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Bessemer First Methodist Church | Photo © 2023, www.abandonedalabama.com

First Methodist Church of Bessemer

Location Class:
Built: 1929 | Abandoned: 2010
Status: Abandoned
Photojournalist: David Bulit

Short History of Bessemer, Ala.

The town of Bessemer was founded during the Reconstruction Era by the Bessemer Land and Improvement Company, named after Henry Bessemer and owned by coal magnate Henry F. DeBardeleben who had inherited Daniel Pratt‘s investments. The city was incorporated on September 9, 1887. Situated 16 miles southwest of Birmingham, Bessemer experienced rapid growth, with its promoters believing the possibility of surpassing the economic prowess of the neighboring city.

Due to the presence of iron ore, coal, and limestone deposits in the vicinity, the city became a center of steelmaking from around 1890 through the 20th century. It drew in rural migrants from various Southern regions and European immigrants.

The steel industry went through considerable restructuring in the late 20th century, and jobs moved out of the area. Steel is no longer made there. By the 1950s, the city’s population had become predominantly African American. By 2019, Bessemer was named Alabama’s “Worst City to Live in.”

Bessemer First ME Church Sanborn
1904 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map for Bessemer, Alabama. Library of Congress

First Methodist Church of Bessemer

The 123-year-old First Methodist Church of Bessemer was a Methodist church organized in 1887, the services being held in a small schoolhouse. A permanent church was erected some distance south of Bessemer. It was moved to the corner of Arlington Avenue and 19th Street which was a more centralized location and more convenient to the entire membership of the church. This building was used until 1911.

The building was torn down and the lot was exchanged for one on the opposite corner of Arlington Avenue owned by Dr. T. F. Robinson, a prominent physician who was involved in the civic and religious affairs of the city. On this lot, a magnificent stone church was erected.

On May 3, 1914, the church celebrated the completion of the large auditorium building, which cost $60,000. Pastor George Stoves handed the pulpit to Dr. Lewis Capers Branscomb, a prominent Methodist minister, granting him the privilege of delivering the inaugural sermon within the walls of the new building. The new First Methodist Church of Bessemer was one of the most modern and up-to-date churches in the entire state. It featured a lecture room, dining room, kitchen, men’s and women’s parlors, pastor’s study, lavatories, choir room, storage rooms, an infant department, Sunday school auditorium, classrooms, and the main auditorium with a seating capacity of about 1300.

Unfortunately, this church edifice met its demise on November 24, 1928, succumbing to fire. Undeterred, the church swiftly embarked on reconstruction efforts, completing the task in the subsequent year. A W. W. Kimball Co. Opus 7075 pipe organ was installed in 1930 enhancing the musical ambiance of the sanctuary. R. H. Hunt and Company of Chattanooga, Tennessee designed the education wing which blends seamlessly the original structure.

First ME Church Bessemer
A colored postcard featuring the first iteration of the First Methodist Church in Bessemer, Ala. This building burned to the ground in 1928. Abandoned Atlas Archives

At the time of the church’s completion, membership was 700, with 300 of those received by Reverend J. F. Sturdivant during his time as pastor of the church. During the 1950s the church averaged attendance of more than 1,000 per week and became known for its annual Christmas season performances of George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” oratorio. The church also hosted many graduation ceremonies for Bessemer High School.

By 2010, membership had dwindled down to just 30 mostly older people, so plans were made to close the church. Reverend Gordon McKinney served as pastor at the time with Reverend Bill Carner as minister of music. Carner said,”It’s just a thing we know has got to happen.The building is too big; the congregation is too small. The upkeep is tremendous.” On March 7, 2010, the First Methodist Church of Bessemer had its final service.

1914 Bessemer First ME Church Sanborn
1913 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map for Bessemer, Alabama. Library of Congress

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David Bulit

My name's David Bulit and I'm a photographer, author, and historian from Miami, Florida. I've published a number of books on abandoned and forgotten locales throughout the United States and advocate for preserving these historic landmarks. My work has been featured throughout the world in news outlets such as the Miami New Times, the Florida Times-Union, the Tampa Bay Times, the Orlando Sentinel, NPR, Yahoo News, MSN, the Daily Mail, UK Sun, and many others. You can find more of my work at davidbulit.com as well as amazon.com/author/davidbulit.

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S. Jeff Bayne
S. Jeff Bayne
25 days ago

I served as pastor of this fine congregation from 1986 to 1990, and led the celebration of its 100 years of service. The people of First Methodist, Bessemer, loved their place of worship and service – a building of grace and beauty. Since its closing, I ache to see its physical decline, including the wonderful Kimball Pipe organ in the Sanctuary. Though the congregation no longer worships and serves from within that space, it will remain as a testament to the glory of God.

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