, a fourth building was constructed in 1820. It later burned in the Great Augusta Fire of 1916, but was almost identical to the present building. Augusta architect Henry Wendell designed the fifth building on the site, emulating the exterior of the 1820 church, but completing the interior in the Georgian style.
Memorial stained glass windows were added as late as the 1960s. The chapel and parish hall were remodeled in the 1970s, and the Children’s Ministries Center was completed in 2000. The River Room and Berlin Room were finished in 2008, and today serve many community events unrelated to the church. The cemetery holds many famous local and national figures.