Easter is a week away, and I thought it would be fun to share with you some pictures of historic churches located near downtown Cincinnati. I found these churches when Michael and I were living in the East Walnut Hills apartment. Each of these magnificent buildings has its own fascinating history.
Pictured above is St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church on Madison Avenue in East Walnut Hills. The St. Francis de Sales congregation formed in the mid-1800s when German families moved into the neighborhood from nearby Over-the-Rhine. As first, Mass was held in a congregation member’s barn. The parish was able to build a limestone church in 1850. By the 1870s, the congregation had grown considerably and a larger church was needed. German architect Frances George Himpler designed the new church in the middle German and French gothic styles. It was dedicated on December 21, 1879.
Here is a picture of the stunning white marble alter after Christmas Eve Mass.
When we lived in the apartment, we could always hear the St. Francis De Sales bells tolling down the street. During the Christmas season, the bells tolled out Christmas carols. The bell in the steeple of the church weighs 35,000 pounds and is the largest church bell in the United States. It took 14 horses to transport the bell to the church, where it rang for the first time in 1896. Apparently, the bell could be heard as far as 15 miles away. When it first swung, it was reported that nearby windows shattered and pieces of cement began to fall from inside the church tower. The shear size and force of the bell made it unsuitable for swinging. After the first tolling of the bell, it was decided that it would swing no more. Instead, a foot hammer hits the edge of the bell when it tolls.
Pictured below is what remains of the Seventh Presbyterian Church. It is located on Madison Avenue, a few blocks down from St. Frances de Sales, which you can see in the lower right of the picture. I loved walking by the whimsical tower when we lived in the neighborhood.
The Seventh Presbyterian Church was constructed in 1849. Much of the church was destroyed by a fire in 1971, and a more modern building was constructed behind the tower. Sadly, the church closed its doors in 2010, due to a severely declining membership. Amazingly, a developer has plans to convert the historic church into a $5 million, 10-home residential community. Approval has been granted by the Historic Conservation Board to demolish portions of the church, the parts built after the 1971 fire, and use that space for homes. The remaining parts of the church, including the tower and front vestibule will be converted into commercial properties.
After I learned the story of this church, I always felt kind of sad for it when I walked by. After over 160 years, its congregation has moved on, and it’s no longer a church.
Vines have grown around the splendid stained glass windows.
The ornate wooden doors decorate the entrance to the church tower. Below is a picture of the other side of the tower.
Not too far down the road stands another church tower, this one in an even worse state than the Seventh Presbyterian Church. The tower below is all that remains of the Walnut Hills Presbyterian Church. It has a commanding presence on the corner of Gilbert Avenue and William Howard Taft Road.
The imposing tower is located in a pretty rough neighborhood. I moved quickly when I stepped out of the car to photograph this tower. Spotting a parked police cruiser in the parking lot across the street was comforting!
The back of the tower:
A stained glass window has survived above the open doorway:
The Walnut Hills Presbyterian Church was constructed in the 1880s. It ceased to function as a church in the early 2000s due to a dwindling congregation and lack of funding for a much needed restoration. It would have taken millions of dollars to restore the church, so most of the building was deconstructed. A neighboring funeral home purchased the church lot to build a larger parking area. A conservationist group was able to purchase the tower for $160,000 in an effort to preserve its history. Over $500,000 was then raised to restore and preserve the tower. The church is historically significant to the Walnut Hills neighborhood due to its role in the anti-slavery Abolitionist movement. It serves as the gateway to the Harriet Beecher Stowe Cultural Heritage District in Cincinnati. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s family lived in the Walnut Hills neighborhood, and it is also where she wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Walk a block down Gilbert Avenue past the tower and you will see the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which was built in 1885, under the direction of Cincinnati architect Albert C. Nash.
The Church of the Assumption was formed by a congregation of Irish-speaking Catholics from several nearby parishes. The church was home to an active Irish-American congregation until 1998, when a declining membership forced it to close its doors. The Celtic circle made by the glass windows on the front of the church pays tribute to its Irish heritage.
After learning about the history of these Walnut Hills neighborhood churches, I would like to know the specific economic and social factors that contributed to the decline of their congregations and eventual closing of their doors. Except for St. Francis De Sales, all of these churches are closed. Fortunately, at least some of the architecture remains for us to admire.