Our Story

Saint Paul's Legacy & Vision

ABRIDGED HISTORY - Revised August 2016

The Methodist Episcopal Church began its ministry in Lexington, Kentucky in 1779 in a log cabin on the corner of Short and Deweese Streets.  In 1803, the congregation was detached from tile circuit and was organized into a station. This was the first Methodist station in Kentucky and was composed of 47 white and 30 black members. The station evolved into Hill Street Methodist Episcopal Church -- a place where white slaveholders and overseers gave instructions to African slaves -- which was a member of the Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church South and, what is today the First United Methodist Church on High Street.

In the early 1800’s, discussions on whether slavery was an unholy alliance of the Christian doctrine taught by Jesus Christ began to grow bitter in the Methodist church. During those years many blacks became anxious to establish their own churches. Small groups began to hold meetings on their own. Since slaves were not allowed to own property they sought approval and support from their owners.

Around 1820, several black members requested permission from the white Methodist church in Lexington to form their own congregation and rented a brick horse stable on North Upper Street from a local banker, Charles Wilkins. The stable was located on the same site as the present main church building. Church meetings were often interrupted or disturbed by "lawless people".  In addition to renting the property to the congregation, Mr. Wilkins promised to protect those who worshipped there from harassment by "lawless people." It was reported that he kept his promise. A local black preacher named William Smith served as the church's first pastor.

The church, known as the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church, was a mission of the Hill Street Methodist Episcopal Church for several years before being formally established as St. Paul ME Church in May 1826. One year later, in May 1827. Rev. Smith led the church to purchase the lot and the stable from Mr. Wilkins for $280. The original lot was 33 by 95 feet on North Upper Street. The following names were signed to the deed as trustees: Daniel Francis, John Skinker, Benjamin Tibbs, William Dolan and Peter Lewis.

In 1830, much of the stable was removed and a small brick church constructed on the site. However, a portion of the original stable is thought to remain in the basement of the present church building. In March 1850 an additional lot of 75 by 95 feet was purchased for $1.00. On July 8, 1862, the congregation purchased an adjacent property of 125 by 100 feet for $400 that included part of the city stray pen, where stray dogs and cattle were held until identified by their owners. The trustees sold part of that lot on February 28, 1863 for $242. The present building was constructed in 1863. Clay Lancaster's book, “ Vestiges of the Venerable City”, asserts that St. Paul is the oldest, continuously used, existing house of workshop in Lexington, The church was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on August 28, 1979. It was given Historic Overlay (H-1) zoning and placed on the Bluegrass Trust for Historic Preservation in 1991. H-1 zoning helps to protect and preserve areas of historic and architectural importance in Lexington and Fayette County.

†"History of Fayette County (p. 472 ) Vestiges of the Venerable City"

Historic St. Paul AME Church a part of the Lexington African Heritage Trail

The Kaintuckeean


Joining The AME Church

Joining The AME Church

After the Civil War ended in 1865, all 300 black Methodist churches, including St. Paul, withdrew from the Methodist Episcopal Church Conference of the South. St Paul became an independent black Methodist Episcopal Church for a short period of time. The congregants joined the Ohio Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church Conference in 1866.

The following is part of a first-person account written by Mrs. A. B. Lynem in 1932.  “In the spring of 1865, David Evans of Wilberforce, Ohio came to Lexington, held a conference with Rev. Pittman, officers and members of the church in reference to joining the African Methodist Church, which resulted in St. Paul becoming a part of the Great A.M.E. Church. Father Smith, being a Presiding Elder, appointed Rev. George Shaeffer Assistant Pastor until the meeting of the Annual Conference which met in Cincinnati, September 1866. From that Conference, the gifted Grafton Graham, a fine Propheter, was assigned to St. Paul and remained three years, which was then the limit. In 1870, Rev. Levi Evans was assigned to St. Paul and remained two years and it was under his administration that I joined St. Paul in 1871. There are only two members in St. Paul that were members in 1871, Brother Charles Allen and Sister Elizabeth Holmes.  Rev. Graham was assigned to pastor St. Paul by Bishop Daniel A. Payne.

The church received an addition in the 1850's and experienced major renovations and expansion in 1876 and 1877. The cost of the remodeling was $4,000 and was reported in the Lexington Daily Press on August 1.1876.  The church was again remodeled in 1906 and 1986, and the sanctuary remains almost exactly as it was 100 plus years ago. Rev. E. A. Clarke wrote an article that appeared in the Lexington Leader on April 13, 1911, with the headline the "Interesting History of A.M.E. Edifice." The timing of the article corresponded with the issuance by the church of a "handsome calendar" with the church's history.

