words by Mark Schweitzer, photos by Charlotte Gintert
Located at East Market St. and Forge St., these formidable stone structures were built in the Victorian Gothic Style by the congregation of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, which was first organized in 1835. The Sunday school, which is the oldest of the two, was constructed in 1884-85 and designed according to the “Akron Plan,” a set of principles developed by Akron industrialist Lewis Miller. Miller’s design plan for Sunday schools included a central assembly hall surrounded by small classrooms, and was popularly adopted by congregations throughout the United States.
St. Paul’s Sunday School and Parish House remains one of the earliest examples of the Akron Plan, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. The adjacent church sanctuary, which is located just west of the Sunday school building, was constructed in 1907 and connected to the older building by a narrow passageway.
An excellent example of Gothic Revival architecture in its own right, the old St. Paul’s sanctuary was the scene of the greatest society event in Akron’s history—the 1947 marriage of Henry Ford’s grandson William Clay Ford, to Martha Parke Firestone, the granddaughter of Harvey Firestone. Reporters from across the country came to cover the event, witnessed inside the church by a crowd of over 400 and another 1200 people standing outside.
After being used by the University of Akron for many years as a Conservatory of Music and Ballet Center, the buildings have sat empty for almost ten years. While their stone construction and slate roofs were built to stand the test of time, the structures still require routine maintenance to ensure their long-term viability. Largely neglected, the buildings were once targeted for possible demolition by the University during the Scarborough tenure; today, their future remains uncertain as the school and the City of Akron attempt to negotiate a path that would allow their preservation and perhaps a sale or new use.