We’ve all heard about the Hand Pointing To Heaven that tops the steeple of Port Gibson’s First Presbyterian Church and most of have probably seen it while driving down Church Street, but the interior of the church is worth looking at too. I had a chance to get inside for the first time last month at the Port Gibson Holiday Home Tour. While wandering about gaping at the wooden cove ceiling and the plasterwork behind the pulpit, I met the pastor Michael Herrin, who obviously loves the both the history and the architecture of the church. He also demonstrated the perfect acoustics that the cove ceiling gives, allowing the preacher’s normal speaking voice to be heard easily far in the back pew (not that back-pew sitting is encouraged, of course).
According to the church’s website, which contains a history page (and let me once again insert a plug for history pages on all organizational websites), the congregation began in the nearby community of Bayou Pierre in 1807, but moved to Port Gibson in1828 and completed their first building there in 1831. By 1859, they had outgrown their small brick building and hired a man from the North to build their new larger sanctuary. The contractor ran off after only completing the walls up to the roofline, which is so typical of Yankees, isn’t it? According to the church’s website, the congregation pulled together and completed the building by late 1860 with contributions from church elder H.N. Spencer.
As it stands today, the church shows a high degree of craftsmanship in its design and workmanship on both the exterior and the interior. A fine Romanesque Revival style church, it relies on strong basic forms, including most prominently its rounded windows and door openings. On the interior, the simplicity of the Presbyterian creed comes through in the minimal decoration punctuated by the cove of the ceiling and again by the round arched forms. This simplicity allows the plasterwork archway behind the pulpit to really draw attention to the pastor and the preaching of the Word. A nice plaster cornice also surrounds the sanctuary, subtly showing off the cove in the ceiling.
Visitors will notice that the front windows are of a different stained glass than the side windows. The fronts are the original colored glass, while those in the sanctuary have been replaced with more ornate memorial windows over time.
Thanks to First Presbyterian Church, and all the Port Gibsonites, who opened their doors to visitors las month, and who maintain their historic landmarks all through the year! If not for responsible owners who love their historic buildings, we wouldn’t have much to look at, would we?
Enjoy the tour, and hopefully you can see it for yourself at the next Pilgrimage!