Boston - Freedom Trail: Park Street Church
The Park Street Church, an active Conservative Congregational church, and an stop along the Freedom Trail, was founded in 1809 at the mansion of William Thurston by the “Religious Improvement Society"”, twenty devoted Christians—mostly former members of the Old South Meeting House. The cornerstone of what was once called “the most interesting mass of brick and mortar in America” by novelist Henry James, was laid on May 1, 1809. The dedication sermon was delivered by the Reverend Doctor Edward Dorr Griffin, who became the first Pastor, on January 10, 1810. In this building were founded the American Education Society (1815), the Prison Reform Society, and the American Temperance Society (1826).
Designed by Peter Banner, an Englishman who came to America to practice architecture, is reminiscent of Christopher Wren’s London churches with a steeple rising 217 feet that serves as visual terminus for both Columbus Avenue and Tremont Street. Construction of the church employed Behajah Young as chief mason and Solomon Willards, the architect of the Bunker Hill monument, as woodcarver of the capitals of the steeple. Ironically enough, its trademark spire was not part of the original design, but the Building Committee yielded to the prevailing opinion that such a prominent site should be properly ornamented. It was also the original intention use common bricks; but instead face bricks were employed. The building, now seen in its original red-brick dress, was newly painted in 1906.
On this site in the 1700’s was the town granary, with a capacity of over 12,000 bushels. Wheat and other grains were stored by the town and sold to the needy for a low price. This practice ended after the Revolution and the building was leased out. In 1797, the sails for the U.S.S. Constitution were made in the loft-like granary. Shortly after the new State House was completed, the granary was demolished and plans were put in place to put a better suited church building in its place as neighbor to the state government.
In its early years, Park Street Church earned the moniker “Brimstone Corner.” This didn’t come from, as you’d expect, the fire-and-brimstone fervor of the sermons, but instead the gunpowder (made from brimstone) that was stored in the crypt during the War of 1812. There was also a tradition in the early days of sprinkling sulphur on the sidewalk to attract the attention of wayfarers.
Park Street Church has a strong tradition of missions, evangelical doctrine, and application of Scripture to social issues. In 1816 Park Street Church joined with Old South Church to form the City Mission Society, a social service society to serve Boston's urban poor. On July 4, 1829, William Lloyd Garrison delivered his Address to the Colonization Society at Park Street, making his first major public statement against slavery. The church also hosted the debut of the hymn, America--also known as My country ‘tis of Thee--by Samuel Francis Smith on July 4, 1831. The tune, of German origin, is also used in the British anthem, God Save the King. Benjamin Bates, an industrialist who founded Bates College in Maine was a Sunday school teacher and active member of Park Street in the mid-nineteenth century. Gleason Archer, a prominent inerrantist theologian and son of Suffolk University founder Gleason Archer, Sr., was the pastor of Park Street from 1945 to 1948.
Park Street District National Register #7400390