As Mobile’s newest and grandest place to gather – The Steeple AGAIN returns to its roots...
By the time it celebrated its 50th anniversary at the end of the 19th century, the city’s most legendary packed the Sunday pews. A best-selling author, a millionaire philanthropist, and a minister whose determination led to the founding of Vanderbilt University.
The St. Francis Street Methodist Church opened its Mahogany doors in 1842. The congregation of 39 members had been asked to leave the state’s first Methodist Church known as the “Beehive” to launch a new church just a few blocks away. Twenty years later an ammunition depot fire devastated downtown Mobile and caused such damage the building was demolished in 1895. Remains of the original structure can be seen in the foundation and the unique cornerstones bearing the dates of both church buildings.
For the next 100 years a faithful community of believers made St. Francis Street Methodist the largest and most dynamic church in Mobile. Members included Augusta Jane Evans Wilson – one of the most popular American novelists of the 19th century and the first female author to earn more than $100,000 for her work. Bessie Morse Bellingrath – philanthropist and creator of the magnificent Bellingrath Gardens.
And the church member with perhaps the greatest impact of all stood at the pulpit: the Reverend Holland Nimmons McTyeire. Not his sermons but his dreams left a lasting legacy McTyeire envisioned a world-class Methodist university for the South and lacked only the finances to make it happen. His wife Amelia gained the support of her cousin…. a Mobile native who happened to be Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt. She in turn convinced her husband – at that time the richest man in the country – to donate $1 million for the creation of what would become Vanderbilt University.
In 1984 St. Francis Street Methodist joined the National Register of Historic Places. Sadly, the doors would close ten years later as the city’s population moved west and away from its downtown churches. The hallowed space would become refuge for the homeless instead. Renovation and renewal arrived in 2015 with its purchase by a Mobile couple with plans to make St. Francis an exquisite venue once again.
A NEW VIBE FOR A VINTAGE SPACE.
The Steeple joins a national trend of repurposed churches as developers adapt the abandoned buildings to restaurants, theaters and concert venues.
And as with every other project from New Orleans to Pittsburgh and Columbus, the year-long renovation on St. Francis Street demanded a dedicated team of historic architects and detail-sensitive builders.
The Queen Anne style building offers 10,000 square feet of venue space from the central upstairs sanctuary to a variety of rooms downstairs. Faithfully restored doors open to a foyer and entryway under carefully restored 1935 fixtures. Antique pine floors and mahogany beams glow in the filtered light of Tiffany-inspired sanctuary windows. Cathedral ceilings offer the soulful acoustics you can only hear in a 120-year old church.