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First Presbyterian Church

200 West Trade St.

1857-1961



An Architectural Description

Laura A. W. Phillips

The First Presbyterian Church, located at 200 W. Trade Street, Charlotte, is an impressive religious complex designed in the Gothic Revival style. Occupying an entire city block in the center of Charlotte, the church with its auxiliary buildings and expansive lawn - all surrounded by an ironwork fence - commands today as it has since the midnineteenth century a prominent visual as well as spiritual presence in the community.

The present fabric of the First Presbyterian Church complex spans the century from 1857-1961. Throughout the growth of this complex, the Gothic Revival style has been retained, so that while some of the structures are obviously of more recent vintage than others, as a whole they form a visually compatible group.

The oldest fabric remaining dates from the second church structure on the site, which was erected in 1857. The first building, constructed between 1818 and 1823 had been a multidenominational church although those of Presbyterian persuasion apparently formed the predominant group. In 1841 the property was deeded to the Presbyterians, who had been officially organized in 1832. By the 1850s the congregation had outgrown the first brick church, and in 1857 the second church structure was erected on the site at a cost of about $13,000. This Gothic Revival structure was constructed of bricks covered with stucco and painted in imitation of cut stone. Measuring 50 x 80 feet with balconies along both sides and across the rear, this building boasted a steeple which rose to a height of 187 feet. In 1883-1884 it was necessary to rebuild the spire, and this, along with the 1857 facade, narthex and tower remain as part of the present church building.

By the early 1890s the congregation had outgrown the 1857 structure, and in addition the bricks of the side walls were deemed to be structurally unsound. As a result, a major building campaign took place in 1894-1895 during which the side and rear walls of the church were taken down and a new structure was erected, partially on the foundations of the older building. The work was accomplished under the direction of an English builder, Mr. Hill. To the 1857 facade, narthex and tower and the 1883-1884 spire were added new side walls, extended about 20 feet to include the transept, pulpit area and choir loft. Although the side balconies were not replaced during the 1894-1895 rebuilding, the rear balcony was retained, though the choir moved to the new choir loft behind the pulpit. In addition to the new sanctuary, the first Sunday School building with its own smaller tower was added to the east side of the church. This structure contained a large assembly room, classrooms on both stories, a ladies parlor, library and pastor's study. Although in 1952 two rooms in the Sunday School building were combined to form a chapel, both the present church building and this Sunday School building appear largely the same as when built in 1894-1895.

Both the main church and the 18941895 Sunday School building are of brick construction covered with stucco to give the impression of stone. The Gothic style is strongly stated in the lancet windows (many of which are filled with stained glass), side and corner buttresses, crenellated parapets, and towers and spires capped by pinnacles decorated with crockets and finials. Adding to the overall quality of design, the steeply pitched roofs feature patterned bands of square and roundcut slate shingles.

The interior of the sanctuary continues the impressive quality of design demonstrated on the exterior. In fact, its overall appearance is somewhat awesome in both scale and detail. The lower walls of the sanctuary are sheathed in a wainscot of narrow beaded boards with inset reeded panels. Above the wainscot the walls are plastered. Originally the walls were further decorated with a wide frescoed border in a rinceau pattern above the wainscot, painted by L. B. DeQuentine from Florence, Italy. Some years ago, however, this fresco work was painted over. Perhaps the most impressive feature of the sanctuary is the magnificent ceiling, composed of broad, fourcenter arched ribs infilled with panels alternately sheathed with horizontal and diagonal narrow boarding which creates a variety in surface texture. Suspended from the ceiling are three huge combination gas/electric chandeliers which are hung by wenches so that they can be lowered for cleaning. These date from the 1894-1895 rebuilding. The sanctuary is arranged with large curved pews which are separated by a center aisle. At the rear of the church is the balcony, and at the front the pulpit and choir loft area is enframed by a pointed arch and surrounded by rich oak paneling accented by layers of blind and openwork pointed arches. The rear balcony repeats this motif in its pointedarch dado. The memorial stained glass windows in the sanctuary were set in place at various times during the history of the church. The large window in the left transept and the window to the right of the pulpit area are believed to have been designed by Tiffany. (A window in the stairway of the Burroughs Building is also believed to be a Tiffany.)

On the right side of the sanctuary, large paneled doors with paneled reveal lead to a foyer which once served as a Sunday School assembly room. This room serves as a link between the sanctuary and the rooms of the Sunday School buildings. To the left of the pulpit area, a pointedarch, paneled door opens to a small room with beaded board wainscot and angular Victorian stairway which leads to the arched door of the choir loft.

Since the 1894-1895 building phase, the First Presbyterian Church has continued to grow in order to meet the needs of its congregation. During 1916-1917 the Sunday School building was doubled in size by the addition of the Burroughs Building, made possible by the gift of Mr. J. S. Burroughs. Along with numerous Sunday School rooms, this addition contains the Heritage Room, in which are displayed important artifacts from the history of the church. The Burroughs Building continues the use of lancet windows, crenellated parapet and corner buttresses with decorative pinnacles.

In 1952 a large wing was added to the left rear of the church to serve as the Fellowship Hall. (At this same time the chapel in the 1894-1895 Sunday School building was created from two classrooms.) The Fellowship Hall features a steep slate roof and windows capped by Tudor arch hood molds, as well as small buttresses between the windows.

In 1960-1961 the OfficeEducational Building was constructed to the left of the sanctuary on the site where the 1876 manse had stood. Connected to the main church only indirectly via a narrow linkage with the Fellowship Hall, this most recent building in the complex maintains the Gothic feeling of the whole through its use of crenellated parapet, corner buttresses and windows like those of the Fellowship Hall with Tudorarched hood molds.