One of the truly magnificent things about wandering this earth the way I do is that I often meet people by chance and see unexpected wonders.
Saturday morning found me meandering down Rt. 93 into Lawrence County where I soaked in the autumn weather, occasionally doubling back to grab a picture here and there. When I finally reached downtown Ironton, I parked near the county courthouse and set about enjoying the architecture.
One of the best qualities of an old river town is the variety of architectural styles and Ironton is quite nice in this regard.
From the corner of Fifth and Center streets, you can see several historic churches. It is a beautiful vantage point. The most notable and fascinating of these is a block down and looks like something from nineteenth century England.
It is a substantial, magnificent building with a tower that soars high above the street. I walked down Fifth Street for a closer look and to learn that it is the First Presbyterian Church.
I snapped a few photos, admiring the clock tower and imagining what the stained glass windows must look like from inside on a sunny day. A church history flier indicates that the architecture of this building is so unusual that the only other church like it in America is in Bedford, Massachusetts.
As I turned to walk away, I encountered a man on the sidewalk. We smiled at each other and I mentioned how beautiful the church is. He smiled even bigger and asked if I would like to see inside.
When I responded that I would love to if he had the time, he said that he would make the time. My new friend was Pastor Carson Hunt. He seemed like a genuinely nice man who is quick to invite strangers to become visitors and visitors to become members. He seemed happy to tell me about the history, pleased to point out special details and glad to share about some recent improvement projects.
Please understand that my adventure days are nearly always Saturdays and finding a church unlocked on a Saturday is rare. That means I seldom get to see inside. The simple offer to go in was a real treat but Pastor Carson didn’t just let me come inside. He turned on the lights and played some music so I could appreciate the acoustics. I wandered around at my leisure as he shared some of the history.
It was one of those rare experiences that made my day truly special.
The congregation dates back to the founding of Ironton in the middle of the nineteenth century. When the city was laid out, the proprietors of Iron and Coal Company gave one lot to every church organized in the city limits. This explains why there are so many historic churches in close proximity.
Hiram Campbell was a local businessman and played an important role in the history of the First Presbyterian Church. Pastor Carson explained that Mr Campbell donated the church’s principal stained glass window in memory of his brother John, the city’s founder. Located in the south gable, it features four distinct scenes that tell the story of John Campbell who died while a missionary in Africa. One panel depicts his missionary work while another panel shows a ship on the high seas. A third shows an open Bible and the final panel shows a cross and crown.
This is one of those churches that feels ornate but simple, fancy but comfortable, reverent but welcoming. There’s something really special about this place and I was incredibly grateful for the peak inside.
Like most congregations across the country, they are struggling to grow despite outreach attempts. But he said they are still holding their own and he is grateful for each and every one of their members.
He and some other gentlemen were working Saturday. He mentioned fresh paint on the doors and a new hot water heater as well as a number of ongoing projects that made me think this magnificent old church is fortunate to have some attentive caretakers.
This made me happy.
Pastor Carson invited me to visit anytime and I am certain he would want me to invite all of you as well. If you’re looking for a new church home or simply somewhere to visit, you will be welcomed with open arms. Be sure to stay for donuts and fellowship after Sunday service.
They take part in a historic church tour organized by the historical society every December. This would provide you with opportunity to see inside several of these historic churches.
Want more information? You can find them on Facebook.