Then and Now
October 20, 1998
by Tom McGehee
In the two decades before the Civil War Mobile enjoyed unprecedented growth and prosperity. Its residential district began a shift north and west of the commercial district and the churches were quick to follow.
Here is Jackson Street Presbyterian on the north east corner of North Jackson and St. Michael streets in a photo dating to the mid 1890's. The building was completed in 1856 when the congregations of the Second and Third Presbyterian churches merged and moved closer to the prosperous neighborhood lining nearby St. Louis Street.
Sunday morning sermons here lasted a full hour after which the collection was taken up in small boxes attached to long poles. The choir loft had a pair of dark red silk drapes which were opened dramatically at the start of each service.
Next door the Jackson Street Synagogue is just visible with its arched windows and raised entrance. The building was constructed by the Universalists in 1846 but that denomination quickly dwindled due to its strongly northern attachments. By 1853 it had been obtained by The Gates of Heaven and Society of Friends of the Needy which had been formed in 1844.
With the arrival of the twentieth century and more prosperity, Mobile began new growth to the west. St. Louis Street and much of the neighborhood began a long slide downwards as the well-to-do discovered fashionable new suburbs to the west. Once again the churches did not waste time in their moves.
Central Presbyterian was built in the midst of Dauphin Way to take advantage of the suburban migration. Its membership was built from the former Jackson Street church which became the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Also in 1907, the Jewish congregation moved to a handsome new sanctuary fronting Government Street. Their old home suffered the indignity of being remodeled into a mechanic's garage business. St. Louis Street soon became a parade of car lots as the automobile grew in popularity.
Today the numerous car lots and garages which helped to destroy the St. Louis Street neighborhood are long gone, having moved further and further to the west. The corner of North Jackson and St. Michael gave way to commercial structures and a recent occupant was a state package store.
Central Presbyterian remains at its 1907 location. The members of the Gates of Heaven congregation moved to Spring Hill Avenue in the 1950's. In an ironic twist of fate their handsome Government Street sanctuary was remodeled into an auto show room and garage before its eventual destruction.
Photo courtesy of Wilson Collection, Historic Mobile Preservation Society.