Filed Under Religion

Plymouth Church

In March 1850, just months months before passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, thirty members of Cleveland's Old Stone Church left their congregation to form what would later become Plymouth Church. The debate over slavery -- illegal in Ohio, but still a major source of conflict -- led to this split. It was not that Pastor Samuel Aiken of Old Stone Church was pro-slavery, but his moderate anti-slavery views proved to be intolerable to the church's abolitionist parishioners. In one instance, Aiken was said to have hidden behind a pillar as a posse captured a fugitive slave taking sanctuary in his church. Several of Plymouth's founders were believed to be involved in Cleveland's stations on the Underground Railroad.

The new church became known as Plymouth in 1852 at the suggestion of nationally-known abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher, whose New York City church had the same name. An early statement of the church's principles declared slavery "a sin against God and a crime against man" and "utterly opposed to the law of God." It also opposed "fellowship" with "slave-holders, the abettors of slavery or slave-holding churches." A time capsule buried in 1852 in the cornerstone of Plymouth's new church at Euclid Avenue and East 9th Street contained not only common items such as a Bible and the city directory, but also a copy of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and the minutes of the Christian Anti-Slavery Convention's 1851 meetings.

The Van Sweringen Company donated land in Shaker Heights to Plymouth Church in 1916. The church first worshipped at its current site in a small chapel carted over from Lakewood. While a new church was being built, Plymouth held services in the auditorium of the new Shaker Heights High School. The present church at 14114 Drexmore Road opened in 1923. Architect Charles Schneider, who also designed Shaker City Hall and the city's Fenway, Ludlow, Lomond, and Malvern Schools, designed a brick Georgian Colonial church with an 800-seat sanctuary. Its brick exterior, high steeple, and classical facade are meant to resemble the architecture of old New England, while its park-like setting conforms to both the heritage of the New England village green and Shaker Heights's "garden suburb" layout. The building officially became a Shaker Heights Landmark on November 22, 1976.

Images

Plymouth Church, 1927 Plymouth Church sits on 5 acres of donated land in a residential neighborhood just east of Shaker Square. The Van Sweringens donated large plots of land to several Christian congregations to encourage Shaker Heights's growth in the early years of its existence. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Division of Special Collections. Cleveland Press Collection.
Prospect Avenue Church In 1913, declining membership led the congregation to sell this church at East 22nd Street and Prospect Avenue, which it had built in 1882. The congregation subsequently dissolved but later reconstituted in Shaker Heights in 1916. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Division of Special Collections. Cleveland Press Collection.
Coventry Road Station, 1923 Plymouth Church can be seen in the upper right-hand corner of this photograph, which looks south on Coventry Road in 1923. The station house pictured here was built by the Standard Oil Company of Ohio in 1920 for $17,500. It included two gasoline pumps. Image courtesy of the Shaker Historical Society
Plymouth Canteen, 1944 Youngsters purchase treats at the snack bar inside Plymouth Church in March, 1944. Image courtesy of Shaker Heights Public Library Local History Collection
High School Fellowship, 1956 Youths from Plymouth Church's High School Fellowship hold a car wash to raise money in March, 1956. Image courtesy of Shaker Heights Public Library Local History Collection
View From Coventry An early view of Plymouth Church as seen from the sidewalk along the south side of Coventry Road. There is a barn in the background to the right of the church, a reminder of Shaker Heights's transition from a mainly rural to a residential area, which was taking place around the time of Plymouth Church's construction in the 1920s. Image courtesy of Shaker Heights Public Library Local History Collection
Samuel Aiken Samuel Aiken was the first pastor of Cleveland's Old Stone Church, serving in that role from 1835-1861. Though Aiken helped found an antislavery society in the city, his moderate stance on the issue angered a portion of his parishioners who demanded an immediate end to slavery and non-compliance with fugitive slave laws. In 1850 -- the same year that Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act -- Aiken is said to have stood by while slave hunters removed a fugitive slave hiding in his church. A number of parishioners left Old Stone Church that same year to form Plymouth Church. Image courtesy of J. Cosmas Vintage Photography, Providence, Rhode Island
Plymouth Church, 2012 In 2009, Plymouth Church completed work on more than $2 million of exterior renovations. Intended to restore the historical integrity of the church, the work included extensive restoration of the 158-foot tall steeple. The renovations received awards from both the Shaker Heights Landmark Commission and the Cleveland Restoration Society. Image courtesy of the Center for Public History + Digital Humanities
Uncle Tom's Cabin This image, depicting the violent capture of the runaway slave Scipio, appeared in the first illustrated British edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1853. Its caption reads: "Scipio Hunted, As Men Hunt a Deer!'" The members of Plymouth Church placed a copy of Uncle Tom's Cabin in a time capsule buried beneath their new church in 1852. The book, published in 1852 in the wake of the Fugitive Slave Act, vividly depicts the cruel nature of American slavery. It is credited with helping to fuel abolitionist sentiment in the country during the 1850s. Its author, Harriet Beecher Stowe, was the sister of clergyman and fellow abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher. Henry Ward Beecher is said to have suggested the name "Plymouth" for the new congregation formed by the parishioners who had left Cleveland's Old Stone Church in 1850. Beecher was pastor at Brooklyn, New York's Plymouth Church, which also served as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Location

2860 Coventry Rd, Shaker Heights, OH 44120

Metadata

Michael Rotman, “Plymouth Church,” Cleveland Historical, accessed July 3, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/359.