The sanctuary portion of the Ginter Park Baptist Church building was originally the Grace Street Presbyterian Church, which was constructed between 1868 and 1872 on the northeast corner of 4th and Grace Streets by the congregation of the former United Presbyterian Church, the only church in Richmond destroyed in the evacuation fire of 1865. The architects for this building were Civil War Captains Marion and Charles Dimmock. The Grace Street congregation chose a Gothic revival design for their building because they wanted it to be a timeless symbol of strength and hope for a war-torn city. The building was noteworthy because of its hammerbeam ceiling, patterned after the one in London’s Westminster Hall, and its lofty spire reaching upward more than two hundred feet.
In 1906 this church decided to renovate with the help of the Tiffany Design Studio. Louis Comfort Tiffany added electrification, designed six favrile glass fixtures, and two bronze chandeliers. He also designed and installed stained glass to replace the glass in the existing arched window frames. The exterior brick walls were also covered with white stucco as the final phase of this renovation. Strangely enough after making such extensive improvements, only ten years later, the building was put up for sale without the window glass or stained glass light fixtures. The Grace Street congregation merged with Covenant Presbyterian Church and built a new building on Monument Avenue just west of Stuart Circle. Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church is still at this location. The Tiffany-designed glass light fixtures are in this building. The bronze chandeliers were sold along with the building to Ernst Farley, owner of Richmond Engineering Company and a resident of the then suburb of Ginter Park.
In 1916 Ginter Park Baptist Church was founded and held services in Miss Grace Arents’ School on Hawthorne Avenue, now the Ginter Park Community Building. In 1919 the small but growing congregation decided to purchase the Grace Street Church building which charter member Mr. Farley now owned. They decided to purchase this older building because they wanted a church which would denote permanence and would stand as a symbol of the grandeur of Almighty God. Therefore the building, with some modifications designed by the architectural firm of Hallett and Pratt, was reconstructed in 1920 and completed in 1926 at the corner of Brook Road and Wilmington Avenue. The original balcony and tall steeple were not rebuilt both because of changes in building codes and additional cost. The magnificent ceiling was installed in its entirety, and the original window frames without the Tiffany glass were used and filled with sheets of tin. The arched cornices originally on the exterior of the building were placed inside. A baptistery was added and was reconfigured in 1949 with a new stained glass window depicting the Jordan River purchased from the Willet Studios in Philadelphia. The two bronze chandeliers in the shape of crowns were hung and remained until 1954 when, for reasons now unknown, they were either sold or given to the United Way for use in their headquarters at the Branch House. The present light fixtures and recessed ceiling lights were added at that time.
The pews with arched ends reflecting the Gothic arches of the windows and the arch of the chancel were purchased along with the pulpit furniture, communion table, and a pipe organ from the Gottfried Company was installed. It was replaced in 1951 by an organ from the Standaart Company. In 1945 a carillonic bell system was installed in memory of church members who lost their lives in World War I and in honor of those who served in World War II. The present organ was designed by the Lewis and Hitchcock Company in 1970. George Payne, the owner of this company at the time, was a former minister of music at Ginter Park. One of the two organ builders was Michael Simpson, minister of music at the church for thirty-six years. The other, Martin Bridges, was also a church member. The Steinway grand piano made in 1895 was purchased a few years later.
According to legend the reason that the Grace Street Church did not sell the Tiffany glass along with the window frames was that John D. Rockefeller had expressed interest in buying it, and so some of the glass was shipped by rail to New York for his approval. He declined to purchase it and sent it back. At that point the church agreed to sell all of the stained glass which had originally cost three thousand dollars to Ginter Park Church for one thousand dollars. This legend cannot be verified, but at any rate some of the glass was either broken or lost. Enough remained, however, to fully reconstruct nine and partially construct three windows. They were not signed, but the contract to design and install them in the Grace Street building was signed by Louis Comfort Tiffany. Ginter Park Church financed these windows by having blank panels at the bottom which members could purchase as memorials to family and loved ones.
