Henry Flagler is well known in Florida as having brought the railroad to the state in the 19th century. But today, one of his lasting legacies is Memorial Presbyterian church in St. Augustine, Florida. Flagler was a partner with John D. Rockefeller in the Standard Oil Company. Using some of that wealth, he built resort hotels and railways down the Atlantic coast of Florida to the Keys. In 1889, this church was built as a memorial to his daughter who died in childbirth. Henry Flagler and his first wife are entombed next to them in a mausoleum inside.
Because of his resources in the construction trade, the massive church was finished in a little more than a year. The church itself is a mix of styles, including a latin cross-shaped sanctuary after St. Mark’s in Venice. Italy also inspired the copper roof and marble floors, and they are joined with Spanish, Moorish, and Baroque influences as well. Most recently, the copper dome was restored after being partially damaged from a 2017 hurricane. An old online pamphlet about the church is located on the U.F. website
During a visit to San Antonio, Texas, I spent an afternoon visiting a few Spanish Missions that are part of the Park Service’s Mission Trail. They’re located not far south of the Alamo and center city. Missions were established by Spain to serve as the focus of the church-centered communities colonizing north america. Mission Concepcion (above) looks largely like it did in the mid 1700s. It’s said to be the oldest non-restored stone church in America.
I took a couple photos at Mission Espada (below) which, founded in 1690, dates a little earlier than the other two included in this post when it was relocated to San Antonio in 1731. The church was completed in 1756. Mission Espada also has a well preserved aqueduct which helped with the irrigation of surrounding cropland used to support the population.
Below are a few more photos from the National Archives including a pair from 2014 and one from 1905.
Mission San Jose (below) was founded in 1720 by Father Antonio Margil de Jesus. Massive stone walls were built to help defend against Comanche and Apache raids. The baroque limestone church was built starting in 1768.
The Franciscan friars’ primary goal was to convert the locals to Roman Catholicism and become subjects of the King of Spain. Eventually Mexico controlled the area and in 1824 the mission was turned over to the Indians living there. In 1931, the Franciscans returned and live there still today.
The Roman Catholic mission church of San Francisco de Asis is in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico. Although the current adobe church was completed in 1815, it replaced an even earlier version at the same location. There have been several restorations with the last being in 1967 when the roof and ceiling beams were replaced. I’ve photographed the exterior on a pair of visits, but there was a Mass being held on the first and I was there at dawn for the second, so I didn’t take any interior shots. I added one from an earlier era below. This church is a National Historic Landmark with the park service and is also shown in many historical photos and paintings, including some from Ansel Adams and Georgia O’Keeffe.
I was visiting Albuquerque, New Mexico during their annual balloon festival and was sightseeing around their “Old Town” area and stopped at San Felipe de Neri Catholic Church. Founded in 1706, the original church was called San Francisco Xavier by the Franciscans starting the Spanish mission. The church lasted nearly a century but eventually collapsed. It was rebuilt in 1793 and that’s what you’ll see today. The church website has a good history so I’ll just include a link to that here.
The church is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places, so the application and photos are in the files above and can add a little more historical background. And If you haven’t been to the city’s balloon festival yet, I included a video at the bottom of the post to show some of what you’ve been missing.
Santa Fe, New Mexico dates from 1610 and has several churches in their historic downtown area including the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi. It was built in the late 1800s on the site of an earlier adobe church built in 1714. There was an even older church built in 1626, but it was destroyed in a rebellion in 1680. The Cathedral is designed as Romanesque Revival and was built of yellow limestone quarried near the area of Lamy Church. It’s included on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Santa Fe Historic District.
Near the Basilica is San Miguel Chapel (below), billed as the oldest church in the continental U.S. The adobe church was built by Franciscan friars in the early 1600s. A more complete history is at the Chapel’s website.
Loretto Chapel, also nearby, is another Roman Catholic chapel, built in the 1870s. The story of the chapel and its “Miraculous Staircase” is included on their website.
St. Joseph’s Catholic Church shown above was started in 1883 to replace the first church built in 1858, but took a couple of decades to complete. It was replaced by a large church nearby in 1999 as the Mandarin area of Jacksonville, Florida continued to grow. A very complete history of the church is included on their website so I’ll just include a link here. Behind the church is also a cemetery with graves starting more regularly from the 1880s.
On a recent trip to the Cumberland Gap at the corner of Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky, the nearest town to stay is Middlesboro, Kentucky. The rain and clouds hid the view of the mountains, but there were a few churches in the small town to partially compensate. St. Mary’s Episcopal is a Carpenter Gothic church listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built in 1880 and designed after a St. Mary’s church in Middlesborough, England where some of the town’s founders had ties. The Nomination Form with additional history is below.
It wasn’t clear if Chester Avenue Baptist Church is still active and their Facebook page hasn’t had any activity in several years, but the brick building was interesting enough to make a brief stop.
First Presbyterian Church is still active, though closed currently due to Covid fears. The church organized in 1889 and built this brick building in 1913 to replace an earlier structure. A short history is on their website.
Saint Julian is a Catholic Church also made of brick. It was completed in 1892 and a partial history of the church can be found at their website here.
The last church I stopped at was Mount Moriah Baptist Church. It was organized in 1891 as the town was forming and has served the black community. The brick church above was completed in 1921 and it’s also included on the National Register of Historic Places. The nomination form with more history is included below.
Blue Springs Lutheran Church is in Mosheim, Tennessee and was built in 1893. I stopped by on a gloomy day and the church was locked but the historical marker in front of the church reads-
Blue Springs Church and Cemetery
The Blue Springs Lutheran Church, once Patterson’s Church, served as the site of worship for the Greene County German Settlers since before 1811. During the 1863 Civil War Battle of Blue Springs, its second brick building served as a hospital and the cemetery as a mass burial ground. The cemetery contains 32 known Civil War soldier’s graves. The third and current building, a Folk Victorian with Gothic and Revival influences was erected in 1893. On November 13, 2017, the National Park Service listed the Blue Springs Church and Cemetery in the National Register of Historic Places.
Also near Greeneville, Tennessee is New Bethel Cumberland Presbyterian church. It’s a Greek Revival style building completed in 1841. Although it was locked when I visited, the interior has had only superficial improvements over the years and still has the original benches, woodwork and slave gallery. There’s also a small cemetery behind the church. The church was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. The application form with a little more information on the church is included below.
Rader’s Union Church above was built in 1914 as a non-denominational church to serve the various members of the local village who attended several surrounding area churches up until then. Other than the sound of the roosters running around, it’s located in a quiet area not far from Greeneville, Tennessee.