An Unexpected Treasure

Yesterday I attended the District meeting of UDC. The meeting was hosted by the Cape Fear Chapter and held at the Fifth Avenue United Methodist Church in Wilmington, NC. After our meeting we were treated to a tour of the Church.

It was an amazing treat. I had almost left my camera at home and I am glad I popped it into my bag at the last minute.

The Fifth Avenue United Methodist Church has a history dating back to 1847. With this rich record it is surprising to find they are second oldest Methodist Church in Wilmington. There were so many interesting aspects of this unassuming exterior, including a connection to China’s Soong dynasty

Uon entering the sanctuary I was amazed to find a beautiful pipe organ. The organ is ‘original’ to the church. The original was a manual organ, which also featured wooden pipes and leather clappers which still adorn the wall behind the choir loft, although the organ is now electric. I did not get to hear the instrument being played, much to my chagrin, but don’t be surprised to find another adventure in my future just for that purpose.

According to the information I can find ‘B.D. Price of Philadelphia was the architect of the current sanctuary, built in 1889-90 and dedicated on September 26, 1890, in the Neo-Gothic style using the Akron Plan, which was common for Methodist Churches at the turn of the century. The builders were Porter and Godwin of Goldsboro, NC. Special features of the Akron Plan are its Cross shape (the sanctuary runs lengthwise with educational rooms on the side with roll-up doors), the semi-circular seating, and more educational rooms in the back’ (more about that later). Unfortunately my photos of neither the amazing heart of pine ceiling nor the original chandelier (which was originally gas but has been converted to electric) came out. It is worth the effort to see it in person, if you get a chance.


Collage of the 5th Avenue Methodist Church Stain Glass Windows

The second thing I noticed about the sanctuary was the beautiful stain glass windows! Yesterday was cloudy and rainy and the light streaming through was amazing. On a bright sunny day they must be breathtaking. The stain glass windows were ‘designed by a local craftsman, Mr. E.V. Richards. Made in Germany, they are both mystical and practical. Mystical in that they reflect the Jewish heritage of Christianity—you will notice the Star of David in the portals and the stair-step design that is symbolic of Jacob’s ladder. They are practical in that the hot reds and yellows are placed so that they warm the light as it enters the sanctuary in the winter, and the cool blues and purples catch the summer rays and cool them as they come in. Each window also has prisms to reflect more light and to serve as joists to hold the window together.’

Original Piano

I did have the opportunity to hear Mrs. Sue Sellers Hammons play the 1876 Knabe concert grand piano.  It is made of walnut and was once at Hemingway Hall. It was purchased by Mr. Harry Gardner, who donated it to the church. It was restored in 1991-92, and dedicated on May 1, 1992 to the memory of James Z. Godwin, whose family sponsored the restoration. The sound was amazing even though as Mrs. Hammons was quick to point out, she is not a pianist.

The back of the church features the original pews which will reverse to face the other direction if necessary and the original lectern and piano. 

This was a fabulous and amazing unexpected adventure which are often the best kind!

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