14 West Duval Street
The Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church is significant as the most visible reminder of one of Richmond’s leading African-American preachers and world famous orator, the Reverend John Jasper.
Founded in 1867 by Jasper and ten close associates, the congregation was housed initially in an abandoned horse stable on Brown’s Island in the James River. Two years later, the congregation purchased for just over $2,000 a parcel of land on Duval Street in the area that came to be known as Jackson Ward. As the first church in the Richmond community organized by an African American, the core of the present church building was erected in 1885 by George Boyd.
Boyd is one of the few confirmed African-American builders with a documented association with specific buildings in 19th-century Richmond, most notably the Maggie L. Walker House at 110 East Leigh Street. Charles T. Russell, the first African-American architect to maintain an architectural practice in Virginia, and builder I. Lincoln Bailey, were responsible for the extensive remodelling of the edifice in 1925, a building campaign that resulted in the Gothic Revival style that defines the church building today.
The Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church consists of two distinct architectural components – 1 the original or Jasper/Boyd Sanctuary constructed in 1887 and (2) the Russell/Bailey expansion of 1925. In addition, there were interim modifications made to the building between 1901 and 1924.
The original sanctuary was commissioned in 1887 during the tenure of the founding pastor, the Reverend John Jasper, and built by the African-American builder, George Boyd. Photographs of the building prior to 1925 indicate that the original building was far different from how it appears today.’ The 1887 Jasper/Boyd structure was a modest Norman Gothic building. This sanctuary consisted of the core of the present sanctuary with a different front facade and exterior treatment. Specifically, it consisted of a simple -building on a raised basement with a crenelated bell tower centrally placed on the front facade of the building. Wooden or pressed metal finials decorated the corners of the tower and the building.
It is not certain what type of windows were present at the time of construction in 1887. Church tradition has it that the congregation installed the present art and stained glass windows after the death of John Jasper in 1901 under the direction of Dr. Randolph V. Peyton, who succeeded Jasper, between 1901 and 1924. (VDHR)
Much more can be said about the career of Reverend Jasper, noted orator and skeptic of heliocentrism – territory ably covered by the HistoryReplaysToday podcast.
(Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church is part of the Atlas RVA Project)
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