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 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 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.
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!