A Stone Plaque on High Street Unitarian Universalist Church in Macon, GA
This plaque is located on the left side of the chuch above
Did the Plaque read as below?
FIRST CHRISTIAN CHURCH
A. W. SMITH TRUSTEES
J. S. SCHOFIELD
H.C. COMBS - MINISTER
L. M. ERWIN - ELDER
Report by Bretta Perkins <email@example.com>
Here is an article on some historical research I did on our church building
and its previous occupants as well as the house next door.
Historical Background on Our Building
The actual dedication of the building was 1899, so 1999 is the 100th anniversary.
I recently spent several hours in the Washington Library looking up information on our church building. There is a folder on the first congregation, who built the building, "First Christian Church," newspaper articles, and the Macon City Directory.
First Christian Church (the denomination is Disciples of Christ)
formed in 1886 following an ad in the newspaper by L. M. Erwin who had moved to Macon from South Carolina. The church met in the Masonic Hall, then built a house on Walnut St. (L. M. Erwin donated the lot and built the building). Erwin's brother, J. D. Erwin, served as minister. In 1894 they had a "revival" meeting for 11 weeks in a tent which seated 1500 in the park at the corner of High St. and Orange (Tower Park), presumably in the shade of the big water tower which stood there for many years. There were so many new members that the building of what is now the UU Church on High St. was planned and Alexander Blair secured as architect. The building was dedicated on November 5, 1899. I think the now illegible dedication plaque read: FIRST CHRISTIAN CHURCH, 1898, MARION ERWIN, A. W. SMITH, J. S. SCHOFIELD TRUSTEES, H.C. COMBS-MINISTER, L.M. ERWIN-ELDER, ORANGE ST.,MACON. The Macon Telegraph reports the dedication in 1899, but the plaque evidently read 1898 because all information from the church lists 1898 as the year of the dedication. Either the plaque was ordered many years later and the correct date was not known, or, more likely, it was ordered in 1898 for presentation as a testament to Pastor H.C. Combs, who was moving to another church. He did come back to preach the dedication service in 1899. It is interesting that we held the church's 100th anniversary celebration in 1999, which is exactly 100 years from its initial dedication. The original design included a steeple (probably with a bell) on the corner tower and high roofs on the other towers, but these got cut from the budget.
First Christian Church had an active Sunday School for children, two women's societies, and actively supported missions in the Phillippines and Belgian Congo (Congo), helping to publish school textbooks in the Lokundo language. It seems to have been a middle class church, although some members were wealthy. One wonders how many members attended Wesleyan College up the street (where the US. Post Office is now) which was the first college in the US to grant real degrees to women. It sponsored the formation of other churches in south Macon and in 1954 an African-American Church on Mosely Avenue, the lot and building a gift of M. G. Aldridge.
The first Boy Scout group was organized in 1923.
Renovations were done several times. An upstairs room was added in 1910 for Sunday School classes. In 1913 the interior of the church was remodeled and a pipe organ installed (hand-pumped). A fire in January 1914 spread to the church from another house on High St. and water damaged the piano and pipe organ. The basement was hand dug in 1914-1915 by fifty men who agreed to dig two nights a week if the women provided good hot food.
In 1926 the house next door [below] was purchased and renovated as children's Sunday School space. It was called the Foster Educational Building. However, by 1943, it was converted into a parsonage and the kids went back to the basement. Sale of the former parsonage on Rembert Ave. was made to pay off the expenses for the Foster House. Soon however, times improved and the Foster Building was paid for. The church was redecorated in 1933.
During World War II there was a monthly party for the soldiers, a club organized for the wives of soldiers, and soldiers coming to Sunday service were taken home for a good meal. In 1944 the new church was built on Vineville Avenue (where it still is). The church on High St. was sold to the Georgia Christian Missionary Society for its State Headquarters. The Foster House was used as a residence and offices. The Missionary Society later sold the buildings to Central Church of Christ (I do not know the date), which sold the church to us. Central Church removed the organ, since musical instruments were not used or allowed in their churches. I did not research their history in the building.
History of the House Next Door
I could not easily find the date the house next door was constructed, but t evidently pre-dates the church and could be as early as 1885. People didn't seem to like to live their long, or else were renting.
