Many of the church buildings constructed in the 1800s and early 1900s in Charlottesville no longer stand. For a variety of reasons many of these magnificent buildings have been demolished.
Some were lost to fire like the First Baptist Church (built in 1904 and seen here in a postcard image from the period) on the corner of East Jefferson and Second St. which burned in 1977. Other congregations left the downtown area to gain more parking and simply tore down the old church like the architecturally detailed Presbyterian Church building that sat on Second and E. Market for barely 50 years.
Which brings up the question of what church buildings remain from this era and specifically which of those still standing existed before 1900. I brought up this question recently at our October slideshow as former mayor Dave Norris shared some of the postcard images of churches from his collection. The audience named a handful that I will highlight in this post. One of the great things about our C’ville Images photo presentations is that our audience is made up of local historians, photographers, architectural historians, writers, and researchers, and many folks generally knowledgable in C’ville history. I bring the photos to share but there is never a show that I don’t learn something valuable from the attendees. This month, it was about these 19th Century Churches.
That said, if there is any 1800s church building still standing in Charlottesville that is missing from the following list please contact me. For this post we’re looking at the city of Charlottesville and not the surrounding county.
Two of the latest churches from the 19th Century were built in 1898.
The first of these was Christ Episcopal Church although construction and additions continued into the 20th Century and the building still does not contain some of the elements from the original plans. This building stands on the corner of High and Second Streets, NW, on the same lot that the earlier Episcopal Church was built.
The other Charlottesville church building that dates to 1898 was the Disciples of Christ Church on Market St. This structure was also built on the same lot of the congregation’s prior building. Today it houses The Haven, a resource center for the homeless.
The two oldest church buildings in Charlottesville were built by African American congregations.
Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church on Ridge Street dates to 1884 although there is some indication it wasn’t completed until the 1890s. The congregation has since moved a few blocks away to the corner of Lankford Avenue and First Street, SW., but the the 19th Century building still stands.
Finally, we have the First Baptist Church on West Main built on the site of the old Delevan Hotel where the congregation first held services, construction on this church was started in 1877 and completed by 1883 and dedicated on January 2, 1884. This section of town between downtown and the University has seen some of the most dramatic changes in Charlottesville over the past century and First Baptist Church has remained in place through it all.
There are two other houses of worships that might technically make this list. The Ebenezer Baptist Church, another predominately African-American church on 6th Street at the end of Commerce St., supposedly was first built in the 1890s. When the Jefferson Auditorium burned next door on Thanksgiving in 1907, the church was badly damaged and had to be rebuilt over the next year.
We might also include the Jewish synagogue on this list. The Beth Israel temple was built at the end of the 19th century on the corner of Second and Market Street, NE. When the federal government decided in 1904 that they wanted the location for a courthouse and post office, the congregation moved the building, supposedly “brick-by-brick,” and reassembled it on East Jefferson Street where it now stands. There are no known photos of the synagogue on Second Street to confirm if the building looked the same as it does today.
Vintage postcard images are from the Norris Collection at C’ville Images. Current day photos by Steve Trumbull. Thanks to Edwina St. Rose, Jane Myers, Sandy DeKay, Bill Emory, and Melinda Frierson for helping compile this list and dates.