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Church of Christ, John Gregg Fee Memorial, Union Church

Excerpt from Building A College: An Architectural History of Berea College[1]



Church of Christ, John Gregg Fee Memorial, Union Church, 1920-1922

Architect: W. H. Nicklas, Cleveland, OH

Architectural consultants: Frederick W. Garber and Woodward, Cincinnati, OH

Contractors: Henry Clay Construction Co., Lexington, KY
A. C. Harrington Superintendent of Woodwork supervised construction

Ground Broken: October 22, 1920

Cornerstone laid: June B, 1921

Dedicated: September 17, 1922

Cost:  $110,000

As a congregation, Union Church began in 1853, with John G. Fee as the founder and first pastor. He met with a congregation in the log and wood shingled "Glades Meeting House" that had been built below the ridge on land given by William B. Wright. [Wright probably built the first house on the Berea Ridge.] This original log meeting house stood on the site of the present Glades Christian Church at the northeast edge of the ridge. Upon Fee's return from exile in 1865, the church adopted the following covenant: "We the undersigned, believing on the Lord Jesus Christ with all the heart, and taking the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament as our rule of Faith and Practice, covenant to walk together as a church and extend to each other mutual love and watch care." In 1886, the congregation moved to a College Village Chapel known as "First Church". First Church, Main Chapel burned to the ground twice; once in 1879 and again in 1902 (see citation concerning Phelps Stokes Chapel). The congregation moved to the Tabernacle after the 1902 fire, then moved to the newly dedicated Parish House in late 1903. In 1912, it was in the Parish House with 279 members that plans for a church house separate from the College's Chapel began; the College Board of Trustees accepted Olmsted's proposal of a church house built on the Le Vant Dodge corner (Frost to Olmsted, June 12, 1914); money raising began in 1915, but the First World War slowed both the project and its construction. However, before his death in 1919, Cleveland Cady approved the plans and the congregation moved into the newly constructed and consecrated Fee Memorial Church of Christ, Union, in  1922.

The Congregation had swapped the Parish House and land on the north side of Prospect Street for the Dodge corner lot on the south, one hundred seventy-five by one hundred feet (BTM, June 4, 1914; Berea Citizen, September 21, 1978, 1). Built on the site of professor Dodge's house, the Olmsted Associates had recommended the building not be built at a diagonal, but instead be built parallel to Scaffold Cane Pike. Both the Olmsted Associates and Frost "felt certain the diagonal location would not give a satisfactory sense of relation with the open space northwest of the watering trough, but on the contrary would give the very uncomfortable sense of looking around the corner from behind the Boone Tavern" (Olmsted letter to Frost, May 10, 1917). However, the architect Nicklas, the church building committee, Grace Tabor (Landscape Architect), and by 1920 (before he retired) Frost himself proposed that the diagonal arrangement would emphasize the religious spirit of the place, "complete the vista", and not clash with Main Street store fronts. Olmsted Associates were not convinced: "Union Church ought to face Dixie Highway and be parallel to Prospect" (Olmsted to the College's Business Manager, Howard Taylor, April 5, 1920).

The Rev. Robert Grosvenor Hutchins, DD., interim pastor and present for the construction of the church, presided at the ground breaking in the fall of 1920. During the spring of 1921, foundations began on this congregation-approved diagonal site forty feet south of Prospect Street (Olmsted to Howard Taylor, April 20, 1920; W. J. Hutchins letter to Garber, March 2, 1921). College President, William J. Hutchins, Robert Hutchins' son, delivered the dedication sermon, September 15, 1922. William J. Hutchins had been introduced as Berea's fourth President on June 9, 1920, and was inaugurated during the full semester, in October (BTM, June 7, 1920). At the time that Union  church was being constructed, the U.S. Congress was passing legislation restricting immigration into the United States. Here was an open church in a country with closed doors!

