Filed Under Religion

Pilgrim Church

A Cleveland Church with an Akron Plan

A church by any other name . . . Organized in 1854 as a Sunday school, Pilgrim Congregational Church served the Tremont community's early Protestant elite under a variety of monikers: University Heights Congregational in the 1860s, Heights Congregational in the 1870s and Jennings Avenue Congregational in the 1880s.

In the late 1860s, the congregation built a brick church on West 14th Street (then called Jennings Avenue). Eventually, parishioners sold this building to the Catholic Diocese, which used it to house what became St. Augustine Parish. The congregation then constructed a new church one block further south at the southwest corner of Jennings and Starkweather Avenues.

Architect Sidney R. Badgley designed the structure, which was completed in 1894 at a cost of about $150,000. About this time, the church acquired its present name. The massive stone Richardsonian Romanesque facility was designed to seat 3,000 worshippers and included more space for educational and recreational activities than was common at the time. In fact, the building is a stunning example of the "Akron Plan," which is typified by an auditorium-like worship space connected to Sunday school classrooms. Pilgrim incorporates a sanctuary, kitchen, library, art museum, and gymnasium under one roof, with a massive internal sliding door to provide a flexible floor plan. The church also is believed to be the first institutional church, and the first building on Cleveland's west side, to have electricity (the building had its own power plant). Gas piping and gas lights were also installed as backup. All in all, Badgely's plans were considered so innovative that a copy was sent to the 1899 Paris Exhibition.

In the 1960s and 1970s, freeways crashed through Tremont and untold numbers of residents fled to the suburbs. During one year, roughly 400 homes were demolished in the vicinity of Pilgrim Church. Tremont’s population declined by nearly half and Pilgrim’s membership fell from a peak of 1,297 in 1924 to 161 in 1989. A quarter century later, Tremont and Pilgrim have enjoyed a renaissance: The neighborhood is healthier and growing, and Pilgrim Church has about 440 members. Yet Pilgrim continues to embody the traditional missions of an "institutional church": catering to the spiritual as well as secular needs of an economically and ethnically diverse neighborhood.


More Than A Church Dr. John Grabowski, Krieger-Mueller Associate Professor in Applied History at Case Western Reserve University and Director of Research at The Western Reserve Historical Society, discusses the architectural significance of Pilgrim Church and describes the role the church played in the Tremont community during the early 20th-century. Source: Courtesy of John Grabowski


Pilgrim Postcard
Pilgrim Postcard In 1894, the Pilgrim Congregational Church constructed and moved into the building seen here, designed by architect Sidney R. Badgley. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Pilgrim Church's Akron Plan
Pilgrim Church's Akron Plan These floor plans of the first and second floors show the compartmentalization of space by use of movable partitions powered by an engine located in the church's basement. Source: Lawrance, Marion. Housing the Sunday School: Or, A Practical Study of Sunday School Buildings. Boston and Chicago: Pilgrim Press, 1911. 36-37.
Interior of Pilgrim Church
Interior of Pilgrim Church The church's curved galleries could be partitioned into educational spaces, a hallmark of the "Akron Plan" design that was very popular in church design more than a century ago, especially in the Great Lakes region. Source: Flickr, CC BY-SA Creator: Stu Spivack
Old Pilgrim Church
Old Pilgrim Church The building seen here, located at 2486 West 14th Street, is now St. Augustine Roman Catholic Church. It was built in the 1860s and originally housed the Pilgrim Congregational Church. In 1894, when Pilgrim moved further down West 14th Street to its current home, it sold the church to the Catholic Diocese. Source: Center for Public History + Digital Humanities
Crowd Outside Pilgrim Church, 1934
Crowd Outside Pilgrim Church, 1934 Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Pilgrim Exterior, 1959
Pilgrim Exterior, 1959 Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Pilgrim and Emmanuel, 1960
Pilgrim and Emmanuel, 1960 Emmanuel Evangelical United Brethren Church (at right), home to a mainly German congregation, opened in 1908 on West 14th Street across Starkweather Avenue from Pilgrim Congregational Church. Emmanuel has now become "El Calvario" - Calvary Pentecostal Church, and serves the increasing numbers of Latinos who have moved to Cleveland's West Side. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections


2592 W 14th St, Cleveland, OH 44113


Michael Rotman, “Pilgrim Church,” Cleveland Historical, accessed July 23, 2024,