Meeting house at Danville park offers a glimpse of past Presbyterian congregations

November 13, 2009|By HERB BROCK

Its altar is a large but simple wooden box. On top of it is a big, old Bible, a candle and a wooden bowl. Its dozen or so pews also are wooden and plain as well, and its walls are made of logs. On top of this building is not a towering steeple but a bell. And nowhere in sight is an education building or Christian life center or even a fellowship all. Yes, it's a far cry from a "megachurch."

This church, where there is beauty and grandeur in its simplicity and plainness, happens to be the meeting house at Constitution Square State Historic.

Located just to the south of the post office on the park grounds between South Second, West Main and West Walnut streets, the structure is a replica built in 1942 of the meeting house that was erected in 1784 under the direction of the Rev. David Rice, a Presbyterian minister.


The meeting house has particular importance to Presbyterians, who recently celebrated the 225th anniversary of their denomination's formal existence in Danville.

The original meeting house housed the then-newly formed Concorde Presbyterian Congregation, the first Presbyterian church in Kentucky.

Pastor came to Kentucky for the land

Rice originally came to Kentucky to obtain land, not to serve as a pastor. However, after he received a petition signed by more than 300 Presbyterians, some with the last names of such prominent Boyle County families as the Caldwells, Cowans, Irvines, McDowells and Shelbys, he decided to move to Danville to establish a Presbyterian congregation.

Since the original meeting house was built at the time when Danville, then just founded and still surrounded by wilderness, was being settled, the replica that represents it gives park visitors the chance to sample visually the city's early history.

A tour of the meeting house and the other replicated structures from the late 18th century, including a jail, post office, courthouse and tavern, is like walking through chapters in an illustrated history book on the state's as well as city's religious, judicial and governmental beginnings.

Today, the courthouse is a large, multi-story building, the jail is a sprawling facility that holds more than 200 prisoners, the post office is a huge structure, and there is a church — more often than not a fairly large one — on virtually every corner of Danville.

But the roots of these institutions go back more than two centuries to much smaller, humbler edifices, such as the little log church that was Danville's first Presbyterian house of worship.


The meeting house and the many other replicas of historic buildings at Constitution Square State Historic Site are open from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., seven days a week.

A marker with historic information is located outside each of the buildings.

Self-guided tours are free. Guided tours, which include a fee, may be arranged by appointment by calling (859) 239-7089.

The park gift shop is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday.

Also available to visitors on the park grounds are Grayson's Tavern and the Wilderness Art League Gallery.

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