The raised Doric temple portico was more in line with traditional Greek Revival style than was the simple and plain facade of First Church at Oberlin College or Phelps Stokes Chapel, but the interior design was more closely copied. However, President Emeritus Frost was disappointed the architect did not follow the austere "characteristic features of Oberlin's First Church which he [the  architect] had professed to follow" (Frost diary, March 8, 1921). Frost was annoyed that no one seemed to be listening to him since he was "still a member of Union Church and [the building] needed to be done right" (Frost to Olmsted, March 10, 1921). Oberlin's First Church (1842), "God's Church", was a plain, Boston architect-designed, brick structure that had an iron column supported  gallery circling the interior and was large enough to seat about 2,500 people. Oberlin's First Church was without columns, symmetrical, practical, substantial, symbolic and unadorned (Building Utopia: Oberlin Architecture )  and had been built in the popular nineteenth century Greek Revival Style. Berea's "Church of the Open Door" had  a white painted auditorium which could seat 900. It also included nine community rooms and a spacious basement Sunday School room which could be used for "elevating" recreations, Fellowship Suppers, Woman's Industrial, Scouts, and community organizations. "And here ladies coming to town to trade, could find a place to wash their hands and take a little rest" ( Berea Citizen, September  7,  1921,  l; September  21,  1921, 1).

The cost of the building was less than usual because the architect reduced his fee and the College supplied 40% of the construction funds (BTM, June  8, 1915). The congregation burned the mortgage and was free of debt on March 19, 1939, because of the generous gift from the College and from congregation members (Berea Citizen, September 21,  1922; February  27,  1930, l; March 9, 1939, 1). The Church of Christ, Union, is often referred to in College literature as simply the "Fee Memorial". In 1933, College Secretary Marshall Vaughn located the door lintel to John G. Fee's original church that had been constructed in Bracken County, KY, and gave that stone to the Congregation who installed it in the front sanctuary wall. The stone reads: "A Free Church of  Christ-1851"  ( Berea   Citizen, September, 1933).

The very nature of a Congregation who "invited  the fellowship of all Christians" begged discussions of doctrine. Therefore, following a controversy over immersion baptism, John G. Fee resigned his pastorate and separated with a few others from First Church, Church of Christ, Union, in  1895 ( Berea  College Reporter, November,  1895). Fee had served as the pastor of First Church for forty­ one years.  He  became pastor  of Second Church  of Berea (Christian Church, Disciples of Christ) upon completion of its new building which was dedicated on Sunday, June 7, 1896. Before his death in January 1901,, Fee donated land next to Second Church to build a parsonage that was projected to cost $1,000 (BC, April 4,  1901).

Fee and Frost became sacramental adversaries. President Frost said Fee had separated from First Church "to set up a new denomination-a new variety of Baptists"; that "those at the Union Church would be subject to proselytizing influences" and that  Union  Church  should  be  a people's church. Because of this perceived animosity, Frost encouraged the "Trustees of the College. . . to give substantial aid to support Union Church" (PAR, June 25, 1896). With limited funds and a smaller congregation (down to a hundred seventy-four in 1900), ministers came and left Main Chapel in what appeared to be a swinging door regularity. Main Chapel burned in 1902, the congregation moved to the Tabernacle, and when the congregation moved to the Parish House in 1903, membership had risen to two hundred seventy nine. However, following the Kentucky House Bill 25, the Day Law (1904), Black membership transferred to the new Baptist Church in Middletown. During the 1890s, a church Woman's Association was founded and expanded to become "Woman's Industrial" or "Weekly Aid". Still today, 2005, Woman's Industrial continues as a strong outreach program for Union Church.                                   ·

Fee had rejected the AMA in 1883, because he felt the Association was denominational. The College Board of Trustees voted to select the pastor  and pay two-thirds of his salary; the remaining monies to be raised by the congregation. The Board also voted that the church would again renew its ties to the American Missionary Association (BTM, June 25,  1896).

To the present  date, all the  College's  Presidents have been members of "First Church."  College faculty and staff were more than encouraged to be members of the Church of Christ, Union, and to support its programs and upkeep: "No worker  is invited to Berea who is not  ready to join  in  the worship and activities of this Union Church" (BTM). The Pastor was expected to preach to the students Sunday night or afternoon, but  the  College would no longer continue to provide partial  financial support of the pastor so that he could better "attend to the spiritual needs  of the  community which  includes  the College workers".  But the Board also said: "We assure the Church that we cherish [our mutual relationship], and will earnestly endeavor that in all coming years the Church and College, both independent, shall maintain the mutually helpful relation  and joint  responsibility for spiritual leadership in and beyond Berea" (BTM, June 9, 1915; PTM, June  5 and  6,  1918).

By 1924 and the completion of the new structure, over 700 students attended  Sunday morning  services (PAR, 1924, 12). However, virtually all College policies related to Union Church changed with  President  Weatherford's Administration. Professor and church member Elizabeth Peck said: "Throughout  its history,  Union  Church  felt a strong pull  of responsibility  for its own  children, for the students of Berea College, for the religious and physical welfare of outlying communities, for the Negro groups in our neighborhood,  for oppressed and needy people outside our state, and for the great world causes in which we crave to take  some  part."

