franklin Circle Church
Where President James A. Garfield Once Preached
By Jim Dubelko with research support from Raymond L. Pianka
The origins of the founding of Franklin Circle Christian Church, located at 1688 Fulton Road, lie in America's Second Great Awakening, an early nineteenth century movement which was characterized by a resurgence in religious enthusiasm and a diversification in Christian religious groups. Northeastern Ohio became a center of this new religious fervor and home to a number of new Christian religious groups, including the Mormons (Kirtland), the Shakers (Warrensville Township), and the Amish (Holmes County). In this era, as Cleveland State University history professor David Goldberg taught his graduate history students, Ohio beckoned to religious enthusiasts much like a century or so later California would beckon to altruistic baby boomers.
The Disciples of Christ, which founded Franklin Circle Christian Church in 1842, was another new Christian group that grew out of the Second Great Awakening and found fertile ground for its new religion in northeastern Ohio. The Disciples of Christ were adherents to the religious philosophy of Thomas and Alexander Campbell, father and son ministers, who urged Christians to put aside the doctrinal differences that divided different sects and return to the principles of the primitive Christian Church. In 1848, the parish built its first permanent church on Franklin Circle. It was large and cavernous and was known to its parishioners as "God's Barn." Three decades later, the parish hired the noted Cleveland architectural firm of Cudell and Richardson to design a new church on Franklin Circle--on a parcel of land just south of "God's Barn." The new church was built in the years 1874-1875 and has become one of the oldest and best known landmarks on the near west side of Cleveland.
Franklin Circle Christian Church and the Disciples of Christ have a long history of promoting education and engaging in social activism in northeastern Ohio. In 1850, the Disciples of Christ founded the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute, which later became known as Hiram College. Future United States President James A. Garfield was a student at the new college in the early 1850s and returned to it in 1858 to become President of the College. In 1857, Garfield also served as pastor at Franklin Circle Christian Church. The Church's members also included fervent supporters of the nineteenth century Temperance and Prohibition movements. Long time parishioner Abraham Teachout, a lumber merchant who lived on Franklin Avenue, was the church's Sunday School Superintendent for 25 years in the late nineteenth century. In 1884, he ran for Congress on the Prohibition ticket and remained a fervent Prohibitionist until his death in 1912.
Franklin Circle Christian Church today continues to engage in educational programs and social activism that serve a constituency very different from the Franklin Avenue neighborhood of the nineteenth century. Today, the Franklin Avenue neighborhood is home to many working class and immigrant families. The Church's outreach programs minister to the needs of this new community.
The current church building was designed by the Cleveland architectural firm of Cudell and Richardson, and built in 1874-1875. This 1959 photo shows the location of the Church on the south side of Franklin Circle. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library, Special Collections
This part of artist A. Ruger's "Birds Eye View of Cleveland Ohio - 1877" shows the new Franklin Circle Christian Church (marked as #46) designed by Cudell and Richardson and built on the south side of Franklin Circle in 1874-1875. Immediately to the north of the new church and represented on the painting as a large square pink building is the old Franklin Circle Christian church, which was known to parishioners as "God's Barn." Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Collection
The most famous pastor at Franklin Circle Christian Church was James A. Garfield, who served as pastor of the Church in 1857 when the parish worshiped in "God's Barn." During this time, Garfield also served as President of Hiram College. In 1861, Garfield left Hiram College to join the Union forces in the Civil War, where in four years time he rose to the rank of major general. In 1880, Garfield was elected President of the United States, the only U.S. president elected from the greater Cleveland area. Image courtesy of Library of Congress Collection
This part of Cleveland's 1881 Atlas map reveals that, in the late nineteenth century, Franklin Circle Christian Church was literally surrounded by mansions-- with most of them owned by Daniel Pomeroy Rhodes family members or their business associates. The Rhodes family, however, did not worship at Franklin Circle Christian Church. They were Episcopalian and worshiped at St. John's Episcopal Church several blocks north of the Circle on Church Street. Image courtesy of Cleveland Public Library, Digital Map Collections
An entry in the financial records of the church showing payment to Pastor James A. Garfield
Photo taken by Tours of Cleveland, LLC
Since its founding in 1842, Franklin Circle Christian Church has had 38 senior pastors, including James A. Garfield who served the church in this capacity in 1857. The above 1903 article from the Plain Dealer announces the arrival of new pastor Edgar D. Jones from Kentucky. Jones served the church as pastor for 3 years and later became active in the Federal Council of Churches of Christ. He was elected its national president in 1937. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library, special collections
A view of the Church in 1932 during the Great Depression. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library, Special Collections
Franklin Circle Christian Church has a long history of promotion of education, social activism, and involvement in its community. In this 1975 photograph, an exchange student from Japan learns about the church's nutrition program for neighborhood seniors. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library, Special Collections
Franklin Circle Christian Church had stood on the south side of Franklin Circle for nearly 150 years and continues to serve as an institutional anchor for the Franklin Boulevard neighborhood. Creator: Jim Dubelko
Information on this page re-posted from an article by Cleveland Historical Society
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