St. Paul's Episcopal Church
St. Paul's Church was constructed between 1855-57 in the Gothic style after the plans and supervision of the Baltimore architects Niernsee and Neilson. Modifications were made to the building in 1903 when the chancel was enlarged and in 1922 when a Parish House was built adjacent to the structure. The Rectory, built in ca. 1860, stands to the north of the church. One of the most famous communicants of St. Paul's was General Robert E. Lee who worshiped at the church during the Siege of Petersburg in 1864-65. Lee's son, W.H.F. Lee was married in the church in 1867.
Backstory and Context
The facade of St. Paul's Church faces east. It is dominated by a three-story entrance tower. The first stage of the tower. The first stage of the tower contains the main entrance which consists of a double-door, equilateral-arch opening executed in stone. Above the door is a lancet-arch opening with a stained-glass window. The tower's first story has corner buttresses. The second stage of the tower is marked by arch openings containing twin lancet windows. The third stage consists of a spire covered with slate shingles.
The tower is flanked on the first story by crenelated brick wings each pierced by lancet-arch openings containing stained glass. Each wing has a side entrance. The building's north and south elevations have a single free-standing buttress off each of the side entrance wings. Each elevation has five lancet-arch openings with stained-glass windows. The openings are flanked by clasping buttresses. The rear (west) elevation has a large equilateral-arch opening containing a stained-glass window. The rear elevation has five-course American-bond brick. The gable roof is covered with slate shingles.
The interior of St. Paul's Church is richly decorated, the scheme largely dating to renovations completed in 1903. At this time the chancel was enlarged and a baptistry added to the space south of the altar. Before the 1903 enlargement the chancel contained tromp l'oeil painting which framed the space with columnns and created the illusion of an apse. As a result of the remodeling the chancel was extended to the west and a wood and painted reredos installed on the west wall together with a large arched opening containing a stained-glass window. Carved wood paneling further embellished the space. Exposed timber trusses found in the original interior were extended into the chancel. Most of the present furniture dates to the 1903 remodeling.
A gallery runs along the south, east, and north walls supported by composite capitals on slender posts. The pews date to the late 19th century. The present stained-glass windows date from the late 19th to the early 20th century and most probably replaced leaded-glass lights.
The parish of St. Paul's Church descended from Bristol Parish. Formed in 1662, the original parish was located on either side of the Appomattox River and encompassed what is today the City of Petersburg and Dinwiddie County. According to Bishop William Meade's, Old Churches, Ministers and Families of Virginia, St. Paul's Church was founded in 1802 to serve, "the increasing prosperity and numbers of Petersburg." Its first edifice stood near the courthouse and served the growing congregation until 1839 when a larger church was erected on a new site. This second building burned in February,1854. The cornerstone of this third edifice was laid in full masonic ceremony on June 20th, 1855. The church was dedicated on May 19, 1857 with Bishop William Meade presiding.
William Meade, Old Churches, Ministers and Families in Virginia. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1966.
Slaughter, Philip. A History of Bristol Parish, Virginia. Richmond: J.W. Randolph and English, 1879.
Southern Churchman, 1852-56.
Staunton, Phoebe B. The Gothic Revival and American Church Architecture. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1968.
Vestry Records, St. Paul’s Protestant Episcopal Church. Church Records, unpublished, 1854-1922.