Downtown Birmingham’s early houses of worship – old photos!

16th Street Baptist in 2019 and 1924. Original photo by Oscar Virgil Hunt, property of Birmingham Public Library Archives.

Did you know that Birmingham was once known as the city of churches? Here are some of the oldest continuously running churches in Birmingham.

First Presbyterian Church

First Presbyterian in the 1940s. Photo by Oscar Virgil Hunt. Property of Birmingham Public Library Archives.

“In Birmingham’s early development, the Elyton Land Company gave free plots of land to churches to entice people to move to the young city.”

Jim Baggett, Head of Department of Archives and Manuscripts

Denomination: Presbyterian
Founded: 1858
Completion of current building: 1888

The First Presbyterian congregation is actually older than Birmingham! Famous sculptor Giuseppe Moretti designed the marble baptismal fountain in the church (you might know him better as the creator of Vulcan!) The bell-tower houses the 37-bell Rushton Memorial Carillon – the first in Birmingham and third in the United States! The carillon is played every Sunday and on special occasions.


16th Street Baptist Church

16th Street Baptist Church in 1924. Photo by Oscar Virgil Hunt, property of Birmingham Public Library Archives.

Denomination: Baptist
Founded: April 20, 1873
Completion of current building: 1911

16th Street Baptist was the first black church to be built in Birmingham. Though the original building was condemned by the city in 1908, the congregation raised enough money for a larger, grander replacement. 16th Street Baptist has entertained prominent visitors such as W.E.B. DuBois, Jackie Robinson, and Mary McLeod Bethune.

In 2018, 16th Street Baptist Church won a $150,000 Partners in Preservation grant! The grant will allow the church to install protective glass around the historic stained-glass windows, as well as make repairs to the twin bell towers.


Cathedral Church of the Advent

Church of the Advent in 1910. Photo property of Birmingham Public Library Archives.

Denomination: Episcopalian
Founded: 1872
Completion of current building: 1893

The Cathedral Church of the Advent is one of the oldest churches in downtown Birmingham. Though the original building was destroyed by a fire, the current building was completed in 1893. The Church of the Advent became a cathedral in 1982, when the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama chose it as its seat. The Cathedral Church of the Advent is well known for its music program!

First Methodist Church

Vintage postcard showing First Methodist in the 1930s.

Denomination: Methodist
Founded: 1872
Completion of current building: 1891


The First United Methodist Church purchased their first downtown lot for $5 from the Elyton Land Company (what a deal!) 10 years later, the congregation moved to their current location to construct a bigger building. The new building features a marble baptismal fountain designed by New York’s Tiffany & Co.

St. Paul’s Cathedral

Postcard showing the Cathedral of Saint Paul in 1905.

Denomination: Roman Catholic
Founded: April 20, 1873
Completion of current building: November 30, 1893

The magnificent Cathedral of Saint Paul dominates its surroundings in downtown. The church became a cathedral in 1969 with the creation of the Diocese of Birmingham, and serves as the seat of the Bishop of Birmingham.


The cathedral has been home to several organs throughout the years, but the current organ has seen better days. The congregation is currently raising funds to support their new Anna Catharine Grace Memorial Pipe Organ.

Temple Emanu-El

The original Temple Emanu-El at the corner of 5th Ave. North and 17th Street. Photo property of Birmingham Public Library Archives.

Denomination: Reform Jewish
Founded: June 28, 1882
Completion of current building: 1914

Okay, you got me – Temple Emanu-El isn’t in downtown. However, it used to be! The congregation formed as the first synagogue in Jefferson County. Though the first building was completed in 1889, the congregation quickly outgrew it and settled at the current location on Highland Avenue.


Temple Emanu-El in the 1920’s. Photo by Oscar Virgil Hunt, property of Birmingham Public Library Archives.

First Baptist Church of Birmingham

First Baptist Church at the corner of 6th Avenue North and 22nd Street in 1910. Photo property of Birmingham Public Library Archives.

Denomination: Baptist
Founded: June 21, 1872

The First Baptist Church of Birmingham lasted in downtown for over 100 years. The land, a gift from the Elyton Land Company, housed three different buildings in the first 30 years of the First Baptist Church. The longest-lasting building, seen above, was completed in 1903.

In 1984, AmSouth Bank purchased the lot and demolished the old building. The congregation moved to a new location on Lakeshore Drive.


Share your pictures and stories about Birmingham’s historic churches by tagging us @Bham Now!