Take a Tour of Chicago’s Second Presybterian Church

24 Jul

Howard Van Doren Shaw's interior of Second Presbyterian Church (1901). Photo by Nate Lielasus.

Yesterday I was certified as a docent by Friends of Historic Second Church, a nonprofit organization supporting education on and fundraising for the restoration of Second Presbyterian Church at 1939 S. Michigan Avenue.  Second Presbyterian was the religious home of some of Chicago’s leading families in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  The Armours, the Blackstones, the Crerars, and the Pullmans all regularly attended services here;  Robert Todd Lincoln, son of President Abraham Lincoln, even served as a trustee of the church in the 1880s.

Photo by Nate Lielasus.

Second Presbyterian was completed in 1874 by architect James Renwick, famous for his work at New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral and at the Smithsonian Castle on the Mall in Washington, D.C.   A fire in 1900 destroyed Renwick’s interior but not the tar-specked gray limestone exterior structure.  Architect Howard Van Doren Shaw and artist Frederic Clay Bartlett revamped the interior, creating one of the largest and most elegant Arts & Crafts style spaces in the United States.   Today, Second Pres still has an active congregation that worships below one of the largest repositories of Tiffany stained glass in the world.

Second Pres is open for tours of its fantastic sanctuary on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons (donations are encouraged).  Come on by and look around – your docent might just be yours truly.


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