Urban Religion in Greenville

Mountain View Baptist Sign

I had different plans for today. Several of my friends and I were going to go on a photo ramble through Pickens, Anderson, and Oconee Counties. Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperative, so we decided to cancel that trip. I was still in the mood to do some photography, so when the rain let up in the afternoon I grabbed my camera and headed out. I had a project in mind.

I’ve stated it here, and it’s been pointed out many times that there is a church just about on every corner in Greenville. I wanted to explore a few of these. Specifically, I was interested in the older, smaller, out-of-the-way churches. Most of these are tucked away on residential streets. There are so many, that unless one has a connection to the church, most likely one would drive right by without noticing it.

With so many churches in one area, I have to wonder what services must be like. Is there that much diversity that so many are needed? It certainly fragments the church-going population. I think back to McCarter’s tiny congregation, and I know that many of these churches must be struggling to survive. Yet, that small place is a meaningful place of worship for someone. I guess they take the “where ever two or three are gathered” phrase seriously.

Part of this I can understand. There are many, many denominations and sects, and each wants its own place of worship. Then there is the segregation of Greenville’s population. I’m not talking about specifically racial lines, although there are clearly neighborhoods that were historically black or historically white, and each had its own set of churches. Greenville’s population is fractured by mill villages, and each had its own set of churches for each denomination, usually one black and one white. Given that, it’s easier to understand why there are so many in our area.

Although the rain had stopped, it was still cold, misty, and nasty in general – not a great day for photography. My plan was just to stay in the car and shoot through the window as I spotted these churches. I first drove over to my old neighborhood. On Hillcrest Drive I found the Daybreak Church, a former Presbyterian Church, and later a Unitarian church.

Daybreak Church

On the street where we used to live there was a small church that started as a synagogue. A Baptist church leased the structure, and chiseled off the Star of David that used to adorn the entryway. The building now houses Fellowship Baptist Church. I don’t think this is the same congregation that desecrated the building, but it could be. In the photo below, the bit of white over the entryway is where the star used to be, and where it was hastily repaired with cement.

Fellowship Baptist Church

I crossed Rutherford Road and turned onto Poinsett. Here there are two small Baptist churches within a block of each other. First is Griggs Memorial. For the longest time they had misspelled the word “Pastor” as “Paster” on their church sign, but they finally got that sorted out.

Griggs Memorial

Grace Cathedral just up the road is hardly a cathedral, but is slightly larger than Griggs. It was also a Baptist church at one time, and I’m sure its congregation still worships and believes along those lines.

Grace Cathedral

Between Poinsett Highway and Rutherford Road is the predominantly African American community of Brutontown. For the longest time housing was sub-standard, but it has recently been undergoing a revitalization. Tucked back off of Poinsett is the long-time Baptist church that served the community, Bruton Temple.

Bruton Temple

The architecture is a bit different from the Greek Revival of Griggs and Grace, and I’m curious about the unusual door that sticks out front.

Back out on Rutherford is a small building that’s easy to overlook. It houses another “temple”, Mountain View Temple.

Mountain View Temple

I circled back around on Poinsett and turned down the street across from Grace Cathedral. There I found Park Place Church of God. I have actually been inside Park Place for the wedding of a friend. I remember a traditional interior, but not much else.

Park Place Church of God

Just down the street from Park Place was a little building I almost overlooked. New Life Pentecostal Church of the First Resurrection an example of one of those churches where the length of the name of the church is inversely proportional to the size of the church.

New Life Pentecostal Church of the First Resurrection

I’m sure I would have seen more small churches if I had ventured into the Poe Mill area. Instead, I wandered over to the old Buncombe Road area and found Holmes Memorial Church. This is a church that has a long association with my family, and one that I’ve visited several times. It is affiliated with the Pentecostal Holiness denomination, and has a college associated with it. The college has moved to a new campus up near Furman, but the church remains.

Holmes Memorial Church

I hadn’t really been looking for storefront churches, but they were there, too. Across from Holmes was Son of God Ministries, occupying the corner of an aging strip mall.

Son of God Ministries

I crossed the Pete Hollis Boulevard into the upper Hampton Street area, another historically African-American neighborhood. I had one specific church I was hunting, and I found it. Located near the old railroad station just off of Washington Street is Mountain View Baptist Church. The first time I stumbled upon the church I was surprised to find a church of this size located in such an out of the way place. One of the things that really caught my eye was the name of the church written with rough brick lettering at the top of the building. A larger view is at the top of this post.

Mountain View Baptist

When I first came across this church I wasn’t sure if the it were still in use. There were conflicting signs today. The building is in rough shape, and needs quite a bit of TLC, but there was fairly modern church bus in the parking lot. A house I assume to be the parsonage next door to the church was boarded up and abandoned.

