A true vacation for me, one in which I completely relax, can only be at the beach. I find, though, that I prefer the lazy rhythm of days walking on the sand, swimming, and copious amounts of reading, to occasionally be peppered with a bit of sightseeing. Florida’s forgotten coast, a place I’d never visited until last year, provided just the balance with our proximity to the town of Apalachicola. My brief introduction to what was once the third largest cotton town on the Gulf of Mexico spanned a wide variety of building types and styles. The 20th century Gothic Revival style, as represented in the St. Paul African Methodist Church of 1921, was especially striking.
The congregation, organized shortly after the Civil War in 1866, bought the land that same year and built a frame building for church services. The churches name was recorded as the “Methodist Episcopal Church for Colored People.” In 1874, the congregation affiliated itself with the African Methodist Episcopal Church; the oldest Protestant denomination founded by blacks in the world, the AME Church traces its roots to 1816 Philadelphia.
Construction on the present church – the third to occupy this site – began in 1913. Eight years later, the red brick church (I’m not always a fan of painted masonry – but in this context, I love it.) was complete. Two towers flank the facade, each with double doors on the front and side elevations, highlight by pointed arches containing transoms, and the outer course of brick headers painted white. One tower is two stories high, and the other three stories.
The sun was beginning to sink as we walked by St. Paul’s, and I couldn’t fully appreciate the stained glass windows, which were made in Germany for the church. But the lines of the building, and the contrast between the patterned metal steeples of the towers, the red brick walls, and the crisp white lines of the brick details painted white, lingered in my mind long after we headed north and left Florida behind. But beyond the architecture, the construction of such a beautiful building represents the strength of a community beset by so many prejudices and biases, long after the conclusion of the Civil War. I tuck these memories away as carefully as I used to stow away the seashells I collected on the beach.