Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Slave Balcony in the Sanctuary at Amite-Arcola Presbyterian Church

Amite-Arcola Presbyterian Church
I was at the Amite Genealogy Library as usual conducting African American genealogy research as usual. As always I am looking for any new family books or other genealogy material related to the history and people from Tangipahoa and St. Helena Parishes. While sitting at the table scanning photographs from the scrapbook that Mrs. Gracie Walker donated to the library I glanced across the table and found this history book about Amite-Arcola Presbyterian Church. Like every genealogist and family historian, you leave no stone unturned and you have the eye of a detective and the smell of a hound dog hunting for a rabbit.

Most African-American people in the Tangipahoa and St. Helena Parishes are descendants of former slaves. Many or just two generations from slavery. My mother's grandfather Alexander Harrell was born a slave in 1859. Researching slavery history is a hunt that can stand alone. There is no way you can research your family history without researching the slaveholders family.

While reading the description of the church I came across the following information. The more than a century-old Arcola Church is small having a total area of 2675 sq. feet, 1500 sq. feet being the original sanctuary, and 1175 sq. feet an add-on built in 1954 for Christian education and fellowship. Antebellum style, it is constructed of choice pine lumber and set firmly on brick pillars the height of which accommodate the gradual slop of the hill. the exterior is finished with drop siding and is painted white- the last painting in 1973. The original octogan-shaped belfry was replaced by a square one. A 6x9 ' landing area . A bell bangs in the belfry was replaced by a landing area with approaching steps from each side to replace the original single doorsteps entrance was added. A Mr. Lauds reportedly said to be the builder. He also built a parsonage on the sixty-acres plot across the street front the church property.

National Register of Historic Places
The interior with its tall lofty ceiling is finished with four inch ceiling boards and painted gray. Small
rooms flank each side of the four foot entry. Old wooden benches have been replaced by mahogany pews given by the Davis family as a memorial to Ernest Davis, Jr. who lost life while in service of his county. A red velvet carpet and four cathedral glass windows add contrast to other antebellum architectural trends.

Unusually interesting is a slave balcony in the rear of the sanctuary to accommodate slaves who accompanied their master's family to church. The stairway leading to it had been removed to provide more floor space.  An air-conditioning unit has been installed in the balcony to cool the building.

The large gilt pipes of an organ used for many years are recessed in the wall behind the pulpit. Since this church has served Methodist, Congregational and Presbyterian Congregations in its long history, a communion rail stand in the front of the church, slightly altered to accommodate to the form of
worship of each congregation.