St. Paul’s Church is the small building that residents know is there. Many walk by it daily and it is clearly visible as you exit the 6th Street ramp from the freeway either heading home, or to a Nationals game. Many Capitol Hill residents see it on their way South to Yards Park to attend a Friday night concert or any number of events that are held there.
As the Capitol Riverfront area has grown, this little church watched from the sidelines as its congregation shrank and the neighborhood around it sat barren.
Although many have seen the exterior, most have never seen the interior, which is rich with history, yet in poor condition. The pews are wood with red cloth inserts and a drop ceiling covers the original tin ceiling, which is in surprisingly great shape.
The building, built in 1924 and designated as historic in 2011, watched from its location on the corner of 4th and Eye Street SE on the footprint of Capitol Quarter as the area has been transformed more than once. It has witnessed the construction of the Capper Carrollsburg housing project in the 1940’s, the building of the freeway just feet to its north by Virginia Avenue in the 1960’s, and the recent completion of the Capitol Quarter row homes, which replaced Capper Carrollsburg.
Now, the building is finally getting some long awaited tender loving care.
Thanks to a generous corporate grant and the efforts of Pastor Karen Mills, construction has begun on a brand new roof, which has only seen some light patchwork over the last 3-4 decades according to Mills, who attended the church as a child and returned a few years ago as Pastor.
The neglect was so evident that the roof was beginning to buckle in the center and water had nowhere to go except inside the building.
The African Union Methodist Protestant Church congregation that became Saint Paul’s began as a prayer group in 1900. R.C. Archer, Jr. who was the second licensed African American architect in Washington, designed the church. It was his first church commission in the city. The Gothic Revival style building was completed in 1924. Saint Paul’s is the only church that survives from a predominately working-class African American neighborhood in the Navy Yard area.
It is also one of the area’s last surviving buildings from the first part of the 20th century. The vast majority of its congregation relocated as the area changed and many people born in the early days of the building have passed away.
The new roof will go a long way toward restoring the building to its former glory. Complete with its new roof, the interior will get a good buff and scrub as we collect pictures of the original interior so that plans can get underway to restore it to its original beauty.
On the back wall by the altar, the sign reads: “Embracing the Community with God’s Love”. That is what the church wants to continue doing, as the plan is to open the building to host some community meetings and events.
So, the next time you walk by 4th and Eye StSE and see the door open on a Sunday, stop in and check it out (don’t worry, you don’t have to convert). Pastor Mills will welcome you with open arms. After all, it is about embracing the community, as their sign says.
By Bruce DarConte
Community Benefits Coordinating Council (CBCC)