In 1874, a church choir was approved but it was not until  1876, that an organ was authorized to be used for regular church services in Main Chapel. However, for Union Church, a pipe organ manufactured by Estely Organ Company, Brattleborn, VT, was always planned and upon installation, was dedicated January 13, 1924. This organ was removed and a larger new Steiner organ was installed (spring 1977)  and  dedicated  (October,  1977)  to honor Judy Stammer, Berea  graduate  and long time member of the congregation. The Lawson Hamiltons gave $35,000 toward its $70,000 cost ( Berea Citizen, December 30, 1976). For  quiet  meditation and small group worship, the congregation later created a small chapel in the basement. That chapel was  dedicated  to  Euphemia  K  Corwin, the College's first librarian and long time church member  ( Berea  Citizen, November  28,  1968).

The Fellowship Hall and kitchen  have  been renovated and subdivided to enhance its use by the congregation and the many  other  groups  that use  the building; and through a large gift from James . O'Dell to honor  his wife,  Minnie  Ledford  O'Dell, a College graduate, this very large structure was fully  air  conditioned  in 2003.

Church School Christion Education Wing, 1964-65

Architects: McCulloch and John Bickel, Louisville, KY

Owen Construction Co., Lexington, KY

Ground Broken: February 28,  1965

Dedication: April 17, 1966

Cost: c. $231,000

After deliberations, the College Board of Trustees gave additional land and a twenty year $100,000 loan at four percent interest to Union Church. On the lot that was south of the sanctuary, the Congregation built a three-story Christian Education wing (BTM, April 10, 1959). However, all plans and specifications for this addition were subject to approval by the College architect, Frederick Louis, and if at any time the building and property  were no longer "used for church purposes" the deed would be revoked and all property would revert to the College. This new wing overlapped and was connected to the main sanctuary; it also provided additional classrooms, restrooms, a minister's study and a heating system to the existing  Georgian building. As with the church itself, here running bond red brick and limestone trim were used   in the external wall ( Berea Citizen, March 31, 1960, l; August 12, 1965; April 14, 1966). Diaphragm walls surround the windows and extend from the ground to the facia on both the south and north facades; limestone lintels dress both the top and base of the tall thin windows which in turn open and hinge out from the top; the flat roof parapet is decorated with a limestone cap and dentil facia. The education wing can be entered from the church on all three levels and from  both  the east and west facades.

Thomas B. Cowan Chapel

Architect: J. Carroll McGill Architect and Associates, Berea, KY

Contractor: Dudley Howe served as general contractor

Ground Broken: August  23, 1981

Dedicated: November 7, 1982

Cost: Not located

This one hundred-forty-seat chapel was designed with a modified temple style where three Roman arches and piers replaced the usual columns on the front portico. The interior is faced with running bond red brick, stained glass windows and an open "cathedral ceiling" of laminated wood beams. The congregation faces a plain brick wall fronted by a movable wooden altar rail, communion table, lectern and baptismal font. The double door entrance is crowned and lit by a stained glass fan lit window. A cream painted three-part facia runs flush to the copper trimmed slate roof. No limestone is used in the design. Cowan Chapel was paid for by Mr. and Mrs. Lawson Hamilton and was dedicated to Thomas B. "Scotty" Cowan, mininister from 1957- 1966 ( Berea  Citizen, August 27, 1981; November 4, 1982). A Steiner pipe organ was dedicated with a concert on November 18, 1984 ( Berea Citizen, November 15, 1984, 3). Weddings, baptisms and small group gatherings frequently use the chapel.

Union Church Today



[1] Citation: Boyce, Robert Piper. Building A College: An Architectural History of Berea College. Self-published. Berea, Ky: Berea College Printing Services, 2006, p145-148.

NOTE: This content is reproduced here with permission of the author and is COPYRIGHT PROTECTED. Fair Use access granted for educational purposes only, therefore, this content may be used in the classroom or classroom assignments without prior permission as long as proper citation is provided. For commercial use, publication, or reproduction, permission must be obtained from copyright holder or owner.

Works Cited

Boyce, Robert Piper. Building A College: An Architectural History of Berea College. Self-published. Berea, Ky: Berea College Printing Services, 2006, p145-148.

Union Church. Digital image. Google n.d. Web. 3 September 2015. <>.

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