Members Salvage Steeple During Gulfport Church Demolition - - The News for South Mississippi

Members Salvage Steeple During Gulfport Church Demolition

A part of South Mississippi history is coming down piece by piece. First Presbyterian Church, dedicated in downtown Gulfport in 1965, will soon be just a memory.

"It's always been known as a beautiful building and sanctuary," Harry Hewes said.

Hewes was married in the church, and his five children and two grandchildren were baptized there.

"Many people that can associate with Presbyterians wanted to be married in that church, because it was so pretty," said Hewes.

Katrina battered the beautiful structure. At least ten feet of water flooded the sanctuary. Miraculously, the cross, steeple, and bell tower survived.

"It's actually quite amazing to think that this steeple made it through both Camille and Katrina with very little damage," said Pastor Guy Richard.

"It faces the harbor," Hewes said. "The harbor is supposed to be a place of protection for mariners and we feel like this has been a symbol of protection, because it points to our faith, our Savior and our God."

The church has already salvaged the pews, windows, shutters and other precious mementos. Members are determined to save the steeple too, before the rest of the sanctuary is demolished.  On Friday, as crews gingerly removed the 12,700 pound structure, a flood of memories overwhelmed Mary Allison Ferguson.

"It's very heartbreaking to see it," said Ferguson. "I was born and raised here and my mom passed away right before the hurricane and she was always glued to this church."

The 45-foot steeple will be stored on the church property while the congregation decides how to incorporate it into the new church. It could once again stand proudly on top of the roof, or be used as part of a sign or a memorial.

"This steeple has served as the image of our church, and so we want to make sure we try to keep it for years to come," said Richard.

When asked if she will ever forget this day, Ferguson shook her head and said "Oh, no. No."

First Presbyterian Church is in the process of purchasing land on Highway 605 to build a new sanctuary. The congregation has not decided yet what to do with the current beachfront property.

By: Trang Pham-Bui

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