City of Churches: The Mural

About a hundred years ago, when you rode into Mansfield on the train and looked up at the ‘City on a Hill,’ one of the most striking aspects of the skyline was the predominance of church steeples. From the Square you could easily identify no fewer than eight separate houses of worship within walking distance by simply looking up at the blue sky above the rooftops of the mundane business world. And that’s exactly what steeples were meant to do.

The Point of Steeples

The earliest known versions of the steeple were established in the Middle-Eastern and European worlds where the architecture of synagogues mandated a tall pole be attached to the roof so that worshippers could find the place from afar.

The idea of the steeple reached its most glorious fulfillment during the Middle Ages when the monumental Cathedrals of Europe were designed to dominate the landscape of any city or village, with a clear signification of the importance of worship to the community.

Rodin wrote, “The Cathedral is the scaffolding of Heaven.  It gathers itself for flight; it rises, then stops the first time to rest on the balustrade of the first tier; then the construction resumes its skyward flight. It stops at the limit of human powers.”

When the church, as a significant building in the landscape, was established in New England, the spires were intended to be the highest point in any town—to indicate that spiritual principles predominated over every other earthly concern.

The Steeple points to Heaven, directing the attention of all people to higher thoughts.

The Mural

Because of our skyline, Mansfield quite naturally came to be known, in Ohio newspapers and travelogues of the time, as the City of Churches.  A mural based on that theme, City of Churches,was commissioned in 2013 to hang in the sanctuary at St. Luke’s Point of Grace.

The 14’ x 25’ mural incorporates images of 16 downtown churches that were prevalent in the scenery from 1880-1945. They are arranged in the design so that the steeples are ordered much as you would see a bank of organ pipes mounted on the wall of an old time sanctuary, presented in the semblance of a stained glass window.

The wooden framing elements of the picture were adapted from photos of actual woodwork inside the church. The people who populate the image all come from actual congregational portraits from 1900-1930.

100 Years Later

In 1914 the City Directory listed 29 churches, and today there are 195—so in significant ways Mansfield is even more strongly a City of Churches a hundred years on. These houses of worship, however, have largely dispersed away from a centralized view downtown, and though there are still many steeples—and impressive ones, too—the trend in architectural style for new churches clearly has less meaning attached to high-reaching spires.

The purposes of inspiration, once relegated to public steeples, are now more personally internalized to individuals whose own inner directives must point above to higher thoughts and motives, so our heritage as the City of Steeples exists today not in the skyline, but in our hearts, and our memory.  And in our mural.

The United Presbyterian Church was located on the SE corner of Third and Walnut Streets.
(Today it is the site of the Mansfield Public Library parking garage.)
In 1976 the new church was built at
160 S Linden Road, known today as Linden Road Presbyterian Church.

Grace Episcopal Church originated at 45 W Third St in 1847.
(The site today encompasses the entrance and lobby of the Mansfield Public Library.)
The church moved to Third and Bowman Steets in 1906.

First English Lutheran Church was built on the corner of
Park Avenue and Walnut Street in 1891, where it remains today.

First Presbyterian Church was built on the Square (left) at the corner of Diamond and South Park Streets. (The site was later the Park Theater, and today has attorney offices.)
In 1883 the congregation moved to Mulberry Street (above), a site that is today a parking lot.
The current location of the church is at the corner of Trimble and Millsboro Roads.

First Congregational Church stood at 107 Park Avenue West from 1873 until it burned in 1942.
Its new location, at 640 Millsboro Road, was bult in 1951.

First United Methodist Church has been at the corner of Diamond Street and Park Avenue East since 1867. Its original steeple (top) was modified in 1910 when the structure was covered in stone, as it still appears today.

St Paul’s German Lutheran Church stood at 88 W Third Street.
(The site today has offices of Mansfield Metropolitan Housing.)
In the 1970s the congregation moved to 2010 Park Avenue West,
known now as simply St Paul’s Lutheran Church.

St John’s German Evangelical Church was built in 1865 at the corner of Mulberry and First Street.
(The building is still in use today as a school building in the St Peter’s education system.)
The congregation moved to 68 Park Ave E where it is now known as St John’s United Church of Christ.

The steeple of St Peter’s seen in the mural was from the church built in 1890 at the corner of First and Mulberry Street.
The site is today a parking and recreational lot, next to the current St Peter’s Church built in 1911.
(both seen in lower image)

First Baptist Church was built in 1862 at the corner of Park Avenue W and Walnut Street.
(It is the site today of Chase Tower.)
In the 1920s the congregation moved to Park Avenue Baptist Church at 296 Park Ave W, today the home of Mosaic.

Mitchell Chapel AME Church was built at 151 Glessner Avenue in 1894.
The current site of the congregation is at 182 S Adams St.

Mayflower Memorial Congregational Church was built at 44 Buckingham St
in 1905, and the building is still in use as a house of worship, though the congregation moved to 548 N McElroy Road.

Believers In Christ built this church on the corner of Diamond and E Second Street in 1886.
(The site is today part of the Richland County jail complex.)
The congregation moved in 1965 to 84 N Illinois Ave.

First Christian Church at 52 W Fourth St was built in 1898.
(There is a garage on the site today.)
The congregation moved to the NE corner of Third and Bowman in 1955.

Main Street Evangelical Church, at the intersection of Main and Lexington Avenue, looked like this (top) until 1958 when a new building replaced it on the site, today known as Main Street United Methodist Church.

St Luke’s Lutheran Church, at the corner of Park Avenue West and Marion, is today known as St Luke’s Point of Grace, current home of Church Requel.

The City of Churches mural hangs here on the east wall of the sanctuary.

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