The recent collapse of a major water line at Cleveland’s Public Square made me have a fleeting thought if the Old Stone Church escaped damage, as it was very close by. (Thankfully, it was safe.) The church is one of those Cleveland buildings that everyone knows about, but we often take for granted.
First of all, its original, more formal name is not the Old Stone Church; it’s really the First Presbyterian Church, which was incorporated in 1827. It is considered the oldest structure on Public Square. But, the building we see today is not the first church of that congregation built on that site, and it has an interesting background.
According to the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History:
‘The oldest structure on Public Square it is one of Cleveland's few early churches remaining in its original location. The sandstone church building, which became known as "Old Stone," was the second within the Cleveland limits, built at Ontario St. and Public Square between 1831-33.
This Georgian Revival-style building was razed and the cornerstone laid for a larger Romanesque Revival church in 1853 (completed in 1855), designed by the local firm of Heard & Porter, assisted by Wareham J. Warner, masterbuilder. The building, with a 228' steeple, was severely damaged by fire in 1857. The exterior walls survived, but the steeple did not; the interior was entirely rebuilt the next year. A spire added to the east tower in 1868 was removed following a second fire in 1884. Charles F. Schweinfurth designed the rebuilt interior in the Romanesque Revival style, with an arched ceiling, stained glass windows by Louis Tiffany and John LaFarge, and frescoes by Julius Schweinfurth.”
But, as the church’s web site says, “The history of Old Stone is much more than that of a building.” It goes on to add:
“The impact that this church and its members have had on the Greater Cleveland community is immense and widespread. In the area of education, Old Stone members are credited with organizing the first free public school and beginning the first English classes for immigrants. Both Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland State University owe their origins to the generosity of Old Stone members. Likewise, the medical community has strong ties to Old Stone. Cleveland's first doctor (David Long) and America's first neurosurgeon (Harvey Cushing) were among its members. The first lectures of Western Reserve Medical School were held at Old Stone in 1843 and the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing is named for its patron, an Old Stone member. Both University Hospitals and the Visiting Nurse Association can trace their beginnings to programs at Old Stone.
Ten Old Stone members have headed Cleveland's government, among them the first mayor and first city manager, and members have served in all levels of city, state and federal government, including at least one governor and a United States Secretary of State. Old Stone members founded many of Cleveland's prominent businesses; e.g. Sherwin-Williams, Higbee's, the Winton Automobile Co., Stouffer Foods, Society Bank, and Meldrum and Fewsmith. The Old Arcade was built by an Old Stone member and another member was the first president of the Union Club. Many church members have chosen to put their time and treasure into social service. Seeking as Flora Stone Mather put it, "to be the dispensing hand of a Father's bounty," they created settlement houses like Goodrich-Gannett and the Rainey Institute, and organized such pioneer social institutions as the YMCA, the first orphan's home, and the first women's shelter.”
The current steeple on the building was raised in 1998. It replaced one removed in 1896. It was also part of a $2.4 million renovation project, which included conservation of the La Farge window.
If you’d like to know more about this interesting Cleveland landmark, visit the Old Stone Church’s web site, here.
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