Second Presbyterian Church of Richmond, Virginia, had its beginnings as a "Lecture Room" built on Fifth Street between Franklin and Main Streets, under the sponsorship of First Presbyterian Church. On February 5, 1845, Second Church was organized as a separate congregation by East Hanover Presbytery, and the Rev. Dr. Moses Drury Hoge was installed as its first pastor, a position he was to retain for the next fifty-four years. Dr. Hoge, who proclaimed that he was "tired of Grecian temples with spires on them, determined to build the first Gothic church in Richmond, a city noted for its classic Greek architecture. His building committee persuaded the noted New York Architect Minard Lafever, one of the leading masters of the Gothic Revival in America, to design the building. Completed in 1848, Second Church stands today as Lafever's only commission to be built in the South.
Two local builders, William McClellan, a member of Second Church, and George Gibson, constructed the building. Because the actual cost of the building exceeded estimates, this most beautiful building, with its awe-inspiring bell tower whose pinnacles rise 120 feet above Fifth Street, had to forego a bell. The bell was finally installed as a highlight of the 150th Anniversary Celebration held on February 5, 1995.
The four stone pinnacles atop the bell tower, pointed Gothic diamond-paned windows, tall Gothic doors, high cruciform roof, and unique brownstone battlements and trim, dressed and shipped from quarries in New York, characterize Lafever's Gothic design. The distinctive Gothic ironwork along the front of the facade was fabricated not by the renowned Tredegar Ironworks, but instead by a New York firm. The identical Lafever ironwork pattern can be seen at the Packard Institute in Brooklyn, another of his commissions built in the early 1840s. The majority of the deteriorated original brownstone was replaced in a major exterior renovation in 2003.
Second Presbyterian Church was the first Gothic building and the first gas-lit church to be built in Richmond. It is listed on both the Virginia Landmarks Register, which calls it the "most beautiful specimen of Gothic Revival Architecture in the city," and the National Registry of Historic Places.
The sanctuary interior features an elegant hammer-beam ceiling constructed by another McClellan-Robert, a charter member of the church. All of the woodwork was originally painted to resemble golden oak, including the ornate reredos screen behind the pulpit. Transepts were added to the rectangular sanctuary in 1873 to create the present cruciform plan. The communion table dates from 1869. Above the doorways on either side of the pulpit are Tiffany-made bronze tablets, celebrating the pastorates of Dr. Hoge and Dr. Russell Cecil, respectively. The chapel to the rear of the sanctuary was redesigned twice: by William C. Nolan in the early 20th century, and by Linwood Womack in the late 1960s. Featuring a fine Tiffany window installed in 1897, it remains one of the most beautiful small rooms in the city.
During the Civil War, Second Presbyterian was in a volatile and important position in Richmond, thanks largely to Moses Hoge. Hoge was the official minister of both Camp Lee and the Confederate Congress. He ran the Union blockade to England to obtain Bibles for the Confederate Army. While in England, Hoge was invited to preach to Queen Victoria. After the service, she offered Dr. Hoge a personal gift, which he refused, asking instead for some sprigs of ivy from Westminster Abbey. The ivy he brought back still grows around the base of Second Church.
When Stonewall Jackson was called to Richmond during the war, Second was his church home. The pew he occupied is located under the south gallery, fourth from the rear of the sanctuary, marked with a small brass plaque. Second also served many eminent soldiers and statesmen stationed in and around Richmond. The chapel served as a hospital during the war.
On April 2, 1865, Richmond burned. Fires set to keep munitions from falling into Federal hands caused an explosion at the Confederate magazine that blew out the church's stained glass windows. After the war, the windows were replaced with "obscure" glass held in place by wooden mullions rather than the more expensive leaded ones. What glass could be salvaged from the broken windows was placed in the attic above the sanctuary where it remained until the church's restoration in 1973, when the windows were reconstructed in part with salvaged historic stained glass and reinstalled in the narthex on the Fifth Street front.
The Virginia Building on the northeast corner of Fifth and Main, which currently houses church offices and classrooms, stands on the site of the Gibbon-Hoge House, which was built in 1809 by Major James Gibbon, a celebrated Revolutionary War hero. It became Moses Hoge's manse in 1860. Guests entertained in the house over the years included the Marquis de Lafayette, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Joseph E. Johnston, and Stonewall Jackson. The Gibbon-Hoge House was demolished in 1902, three years after Moses Hoge's death.
These unique buildings have always housed a vital downtown congregation, inspiringly led, and dedicated to fulfilling its mission "to know Christ and to make Him known" within the community and throughout the world. Second Presbyterian Church proclaimed the word and a vital social gospel to a burgeoning Victorian city. Abreast of change in 20th century Richmond, it founded no fewer than six other congregations. Resisting strong currents to relocate to the suburbs in the late 20th century, it stayed downtown.
Today, with four other downtown churches, the church provides a daily meal ministry to homeless persons. Another program started at Second in the late 1970's continues to provide assistance and support for families of the incarcerated. And its fourty year old childcare center was the first nationally accredited childcare provider in the Commonwealth. Annually, the youth of the church respond to mission challenges that may be local, national, or even international in scope. Second Presbyterian continues to seek mission opportunities for the entire congregation that are worthy of its history and facilitated by its continued presence in the heart of the city.
Pastors since 1845
Dr. Moses Drury Hoge 1845-1899
The Rev. Donald Guthrie 1899-1900
Dr. Russell Cecil 1900-1925
Dr. William E. Hill 1926-1940
Dr. Frederick V. Poag 1938-1942
Dr. Armand L. Currie 1942-1949
Dr. Frederick H. Olert 1951-1957
Dr. James W. Clark 1960-1965
Dr. James F. Anderson 1966-1972
Dr. Albert C. Winn 1974-1981
Dr. O. Benjamin Sparks 1982- 2007
Dr. Alex W. Evans 2008-present