Colbert and Lauderdale counties have some of the oldest church buildings in the state, including a Tuscumbia church that has the distinction of being the oldest house of worship in the state still holding services.
There are 17 church buildings in Colbert County, many of them in Tuscumbia and Sheffield, that are more than 100 years old.
Brief descriptions of county’s historic churches are contained in the “Rock of Ages” brochure created by the Colbert County Tourism & Convention Bureau.
The color brochure was meant to be a companion piece to the North Alabama Hallelujah Trail brochure created by the Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association.
Colbert Tourism Executive Director Susann Hamlin said the office researched every church building in the brochure and others to be sure their information was accurate.
“They had to be in their original building,” he said. “They could not be in a new building.”
Hamlin said in some cases, a church’s congregation was well over 100 years old, but the building was not.
The churches featured in the brochure also ave to be open to the public for tours and have regular services, she said.
Tuscumbia has the distinction of having what is considered the oldest house of worship in continuous service in the state: First Presbyterian Church on Broad Street in Tuscumbia.
Helen Keller was baptized at First Presbyterian Church and her family worshipped there.
The Old Brick Presbyterian Church dates back to the 1820s, but the original frame building was destroyed by fire in 1824. The present building, which still holds services, was completed in 1828.
Robert Gamble, senior architectural historian for the Alabama Historical Commission, said the Shoals has numerous church buildings more than 100 years old.
“That area was settled quite early and it was an area that flourished,” Gamble said.
Cotton production was big business and it was being shipped out of the area along the Tennessee River, he said.
The combination of agriculture and river trade helped the Florence and Tuscumbia areas grow.
In those days, church buildings provided more than just a place to worship. They were meeting places, schools and often the center of a community.
“Most of them are built pretty well,” Gamble said. “The framing technique was heavier than what we use now. The wood was better, the craftsmanship was better. It was of a higher order than what we have today.”
Florence-Lauderdale County Tourism has a similar brochure, “Pathways of Prayer,” to accompany a walking tour of churches in Florence and Lauderdale County.
The main difference is it includes churches that are less than 100 years old.
Still, it demonstrates the diversity in denominations that has existed throughout the northwest Alabama area.
Lee Freeman, director of the Genealogy and Local History Department at the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library, said the Shoals has several congregations dating back more than 100 years, but few buildings.
“Some of their buildings are only 40 to 60 years old,” Freeman said. “A lot of these churches moved around to different locations. The buildings would get old and worn out or they would change locations.”
Freeman said sometimes the congregation would outgrow the building and the church had to find a larger lot on which to build their new church building.
Hamlin said Colbert Tourism offered a Rock of Ages bus tour that was well received.
“The people loved it,” she said. “We might try to do another one in 2013. We don’t have any trouble selling out that tour.”
Hamlin said people love historic buildings and enjoyed the stories about the old churches and communities that were described on the tour.
“If you know how to read a building, a building is like a history book,” Gamble said. “It has a story to tell if you know how to read the language.”
Gamble said old buildings, including churches, reflect our culture and are a part of our identity as communities.
Gamble noted that the most progressive towns are the most preservation conscious. He said tough economic times sometimes prevent the preservation of old buildings.
“I can’t force feed people on the idea of historic preservation,” Gamble said. “Landscaping, Streetscaping and a diverse combination of good, old architecture and new architecture, can enhance the quality of life.”
Russ Corey can be reached at 256-740-5738 or russ.corey@TimesDaily.com.
A list of Shoals church buildings known to be at least 100 years old:
Lesley Temple, CME Church, 512 E. High St., Tuscumbia; 1880
First Baptist Church, 611 S. High St., Tuscumbia; 1866
First United Methodist Church, 701 N. Montgomery Ave., Sheffield; 1909
Friendship Community Church, formerly the B’nai Israel Temple, 800 N. Atlanta Ave., Sheffield; 1906
Annapolis Avenue Church of Christ, 610 Annapolis Ave., Sheffield; 1905
Jubilee Baptist Church, formerly Cumberland Presbyterian Church and Columbia Avenue Presbyterian Church, 600 N. Columbia Ave.; 1891
Leighton First United Methodist Chuch, 8655 Main St., Leighton; 1830
Old Brick Presbyterian Church, Colbert 66; 1828
Rock Creek Church of Christ, Colbert 29; 1866. Oldest Church of Christ building in Alabama
Zion No. 1 Baptist Church, formerly Piney Grove Methodist Church, U.S. 72 W; 1850
Cherokee First United Methodist Church, 225 Church St., Cherokee; 1885
Pleasant Hill Church, Colbert 5, Cherokee; 1850
Margerum United Methodist, 2420 Margerum Road, Cherokee; 1907
Riverton Community Baptist Church, Colbert 1, Cherokee; 1886
First Baptist Church, 203 N. Dickson St., Tuscumbia; 1836, renovated; 1903
St. John’s Episcopal Church, 300 N. Dickson St., Tuscumbia; 1852
First Presbyterian Church, 103 N. Broad St., Tuscumbia; 1827
Trinity Episcopal Church, 410 N. Pine St., Florence; 1894
First Presbyterian Church, 224 E. Mobile St. Florence; 1824
First Baptist Church, 209 N. Walnut St., Florence; 1909
Canaan Methodist Church, Lauderdale 14; 1840 Waterloo Methodist Church, Main Street, Waterloo; 1820s
Liberty Baptist Church, Lauderdale 5, Florence; 1852
Macedonia Church of Christ, 2931 Lauderdale 158, Florence; 1834