Gardens to Gables

The Ella Cornett Memorial Church, Harlan, Kentucky

I am not an expert on ecclesiastical architecture, but you can’t study the history of Kentucky communities without encountering many a historic church building. The church is often the largest and most decorative building in a historic neighborhood, and I am partial to the interesting stylistic turns of early 20th century church buildings in our Commonwealth.

The Harlan United Methodist Church in Harlan, Kentucky.

The Harlan United Methodist Church in Harlan, Kentucky.

The traditional Gothic Revival (and Collegiate Gothic) style of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was still in rotation, but some urban churches (as opposed to smaller, rural churches) built after 1900 favored Classical motifs and boxier forms. The Harlan United Methodist Church, built in 1916, is a good example of these changing tastes. A rigid symmetry defines the facade, which is divided into five bays with imposing arched windows on the edges and a centrally placed arched, double door entryway.

The church is located on East Mound Street in the southeastern Kentucky town.

The church is located on East Mound Street in the southeastern Kentucky town.

The building rests on a raised, rusticated stone foundation, and has a portico with paired columns, but while the parapet wall emphasizes the solidity and massiveness of the structure, it also neatly moves the church out of the traditional “temple front” category. The block modillions at the cornice point to the Colonial Revival influence, but the church also appears inspired by the wave of pared-down Craftsman style influencing commercial buildings at the time.

The Ella Cornett Memorial Church, side and facade view.

The Ella Cornett Memorial Church, side and facade view.

But beyond the form and design choices, the most fascinating aspect of the church is that it was named for a community member – Ella Cornett. This is not something I’ve encountered before in the realm of religious buildings. Public buildings, yes – but a church? Biblical figures or a geographic reference might figure into the name, but actually memorializing a resident in the formal name of a church – nope. I don’t know the story of Ella Cornett, but if anyone out there does – please let me know!

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6 Thoughts on “The Ella Cornett Memorial Church, Harlan, Kentucky

  1. David Ames on November 8, 2015 at 7:54 am said:

    Really superb description and interpretation so nicely written. Makes one want to move to Kentucky.😜

    • Janie-Rice Brother on November 9, 2015 at 11:09 am said:

      Oh, thank you David! That is a huge compliment coming from you! Look forward to seeing you soon.

  2. According to Connelley’s History of Kentucky (1922), Ella Cornett was the first wife of a very prominent and wealthy local: Judge Arthur Blankenship Cornett. Among other things, Cornett was the largest donor to the local Methodist church and sat on its board.

    Great post!

  3. Homer Fortney on July 20, 2016 at 5:28 pm said:

    Ella C. Cornett was the wife of Judge A.B.Cornett and died in 1900, two weeks after the birth of her 9th child. That child was my grandmother, Ella Cornett Highbaugh. In those days they called it “child bed fever” which was simple infection but without antibiotics it was sometimes fatal. His oldest daughter was Ora Cornett Cawood, married to Carlo Cawood. He started the Bank of Harlan, Harlan Hardware, and Harlan Funeral Home. Ora was a tiny woman who could often be seen sweeping the sidewalk, washing windows, and other cleaning activities at the church even though she was wealthy. She was the mother of Edward and Gene Cawood. My grandmother and Ed played the organ at the church for many years.

  4. Homer Fortney on July 20, 2016 at 5:40 pm said:

    Ella C. Cornett was the wife of Judge A.B.Cornett and the mother of my grandmother Ella Cornett Highbaugh. She died in 1900 two weeks after the birth of my grandmother, her ninth child. She died of “child bed fever” which was simply infection but before antibiotics. The oldest daughter Ora Lilly Cornett Cawood was married to Carlo Cawood. Carlo was the founder of the Bank of Harlan and Harlan Hardware and Funeral Home. Ora was a tiny woman who could often be seen sweeping, washing windows, planting flowers, etc around the church. Her and Carlos’ house was on the corner of Mound and Third Streets. My friends in High School called her the “leaf catcher” because they said she would catch the leaves in the fall before they hit the ground. Her sons were Edward and Gene Cawood who ran the Bank and Hardware respectively. Many wonderful memories of this church and the family and friends I attended it with.

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