By 1892 it was the residence of the Harry J. Bruce family. Bruce was a cotton buyer. By 1896 a lawyer named William Brunson, Jr. lived there. By 1899 the family of a merchant, W. N. Fleetwood, Jr. of Fleetwood & Co., Wholesale Liquors, Etc. lived there. However, by 1901 it was the Jesse H. Hall family. By 1925 it was the W. S. Payne family home, who sold it to First Christian Church, who sold it to the Georgia Christian Missionary Society. I did not find out its history thereafter, but it has probably been apartments just about ever since.
A Little More History
The neighborhood of High St. UU Church is interesting. Washington Park was a major water supply for early Macon. Wesleyan College stood at the top of the hill where the Post Office sits. On the other side of Washington Park was the College Garden. The springs there produce a stream which is now almost entirely underground that eventually reaches the Ocmulgee. The Lamar house next door is quite old and historic. Most prominent early Maconites were entertained there at some point. The front of the house is now the back. Sidney Lanier, prominent musician, writer, and poet was born in the Sidney Lanier Cottage down the street and met his future wife at the Lamar House. The Georgia Academy for the Blind was where the apartments are on Orange St. now. Conveniently, the railroad depot was where the Episcopal Church is now on Forsyth, in fact, the church incorporated the old depot in its building. Another interesting observation is that St. Josephs and First Baptist on High Place were being built about the same time as our building. They are all very similar in materials used and we could probably garner some good ideas from their maintenance people. The bricks paving Orange and High probably came from the water tower when it was taken down. That water tower was built mainly to fight fires, and that is also why open spaces, now parks, were left between streets in the area. Usually there was a well on a street corner that anyone could use.
Questions for further research:
What is known of the architect, Alexander Blair?
Where did they park the horses?
Where was the outhouse?
Was there a handsome street lamp by the church?
Is our "sump" a well? Could we bottle spring water?
I would like to know: if the marble company could reinscribe the plaque with the original words and how much that would cost. I was told on a tour of Rose Hill Cemetery that it is frequently done on marble there.
There are two large areas of recessed brick on the corner tower which were originally designed to bear some sort of plaque or inscription. While we are discussing the church, there are about ten other similar churches in downtown Macon, similar materials, construction, and time period. I would like to know how they keep the outside of their church looking good. Do these churches have building committees that ever meet to exchange ideas?
Report by Bretta Perkins <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Page authored by Lindsay Holliday
Should anything be done?
Two main options have been considered for the Cornerstone by the members of High Street UU Church:
1- Reinscribe with the original message, or 2- Inscribe a modern message about the current owners.
Significant advantages flow from the first option:
Cornerstone Re-inscription Advantages and Issues:
1. Appearance: The Internet location for the stone page is: http://www.hollidaydental.com/stone.htm
I t includes a rough sketch of what the stone may have looked like. Except, an "}" needs to be added.
2. Cost: Should be no cost to HSUUC. Lindsay has been in contact with the Rev. Mark Benson MABenson34@aol.com of the First Christian Church.
3. Public Relations:
a. Our Ethics and vision were called into question before the Macon/Bibb Planning and Zoning - We were found to be wanting.
b. This is an opportunity to regain the moral "high ground".
c. "When in Rome - Do as the Romans" Our building resides in the Historic District. Highest valued activities here are the restoration/reconstitution of the historically accurate appearances and attributes of the built environment.
d. National Registry application would be applauded by all of Intown Macon. This is a separate but related issue, which was suggested by Bretta Perkins.
a. A separate but related issue.
b. Wording on stone is not visible from automobiles - designed for historic/foot traffic.
c. Lindsay believes he can get approval for an appropriate sign on the back door, which would be plainly visible to traffic and from the library parking lot.
5. "In memory of those who… have made our lives possible" [from our UU readings]
a. We all overwhelmingly love this beautiful building. The builders deserve credit for their vision and the "strength they used to create this better tomorrow ".
b. Observe there are no female names on the plaque. This expresses "male chauvinism" to some. But to question the sexism of 1890's Macon is to bring in to question our own ethnocentric faults. It is not reasonable to question their sexism - a concept that probably did not even have a word at that time. First Christian Church was possibly the most "liberal" church in Macon. They also valued beauty [stained glass] and music [expensive pipe organ].
c. They were, in short, a lot like us.
6. Summary reasoning for restoring the cornerstone:
This is one vision for recapturing the ethical "high ground"; For getting centered; for demonstrating our participation in the community. It would be a selfless act of social-historical-neighborly reparation.
Let us help restore the cornerstone to its original message.