A dark and commanding presence on Cleveland’s Public Square since the early 1800s, Old Stone Church now stands among its much larger and younger neighbors: The Terminal Tower, Key Center and the former BP Headquarters (now 200 Public Square). Occupying a parcel on Ontario Street at the north edge of Public Square, its façade looks out on the memorial statue of city founder Moses Cleaveland, and one of the landscaped quadrants of the Square.
Old Stone Church originated with a Presbyterian congregation that first began gathering, in the summer of 1819, as a Sunday school on the upper floor of Cleveland’s original log cabin courthouse. Within a decade, The First Presbyterian Society was formed and work began on planning a new church structure. That church, dedicated in 1834 and built of roughly hammered native gray sandstone, was formally named The First Presbyterian Society, but was known to all as simply The Stone Church.
That structure contained Cleveland’s first pipe organ, and employed an innovative use of iron rod supports for its roof. As other churches were erected around and about Cleveland, many built of stone, the Presbyterian facility became known as Old Stone Church, the name that endures today. To accommodate the city’s and congregation’s growth, the original church was demolished in 1853, to be replaced by a newer and larger church, dedicated in 1855.
The new Romanesque Revival edifice, designed by Simeon Porter and Charles Heard, was also constructed of dark gray native sandstone. But, less than two years later, a devastating fire raced through the church, toppling its 250-foot steeple, and leaving merely the exterior walls. Within just ten months, aided by faith and insurance proceeds, the congregation reconstructed and rededicated the church.
However, 26 years later, in the winter of 1883-1884, Old Stone Church was to suffer yet another devastating fire — one that would bring into question whether the congregation would remain at Public Square. Once again though, the congregation rallied, spurred on by some of its more influential citizens, and work began on what was to become the present incarnation of the church. Architect Charles Schweinfurth was enlisted, and proceeded to create false clerestories and wood tie beams supporting a grand barrel-vaulted ceiling. Louis C. Tiffany provided stained glass windows, and John LaFarge created the large triple window facing Public Square, while Julius Schweinfurth contributed the church’s frescoes.
For more information, you can visit the church’s website at www.oldstonechurch.org.