The old Presbyterian Church building on Breton Street here in Potosi is Potosi’s oldest public building -- and the oldest Presbyterian church building still standing west of the Mississippi River.
The Potosi Presbyterian congregation was organized in the spring of 1832 by five members under the leadership of Rev. John Cowan, pioneer Presbyterian organizer in Missouri.
This present building saw the start of construction in the fall of 1832, and it was completed in the spring of 1833.
This building housed Presbyterian worship services from 1833 to 1907, when the congregation moved to the “New Presbyterian Church”, the stone building on Breton Street, a block east of here.
CHURCH YEARS IN THIS BUILDING:
The Potosi Presbyterian Church has maintained all its church minutes since the organization of the church, and they tell a fascinating story of this church, and of religious history, here in Potosi.
For instance, the minutes show in one of the early years a lady member of the congregation was “called on the carpet” and chastised by the congregation for the “sin” of “PLAYING CROQUET ON SUNDAY”.
This church was also the scene of early PRESBYTERY, of District, meetings of the Presbyterian faith in Missouri. At a meeting here in this building in the 1850’s, the POTOSI PRESBYTERY passed a motion to establish a Presbyterian college in Missouri -- an act that led to the organization of the present Westminster College in Fulton.
Although the congregation was not integrated (blacks were not admitted as members of the church in the early years), black people were permitted to attend services -- as slaves with their masters, or as Free Blacks -- in a practice common with other churches of the period, and blacks were married by the early white Protestant ministers.
The balcony at the rear of the church is often called a SLAVE GALLERY. Although research does not indicate this exactly, it is believed that blacks were seated here for services. One young black man who probably attended services from here was later to become nationally famous. JOHN ANDERSON LANKFORD was born here in Potosi in 1873, to parents who had been slaves here. MRS. ANNIE COLE BUGG -- the mother of Mrs. Mary B. Eversole -- organized a religious education class for young blacks, one of whom was John Anderson Lankford. Mrs. Bugg and other members of the Presbyterian congregation realized the talents of the young man and were evidently instrumental in seeing that he advanced to higher education, giving assistance that saw him go to Lincoln University in Jefferson City -- Missouri’s first black state college. Lankford then went on to the pioneer black college, Tuskegee Institute, in Alabama, where he was a graduate of Tuskegee’s first architectural class, in 1891 or 1892. Lankford later taught at black colleges in Atlanta and in North Carolina, and by 1902 had established an architectural practice in Washington, D.C. In 1906, when the Presbyterians were planning their new church building, Lankford returned to Potosi, and, in appreciation for support given him by the congregation, designed the present “new Presbyterian Church” and supplied all the plans -- free of charge. Lankford died in Washington in 1946, and at the time of his death was regarded as the “Dean of American Negro Architects”.
THIS CHURCH BUILDING TODAY is virtually as it was when it was built in 1832 and 33. A fairly simple building, of home-made bricks and plastered walls, with the only ornamentation the rear balcony with its turned columns and railing. A steeple was added at the front of the building’s roof in later years -- apparently in about 1870 -- but it later deteriorated and was removed, returning the building to virtually the same look it had when it was built.
THE TWO FRONT DOORS were common in many Protestant churches of the time. We know, for instance, that the first Methodist Church building in Potosi also had two front doors -- which reflected the “segregation” of unmarried members at church meetings. At the Methodist, for instance, the unmarried males entered through one door and sat at one side of the church; the unmarried females entered through the other door and sat at the other side of the church; and the married couples entered either door - and sat in the middle, dividing the unmarried males and females. We don’t know for sure if that was the practice here in this Presbyterian Church, but it may well have been.
THROUGH THE YEARS this building has given varied service to the community.
AFTER 1907, when services moved to the new church, this building and the “Opera House”, the ground floor auditorium of the 1849 Masonic Hall next door, served as community halls for Potosi.
“PICTURE SHOWS” for Potosi first appeared in this building, when George Wallace of Old Mines showed silent movies here in the World War I era.
IN THE 1920’s, this building also became the first “gymnasium” for the first basketball teams at Potosi High School -- which was housed along with the Grade School in the brick building just up the street where the present 4th and 5th Grade Center is located. One basketball basket was fastened to the front of the balcony, and you can still see today where the molding was trimmed to fasten the backboard in place.
THE BOY SCOUTS also found a home here for a number of years, as this was the “Scout Hall” from the 1920’s through the 1960’s for Boy Scout Troop 409, which was sponsored by the Presbyterian Church.
In 1963, for Potosi’s Bicentennial, this building first saw some initial cleanup and restoration, as it was used for a Museum for the Bicentennial. In 1964, profits from the Bicentennial were used to put a new roof on the building -- which has helped preserve it so well. The new roof of split shingles is identical to the original roof which was on the building.
In 1982, for the 150th anniversary of the Presbyterian Church in Potosi, the building saw further painting, floor refinishing, balcony restoration, and other work -- and that summer it became the joint home of the Mine Au Breton Historical Society and of the Christian Book Store, sponsored by the church.
THE PEWS IN THE CHURCH -- handmade, and fastened with square nails, were still stored in the balcony at the time of the 1982 restoration, and are believed to be original pews from the time the church was built in 1832.
THE PULPIT was also in this building at this time, and is believed to be the original pulpit, or one used fairly early in the church’s history.