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Christ Episcopal Church
Christ Episcopal Church is one of the first Gothic Revival churches in the South, setting the standard for this style regionally. The United States Protestant Episcopal Church founded the Raleigh parish in 1821. Mary Summer Blount bequeathed her estate to the parish for the construction of a church, and in 1846 Bishop Levi Silliman Ives asked Richard Upjohn, an English-born architect living in New York, to design “a neat gothic church.” Upjohn was a known proponent of the Gothic Revival style, and incorporated many principles of the Ecclesiological movement into his work, as evident in his design for Trinity Church in New York City. Ives recommended Upjohn base the design on his recent work, St. Mary’s in Burlington, New Jersey, one of the earliest churches in the United States specifically copied from a medieval English building.
Located at the southeast corner of Wilmington and Edenton streets, Christ Church faces west onto Union Square where the Greek Revival State Capitol was completed in 1840. Located in the northern end of Raleigh, Union Square was the governmental heart of North Carolina throughout the nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries. The capitol building originally hosted the majority of state offices, and other state buildings later crowded around the square. Raleigh’s central business district extended south along Fayetteville Street, whereas middle-class residential neighborhoods developed east and west from the capitol along New Bern and Hillsborough streets, respectively. Seven years after Christ Church was finished, the Baptist community erected Raleigh’s second Gothic Revival church (designed by William Percival) on the opposite side of the square.
Christ Church is a Latin cross plan extending 95 feet in length and 68 feet across at the transept. The nave has double aisles with pews extending halfway into the crossing. The transept has a single aisle down the center and galleries above; a third gallery over the west end serves as a choir loft. The galleries feature solid wooden balustrades decorated with a blind arcade. Walls have a high dado composed of vertical bead sheathing. The most significant feature is the hammer-beam ceiling, a truss system that includes short horizontal members projecting inward from the wall to attach to a principal rafter.
Upjohn drew the plans for the church and Reverend Richard Sharp Mason oversaw construction. Despite the detailed plans, Mason worried about the skill level of local laborers and was afraid that Upjohn’s stone design might have to be rendered in brick. Fortunately, skilled stonemasons James Puttick and Robert Findlater were able to erect the church with locally quarried rough granite; carpenter Justin Martindale was also hired for the project. In 1848 Bishop Ives laid the cornerstone and the church was completed four years later. In 1854 Bishop Thomas Atkinson consecrated the church.
The church design favors mass over void with minimal ornamentation, as is typical of Upjohn’s English style. The facade features stone-dressed openings and a double board-and-batten door below three lancet windows; a red-tiled gable roof terminates in a cruciform finial. Angled buttresses rising in two stages support the corners and perpendicular buttresses divide the nave exterior into three bays. Wider lancet windows occupy the middle of each bay along the side, with the exception of the western bay on the north side, which features a door that allows access to the porch that connects to a bell tower.
Masonry bands divide the bell tower into three sections: the first level contains two lancet windows on each facade; the second features one larger window; and the third has a large, louvered lancet opening. The tower terminates in a solid stone broach spire with a locally made gilt rooster, a typical English motif. The parish experienced some financial difficulty and could not complete the bell tower in the original building campaign. Since Upjohn had designed it as a freestanding structure, however, stonemason John Whitelaw was able to build it in 1859–1861.
Richard Upjohn’s grandson, Hobart Upjohn, later designed the early-twentieth-century stone parish house, connected to the church by an arched cloister.
Christ Church remains an active parish.
Bishir, Catherine W., and Michael T. Southern. A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.
Bishir, Catherine W. “A Spirit of Improvement: Changes in Building Practice, 1830-1860.” In Architects and Builders in North Carolina: A History of the Practice of Building. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990.
Lane, Mills. Architecture of the Old South. Savannah, GA: Beehive Press, 1985.
Pitts, Carolyn, “Christ Episcopal Church,” Wake County, North Carolina. National Register of Historic Places Inventory–Nomination Form, 1988. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
Small, George M., Peter B. Winday, and Edward L. Jenkins. “Historic Research Project Records- Christ Church Raleigh.” NCSU Libraries’ Rare and Unique Digital Collections. https://www.lib.ncsu.edu/.
Whiffen, Marcus, and Frederick Koeper. American Architecture, 1607-1976. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1981.
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