Going Inside: Port Gibson’s First Presbyterian

First Presbyterian Church (1859-60)–the famous hand pointing to heaven

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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.



Categories: Architectural Research, Churches, Cool Old Places, Historic Preservation, Port Gibson

13 replies

  1. certainly is a lovely church set in the country. wonder how many are in the congregation? when I was in the commercial roofing business, they had leaks in the building from folks shooting at the steeple with weapons. kind of slowed me down on actually visiting, but think I will make the trip now. thanks for sharing.

  2. Thank you for the tour!

    Do you have any information about an architect named Vincent Smith who did work in Gulfport in the late 40′s and early ’50′s?

    • Your best bet is to check the MDAH Historic Resources Inventory Database.

      http://www.apps.mdah.ms.gov/Public/params.aspx?rpt=artisanSearch

      Are you are looking for Vinson Smith Jr? Make sure to have proper spelling when entering the name in the database or you won’t get the best results. Good Luck!

    • Vinson B. Smith, Jr. was an architect based in Gulfport. I “discovered” the architect when searching through back issues of “The American School and University” periodical. Smith was active beginning in the 1920s, possibly earlier since by 1928 he had secured two school building contracts for over $50,000 each. Those educational designs were three buildings at the Mississippi State Teachers Colleges in Hattiesburg (University of Southern Mississippi) and two buildings at the Industrial Training School in Columbus. By 1932, Smith had designed the Administration Building at Perkinson Agricultural School and Junior College in Perkinson. It is good to know that he made it through the Great Depression, a time when many Mississippi architects were forced either out of business or out of Mississippi.

    • was this vinson smith married to grace. ? if so he was my grandfather

  3. I HEARD THAT A YANKEE GENERAL KEPT HIS MEN FROM TORCHING THIS CHURCH WHEN THEY MARCHED THRU THIS TOWN DURING CIVIL WAR!!!!!!!!!!! HE SAID HE WOULD BE AFRAID TO DO THIS TO THIS BEAUTIFUL CHURCH……..IF SO….WHAT GENERAL WAS IT?
    JOYCE WOODARD PLANT CITY FL.

    • General Grant is the general who didn’t burn the church or the town. He was on the march to Vicksburg. He supposedly stood across the street at a house called Tranquility, and he decided that the town was “too pretty to burn.” At least that’s what the Chamber has always claimed. And it is pretty, one of the prettiest towns in Mississippi.

      The church was actually started as a preaching station in 1801 by three missionaries, and then later it was organized into a congregation in 1807. There used to be a log replica of the original Bayou Pierre church on one of the roads out of town. As I recall, the chandeliers (as seen in the slideshow) came from the steamboat, the Robert E. Lee.

      • The house was actually named “Serenity,” and was the home of Constance Cary,
        who sewed the first Confederate flag.

      • Please allow me to share a little background information on the founders and the church:

        The Rev, William Montgomery was one of the three missionaries who established the original preaching station along with the Reverends James Hall and James Bowman. Out of the three, William Montgomery was the only one to return to Mississippi where he ministered first at Pine Ridge in Adams County and then in Jefferson County at Union Church and Ebenenezar (which no longer exists). The Rev. James Smylie (who also was instrumental in establishing the presbytery and founded Pine Ridge Presbyterian in Adams County and Bethany Church in Amite County) and the Rev. Joseph Bullen (who was the first Presbyterian minister to settle permanently in the Mississippi Territory and founded Bethel Church in Jefferson County)) organized the Bayou Pierre Church into a congregation. From that log church came this congregation. William Montgomery and James Smylie are my ancestors. Smylie was a first generation American and a North Carolinian of Scottish descent while Montgomery, born in Pennsylvania, was of Scots-Irish descent.

        The first hand on the church was wooden, and according to my late father, woodpeckers supposedly had a field day with it. When I was a little girl in the 1960′s, the congregation did some major repairs and renovation on the church. As I recall, some of the repairs involved the steeple and the hand. Unfortunately, air conditioning was not one of the acquisitions. Consequently an occasional Sunday was spent watching birds fly in the long, opened windows and then fly around the sanctuary. Paper funeral parlor fans from Guion Funeral Parlor and oscillating fans mounted on the walls between the windows saved us from the heat of many a hot summer Sunday! The hand was actually taken down and shipped to Louisiana (from what I understand) for repairs in the late 1980′s and returned after months and months of work.

        This church building is a magnificent edifice, and the minister is a gifted teacher and historian. Your photographs are a true gift, some of the best I’ve ever seen. In fact, they are so beautiful and so familiar that I got teary looking at them. Thank you for sharing them with us. I really love this church and was baptized here, joining the church when I was in elementary school. I have been gone for years, but I remember everything about it. Like the Psalmist says, “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the House of The Lord.”

  4. I am a little late to the party, but please allow me to share a little background information on the founders and the church:

    The Rev, William Montgomery was one of the three missionaries who established the original preaching station along with the Reverends James Hall and James Bowman. Out of the three, William Montgomery was the only one to return to Mississippi where he ministered first at Pine Ridge in Adams County and then in Jefferson County at Union Church and Ebenenezar (which no longer exists). The Rev. James Smylie (who also was instrumental in establishing the presbytery and founded Pine Ridge Presbyterian in Adams County and Bethany Church in Amite County) and the Rev. Joseph Bullen (who was the first Presbyterian minister to settle permanently in the Mississippi Territory and founded Bethel Church in Jefferson County)) organized the Bayou Pierre Church into a congregation. From that log church came this congregation. William Montgomery and James Smylie are my ancestors. Smylie was a first generation American and a North Carolinian of Scottish descent while Montgomery, born in Pennsylvania, was of Scots-Irish descent.

    The first hand on the church was wooden, and according to my late father, woodpeckers supposedly had a field day with it. When I was a little girl in the 1960′s, the congregation did some major repairs and renovation on the church. As I recall, some of the repairs involved the steeple and the hand. Unfortunately, air conditioning was not one of the acquisitions. Consequently, an occasional Sunday was spent watching birds fly in the long, opened windows and then fly around the sanctuary. Paper funeral parlor fans from Guion Funeral Parlor and oscillating fans mounted on the walls between the windows saved us from the heat of many a hot summer Sunday! The hand was actually taken down and shipped to Louisiana (from what I understand) for repairs in the late 1980′s and returned after months and months of work.

    This church building is a magnificent edifice, and the minister is a gifted teacher and historian. And your photographs are some of the best I’ve ever seen. In fact, they are so beautiful and so familiar that I got teary looking at them. Thank you for sharing them with us. I really love this church and was baptized here, joining the church when I was in elementary school. I have been gone for years, but I remember everything about it. Like the Psalmist says, “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the House of The Lord.”

Trackbacks

  1. History of Art in MS: Churches (I) « Preservation in Mississippi
  2. Round the Blogosphere 8-6-2012 « Preservation in Mississippi

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 572 other followers

%d bloggers like this: