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Ask Rufus: Lost churches of Columbus

 

Pictured is a circa 1905 post card of First Baptist Church in Columbus. When the church was completed in 1839, it was considered to be one of the most beautiful churches in the South. It was torn down in 1908 for the construction of the present First Baptist Church.

Pictured is a circa 1905 post card of First Baptist Church in Columbus. When the church was completed in 1839, it was considered to be one of the most beautiful churches in the South. It was torn down in 1908 for the construction of the present First Baptist Church. Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

The Cumberland Presbyterian Church as it appeared in 1903. It was said to have been constructed during the 1840s. Its site is now a parking lot.

The Cumberland Presbyterian Church as it appeared in 1903. It was said to have been constructed during the 1840s. Its site is now a parking lot.
Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

The First Christian Church was built about 1850. The historic structure in this 1903 image was torn down for a parking lot.

The First Christian Church was built about 1850. The historic structure in this 1903 image was torn down for a parking lot.
Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

 

Rufus Ward

 

 

Lately I have been asked about some of the old church buildings of Columbus that have been lost to so-called progress. Four beautiful early church buildings were lost during the 20th Century. They were the First Baptist, Methodist/Jewish, Cumberland Presbyterian and First Christian churches. When we see images of these structures, we cannot help but be saddened by the beauty that is forever gone. 

 

I have often quoted a 1917 article Julian Street wrote about Columbus in Collier's Weekly. The article written a century ago still rings true today. After visiting Columbus as part of a writing tour of American cities he wrote: 

 

"Columbus may perhaps appreciate the charm of its old homes, but there is evidence to show that it did not appreciate certain other weather-worn structures of great beauty. I have seen photographs of an old Baptist Church with a fine (and not at all Baptist-looking) portico and fluted columns ... and I have seen pictures of the beautiful old town hall which was recently supplanted. ... The destruction of these two early buildings represents an irreparable loss to Columbus, and it is to be hoped that the town will someday be sufficiently enlightened to know that this is true and to regret that it did not restore and enlarge them instead of tearing them down."  

 

The church building he referred to was the First Baptist Church, which was designed and built by architect James Lull. It was completed in September 1839. In a letter dated Feb. 29, 1840, Lull wrote, "I have built one of the best churches in the Southern states erected at the expense of $27,000. I commenced it April 1835 and completed it last Sept." The church bore a striking resemblance to the National Landmark ca. 1752 St. Michael's Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Lull's classic structure, considered one of the most beautiful churches in the South, was torn down to make way for the present church in 1908. 

 

The First Christian Church was constructed about 1850 on the southeast corner of Courthouse Square. During the Civil War, its basement served as a temporary hospital when, at times, wounded overflowed the three military hospitals in Columbus. In the 1950s, there were still two old large tables in the church which had been used as operating tables when the church served as a hospital. Later in the war, when state government had to flee Jackson, Columbus served for a time as the seat of government. The House of Representatives met in the Courthouse and the Senate met at the Christian Church. The historic church was demolished to make room for a parking lot. 

 

The Cumberland Presbyterian Church was one of the oldest churches in Columbus, having been organized in 1837. Members first met in a frame structure, but probably in the 1840s a Gothic style brick church was built at the corner of Third Avenue and Fourth Street South. The site of that former building is now a parking lot constructed by the city.  

 

The fourth old church that was demolished was the 1844 Methodist Church which was located behind First Baptist Church. When the Methodist began construction of a new church around 1860 their old structure was sold and became a private school. Later, the building was purchased by the Jewish community and became the Jewish Temple. The building which had been greatly altered over the years was torn down and the current Temple was built on its site. 

 

These were four very old and very beautiful structures that had played a significant role in the life of Columbus. They are now forever lost except for memories and faded photographs. Thanks to Carolyn Kaye for once again helping.

 

Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at [email protected]

 

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