5 Must-See Stops on the Little Rock Historic Church Tour
Faith has played an important part of Little Rock’s history, and now you can see many of the city’s most historic houses of worship on the new Little Rock Historic Church Tour.
The tour includes almost 20 churches that are rich in history and architectural significance. Several of the route’s stops date to the late 1800s and 13 are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Each building is worth a visit, but here are five of the tour’s highlights.
First Presbyterian Church, built 1921
Located downtown, the First Presbyterian Church established its congregation in 1828 making it the oldest one in its denomination and the oldest surviving one this side of the Mississippi River. Designed by architect John Parks Almand, the church was built in 1921, and later listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. The work of the windows was directed by George Luther of Payne Studios from Patterson, New Jersey. The windows were dedicated in 1928. Thousands of bits of glass, from 18-inch squares to tiny medallions, are featured throughout the sanctuary. The designs are reproduced from thirteenth and fourteenth century windows in the cathedrals of Europe. They are authentic in drawing and admirably adapted to the Gothic style. Built in 2004, FPC’s impressive Nichols & Simpson organ is the center of their music and praise during worship. Featuring 3 manuals, 47 stops, and 61 ranks, their organ delivers impressive and quality sound for its church community.
First United Methodist Church of Little Rock, built 1899
This brick building was designed by Frank W. Gibb and built in 1899-1900. It’s one of Little Rock’s best examples of Romanesque Revival architecture, with square towers at its corners, and its predominantly smooth brick exterior contrasted by rusticated granite trim. This is the second building to be located at this site. The first one was destroyed by fire. The congregation, founded in 1831 as the Cherry Street Methodist Episcopal Church, is the oldest Methodist congregation in the city. The church was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.
First Missionary Baptist Church, built 1882
Pioneering African American church in Little Rock, established in 1845 by Rev. Wilson Brown. In 1882 the church permanently located at 701 S. Gaines Street. The original building still stands today and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. First Missionary Baptist serves parishioners and also hosts many social and political events. In 1891 hundreds of citizens met here to protest the state’s recently enacted Separate Coach Law that segregated passenger cars and waiting rooms in train stations. They marched from the church to the then state capitol, now the Old State House. In 1963, four months before the famous “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., visited First Missionary Baptist to deliver the 118th anniversary sermon.
Mount Zion Baptist Church, built 1884
Mount Zion congregation was established in 1877 to provide religious, educational, and economic support to black people as free citizens. Mount Zion was integral in the formation of Arkansas Baptist College which was organized at the church in 1884. College classes were conducted on church premises. In 1926, the current Prairie Style brick building, unique in Little Rock, replaced the 1886 church frame structure. The late Fred T. Guy, who served as pastor in 1931, was instrumental in Mt. Zion’s heightened profile particularly during the 1957 integration of Central High School.
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, built 1884
Designed by Arkansas Episcopal Bishop Henry Niles Pierce’s son, Rev. A. W. Pierce, this Cathedral is the oldest Episcopal church building in central Arkansas and the third oldest church building in the area. It is an example of Gothic Revival architecture patterned after rural English churches. Designed in a cruciform shape (the shape of a cross) in English Gothic style, the Cathedral features symbols of its namesake, the Trinity, such as trefoils, fleurs-de-lis, and clover leaves. The Cathedral was built in three stages, as finances permitted. The first service was held on October 19, 1884, when only the nave and baptistry were finished and the altar was placed under the west window on an improvised chancel. At the convocation meeting in the spring of 1885, Trinity reported 67 members. The transepts and crossing were completed by February 1889 when the altar was placed under the north transept window. The chancel was finished by Easter of 1892, thus completing the structure, and moving the altar to the east end of the Cathedral. The cathedral proper has changed little since the late 19th century, but several buildings have been added, creating a complex that occupies a vast area.