The eight side windows, each of which contains three panels, have only one symbol per panel. The two side panels on each window have the design of a quatrefoil within a circle with intersecting arrows superimposed by a four-petal purple flower within a diamond. The quatrefoil, diamond, and flower are representations of the cross, while the arrows symbolize martyrdom. The center panel of each window contains a shield and crown, the amber jewels in which are three dimensional. The shield represents faith, and the crown symbolizes the sovereignty of God in Christ. Each shield contains a different Christian symbol: a bursting pomegranate symbolizing Christ bursting the bonds of death; a cluster of grapes, symbolizing the blood of Christ shed for the remission of sins; a rose, representing the Virgin Mary and messianic promise; a passion flower; the Greek letters alpha and omega, symbolizing the beginning and the end; and a violet, representing humility. One of the partially reconstructed windows in the vestibule has a lily of the valley, the symbol of purity. The top section of each window has stylized amber flowers with three dimensional jewel-like centers. They also have stylized flower-like designs which seem to form the shapes of three seated men wearing tall turbans, suggesting the three magi or wise men.
The large center back window has four panels. Some of the panes are diamond shaped. It contains several fleur-de-lis, symbols for Mary, and four-petal violet flowers, symbolizing the cross and humility. At the top is a large circular medallion composed of smaller circles. The center of this medallion contains a Greek cross whose center is a three dimensional amber stone. Each smaller circle contains a Greek cross. Underneath the large medallion are two smaller medallions each with a triquetra, representing the Trinity. At the center of the medallion on the left is a lotus or water lily, which symbolizes an individual’s striving for God. The medallion on the right contains a cluster of grapes with the grapevine, representing Christ who is the one true vine. The predominant colors in all nine windows are yellow and green. This is in contrast to the reds and blues found in medieval stained glass windows. The center window does contain some reddish violet, and all of the windows use orange and purple in the designs.
Stained glass windows are a visual representation of Christ the light of the world, since the colors in the glass are not visible without light. The symbols on these windows are taken from a variety of sources. The shields come from Saint Paul’s description in Ephesians of the armor of God, the grapes come from the Gospel descriptions of the Last Supper, the lily comes from Christian tradition and from the Sermon on the Mount. The crowns come from the description in Revelation of the King of Kings, the alpha and omega, symbolizing the beginning and the end, are also taken from Revelation, and the other flowers come from traditional Christian symbolism. It is not known whether these symbols were requested by the Grace Street Church or were suggested by Tiffany.
In 1939 an addition, designed by local architect Herbert L. Cain, was constructed which provided much needed educational facilities, a choir room, an office and minister’s study, and a new boiler room. Another wing, designed by Clarence Huff, was added in 1951. This wing provided additional classrooms, offices, a larger minister’s study, a larger choir room, basement space for the Boy and Girl Scouts, and a memorial chapel dedicated to the memory of the church’s first minister, Dr. William Hedley, and in honor of the seventy charter members. The windows for this room were designed by church member Miss Bell Worsham, a local artist, and made by the Willet Company. These designs are reminiscent of those on the sanctuary windows. The center window contains a lamb with halo and the Christian Flag. The other four windows each contain a shield in the center. Just as in the sanctuary windows, each shield contains a different symbol: an open Bible, a descending dove, a cross and crown, and a cluster of lilies. The Gothic arch is repeated in the window shapes and at the chancel just as is done in the sanctuary. At this time a colonnade was constructed to connect the center wing to the chapel entrance.
A final wing with additional educational space for children and adults and also a new music suite was completed in 1967. An elevator, a door opening onto Brook Road, a door into the chapel wing, a parlor, a hall connecting the center wing with the chapel wing, and a library were also added at this time. The original library was in the space first used as the minister’s study and which now contains sound equipment. The original parlor later became a classroom and is currently the kitchen which was previously on the other side of the hall.
“How lovely is Thy dwelling place, oh Lord of Hosts,” accurately describes the building of which this congregation is now the heir and the custodian.