Auburn students reconstruct St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Selma Times-Journal


more than 150-year-old church will soon be rebuilt on the grounds of Old Cahawba Historical Park.

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The reconstruction of the St. Luke’s Episcopal Church is a project of the Rural Studio of Auburn University.

“We’re real excited about it,” said Jason Coomes, an instructor of second year students in Auburn’s Rural Studio program. “The church has been disassembled by the students.”

The St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, built in 1854, was based on a design by renowned architect Richard Upjohn. It had been moved in 1876 to Martin’s Station, about 15 miles from Old Cahawba.

The process of taking apart the wood structure with its metal roof was a daunting task for the students, Coomes said.

“The first step was to decide ‘how are we going to label all of these pieces to take it apart?” he told the Kiwanis Club of Selma this past week. “How do you being to disassemble something to put it back together?”

First, the flooring – mostly cypress – was taken out and students labeled all the floor boards, Coomes said.

The class also had to call in an expert to shore up the building, which was leaning.

At the end of the first semester, the student had removed the outer walls and the roof had been taken off. Just last week, a new group of students completed the task of disassembling the church.

The second semester students will begin their month of “heavy construction” at the beginning of April, Coomes said.

The church will be built directly across from the site of the old welcome center, which was destroyed by fire in 2005.

James Hammonds, chairman of the Cahawba Advisory Committee and a member of the Kiwanis Club, said that site is “not near the original location” of the church in Old Cahawba.

Cahawba was Alabama’s state capital from 1820 to 1826. It was a thriving antebellum town on the banks of the Alabama River. But, it became a ghost town after the Civil War.

There are few remains of the once bustling river port. Columns from the Crocheron mansion and the Barker slave quarters are the few standing structures.

Hammonds said the new project will give visitors a sense of history. “To actually see a building every now and then gives an idea of what life was like,” he said.

The St. Luke’s Episcopal Church is one of many churches designed in the Gothic Revival style used by Upjohn. He also designed churches in New Jersey, New York City, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

“It was really, very carefully constructed,” Coomes said.

While some changes in the structure were made when it was moved to Martin’s Station, Coomes said, “We’re trying to build it as close as we can as it was originally.”