January 20, 1998
Volume 50, No. 17
Oxford's historic Old Church to undergo third restoration
Oxford's Old Church, one of the most important symbols of early Southern Methodism and Methodist scholarship, will be renovated this year to correct structural safety hazards and add new amenities.
Located a stone's throw north of the Oxford campus, Old Church was first built in 1841 when the town of Oxford sprang up around its centerpiece, the nascent Emory College. As Emory and Oxford became a center for Methodist intellectualism in the South, so the Old Church became its spiritual focal point.
The church lost its congregation in 1910 with the construction of Allen Memorial Church, but the town and the college continued to use Old Church for events and services such as baccalaureate and convocation. Though the building underwent renovation in the 1940s and again in the '70s, structural failings prompted Oxford to move its events to Allen Church two years ago.
"We want to keep it looking historic-we don't want to change that," said Oxford Dean William Murdy. "But we want to put in air conditioning, heating, restrooms and many other things in addition to doing some structural improvements on the building itself so that it will be better used."
Murdy chairs the architectural review committee of the Oxford Shrine Society, the local organization charged with upkeep of Old Church. The committee recently contracted with Atlanta architect Jack Pyburn to do the renovation work, and Murdy said Pyburn will submit a plan complete with budget and timetable to the society next month.
"He's done some good restoration work," Murdy said of Pyburn. "He's working on the Newton County courthouse, and that's a restoration project. He posed the right questions to us, and we liked his responses and the arrangement for the fee and so forth. People know him and know about his work."
Murdy said well over $100,000 has been raised for the project, but after the society has a concrete plan and budget in hand, it will go to different foundations to seek the rest of the funding.
Eva Sitton, president of the Shrine Society and wife of Oxford alum and faculty member emeritus Claude Sitton '47Ox-'49C, said the project is of great significance not just to the college but to the town itself. "This building is a landmark," she said. "It was actually the center of Oxford when it was first established by the Methodist Church. It was where students worshipped, as well as town people and the faculty, and it also served as a meeting house for town meetings and such until they got a city hall."
Oxford Director of Development David Rowe said many college events and activities would return to Old Church following the renovation. "Our Leadership Oxford group-a very popular program with our students-I'm sure they'll go back and use it. Part of their ceremonial time is spent at the Old Church, or it was until the last couple of years," Rowe said.