Mountain View Parsonage

I took a few more side streets through the neighborhood and came across a church more modern that the ones I had spotted previously. Bethel Church of God Holiness looked to have been built in the late 1970s, early 1980s. The church was well-kept, and appeared to be an active congregation.

Bethel Church of God Holiness

Around the corner on Washington Street was another example of the name inverse proportion rule, The Holy Temple Church of the Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith. While not the case with this particular church, I’ve noticed that small churches like this with long names often have grandiose titles for their clergy as well – Bishop So-and-So or Apostle So-and-So.

The Holy Temple Church of the Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith

Over on Hampton Street is a similar white church with a similarly long name. This one was Full Truth Gospel Church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Full Truth Gospel Church of the Lord Jesus Christ

Also on Hampton Street one can find Mattoon Presbyterian Church. This historic church was organized with the help of First Presbyterian church leaders in 1878 after the church’s black members decided to form their own congregation. The present structure takes its name from its black organizer, the Reverend S.M. Mattoon. It was completed in 1887. I was happy to see that it still houses an active congregation. It’s a beautiful old church from the outside with its unique fanlight windows, and I’d love to go inside some day.

Mattoon Presbyterian Church

Over on Pinckney Street was another historic church, Central Baptist Church. This one is more Romanesque in architectural style with a castellated tower. However, it has a Gothic arched semi-stained glass window.

Central Baptist Church
Central Baptist Church Window

According to the Earl Street Baptist Church website, Earl Street began as an outreach ministry of Central Baptist in1922. However, Central Baptist’s congregation went into decline, and 80 years later in 2002 the congregation of Central merged with Earl Street. Central Baptist no longer occupies the building, and the facility has been split between two organizations. radius Greenville (small letter “r”) has taken over the main sanctuary, and the education building houses the Crach Church of Greenville. While I’m not a fan of the names, I am glad to see the buildings in use.

At the intersection of Lloyd Street, Buncombe Street, and Rutherford Street is one of my favorite small churches. Holy Trinity Anglican Church is a small stonework church. It looks like it has the same floorplan as McCarter Presbyterian, where I used to work. The church was threatened with the widening of Buncombe Street and the Pete Hollis Boulevard, but I’m glad they were able to preserve it.

Holy Trinity Anglican Church

This view of Pete Hollis Boulevard shows Holy Trinity on the left, and my next target on the right – Third Presbyterian Church.

Pete Hollis Blvd

To me, the fate of Third Presbyterian is a sad tale. The church had its ups and downs, as most congregations. The building itself had been extensively renovated in the not too distant past, but the congregation just couldn’t make it. The church closed, and now sits abandoned in a very prominent place.

Third Presbyterian Church 2
Third Presbyterian Church

Despite the renovations, long abandonment is starting to take its toll. The roof needs replacing, and I’m sure that there has been some vandalism. This is another one of those churches that I’d love to go inside. I wish that some congregation could come back in, but at this point I’m afraid the cost would be prohibitive.

Nearby is another church where the congregation faded away, but but this church now serves a much nobler purpose. Triune Methodist Church long served the homeless population of the area with a soup kitchen. As the core congregation diminished, the church’s soup kitchen continued, and the church found new life as the Triune Mercy Center.

Triune Mercy Center

Continuing down Stone Avenue, I bypassed the large Earl Street Baptist Church, and headed to the intersection of Townes Avenue and Park Avenue. There can be found the former Beth Israel Temple. When the Temple congregation moved into new digs on Summit Drive, the church housed several congregations and businesses. It has deteriorated to the point that revitalization of the building may be cost prohibitive, but it is a neat old building.

Old Beth Israel Temple
Old Beth Israel Temple Dome

Right across the street is another church one would easily overlook. I almost didn’t see the Townes Street Church of God until I spotted the arched stained glass windows.

Townes Street Church of God

I know I had many, many churches I could explore, but it really was nasty outside and I was ready to head back home. Here is a slideshow of the churches I visited on this outing…

…and a map of those locations…


View Urban Religion in a larger map

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3 Comments

  1. ken Cothran says:

    I always wanted to go inside Central Baptist, particularly after reading the Greenville News article on it a while back. I don’t think it’s ever been an African-American church, and the congregation merged with Earle Street a few years ago. I understand the interior was quite something in its day, and this was one of the largest congregations in Greenville at a time. Sad to see the dangers to the old Beth Israel Temple and to 3rd Pres.. And I appreciated your comment about the removal of the Star of David from the small former synagogue. Sounds like a great trip around that area.

    • Tom says:

      Ken, youare correct about Central Baptist. I had thought it was African American because of the proximity to Mattoon, but was mistaken. I’ve corrected it above.

  2. jerleannoble says:

    So glad I ran across this article. Two of the churches above, my grandfather, Rev. John Henry Smith, built and pastored. You even have his house there, where a lot of my childhood was spent. The churches are Mountain View Baptist Church, Cagle Street, and the house was his house. His grave and my grandmother’s is between the house and the church. Thank you.

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