After the Civil War, the growing number of freed blacks in Lexington who wanted a place to worship caused overcrowding at St. Paul. The congregation had grown to include 340 members by 1881. The growth in population led St. Paul to establish the Quinn Mission to help meet the needs of the growing population. A member of St. Paul named G. C. Riley organized the mission and held services in several homes on Lee's Row until a frame church was built on Evans Street in 1910. Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church is currently located at 744 Charles Ave.


The Gothic Revival-style window pictured on the first page in this Abridged Historic Saint Paul AME Church history presentation may be the oldest window in the church. It was added during the first expansion of the church building in the 1850s. A second expansion increased the height of the sanctuary and added Italianate details, including the 20 almost floor-to-ceiling stain-glass windows, each telling a biblical story. Due to efforts of Rev. James Stowe and Lillian Gentry, a grant was received from the Kentucky African American Heritage Commission to seal and protect the windows for posterity. On the highest stained glass window, there's a small ruby implanted in the center circle that, in a sense, according to Riley Guttman, WEKU News (July 30, 2012) represents what St. Paul is -- a small, but unique, and important gem in history.


Community Involvement

St. Paul's legacy extends far beyond its walls. It has a longstanding history of community involvement and has been a beacon light in the Lexington Community through various projects that empowered people to engage in positive change. Inclusive in its mission, St Paul has engrained the tenets of faith and freedom in its creed to assist in the continued growth of all people. St Paul has a long, proud, and courageous history promoting Lexington's civic and educational advancement and equal rights for all citizens. Following are a few notable contributions: • St. Paul as a station on the "Underground Railroad" was a safe harbor to run-aways during the fugitive slave movement. A hidden, narrow staircase behind the
chancel rises steeply and twists until it comes to the door of a small room above the sanctuary, which was used to hide freedom-seekers for a short time until they could resume their flight on the "Underground Railroad". The Underground Railroad was a network of secret routes and safe harbors used by slaves to escape and find freedom in Free states and Canada with the aid of Abolitionists and allies who were sympathetic to their cause. Runaway slaves would hide in the
room for several days, before a cart arrived to take them north. Once the cart arrived, a bell was rung and the runaways had only five minutes to get out. Not only did Saint Paul help slaves to find freedom beyond the Ohio River but also helped to undermine the institution of slavery.  A courageous act!

In October 1865, Dr. W. H. Ballard, Sr. was sent to Lexington by the American Missionary Association to open and teach a school for recently freed African American boys and girls, the first such school in Lexington. He lived with the Henry Britton family who were members of St. Paul. Dr. Ballard attended St. Paul and helped promote the use of the church as a meeting place for African American's concerned about the education of the race following slavery.  

Prominent members of St. Paul helped to establish the Colored Orphan Industrial Home (now the Robert H. Williams Cultural Center) and the Phyllis Wheatley YWCA.

On October 15, 1885, Rev. William J. Simmons, A.M., D. D., called a meeting of prominent black Kentuckians a t St. Paul A.M.E. Church. As a result of these meeting during the fall of 1885, on November 26, 1885, the group adopted resolutions asking the Kentucky General Assembly for better public schools and a normal school to educate black teachers. There was no school in the state to educate black teachers. Among the men in attendance at that meeting were Dr. Simmons, A. W. Titus, E. W. Glass, G. W. Gentry, Professor James S. Hathaway (who was elected Secretary), John W. Bate, and Charles H. Parrish. On May 18, 1886, Governor J. Proctor Knott signed a bill calling for the establishment of a "State Normal School for Colored Persons". According to "Against the Tide", a history of Kentucky State University written by
Mrs. Ann Heartwell-Hunter, the meetings led to the establishment of Kentucky Normal, which is now Kentucky State University located in Frankfort.  

During World War I, St. Paul congregation participated in community Fourth of July celebrations by showing special films of African-American soldiers in battle and the role they played during the war. During World War ll (1939-1945), mothers of soldiers frequently met at the church. Mrs. Lucy Harth Smith, a well-known educator in the city, was a participant in those historic meetings. The congregation formed the American War Mothers group to provide support for families with sons and daughters away at war.