By HARLEIGH CUPP Daily News-Record
Jun 5, 2023
A bright green, grassy lawn stands out among layers of brick and concrete beside First Presbyterian Church on Court Square in Harrisonburg — at the site of where a historic building once stood — and is now open as a green space for the community.
Just before the outbreak of Covid-19 brought many local projects to a grinding halt, members of First Presbyterian Church were debating what to do with the dilapidated building next door. 11 Court Square — formerly known as the Fauls Building — housed several businesses throughout the 1920s and well into the '50s.
The church itself has been located at 17 Court Square in its impressive stone building since 1908 but has been meeting as a body of believers in the area for nearly 200 years before that.
According to Paul Seddon — facilities director for First Presbyterian — the church had purchased the building 25-30 years ago with the intention of using it for more than just a handful of choir practices, but no single person took the initiative to plan a renovation, and the already run-down building degraded even further.
Brad Jenkins — who works as the director of communications for First Presbyterian — explained that it made more sense for the church to tear down the old building that would require complicated and costly renovations and establish a simple courtyard in its place instead.
"We felt like our city and our church community could benefit from having more green space," Jenkins recalled. "Our aim was to build a space that not only the church could use, but would be welcoming to others too and be a space that people could use organically."
Despite numerous delays, Maust Enterprises completed the demolition. Nielson Construction took over as general contractor for the courtyard addition and by the end of 2021, sod had been laid and a brick walkway had been set into place. Throughout the following year, the space saw its first real use and in spring 2023 received a few final touches in preparation for the gates to be officially opened and advertised to the community.
The courtyard — nestled between two large buildings — provides a perfect amount of space for lunch between friends, an office filled with sunshine or even a piano recital. The courtyard features a small stage set along the back wall and three beautifully lit crosses set into the adjacent wall. According to Jenkins, the crosses were actually added as a creative way to embellish the courtyard while hiding the steel beams that help mount the huge organ pipes located along the interior wall. A black gate spans the length of the entrance, but for several days out of the week, that gate remains open.
The First Presbyterian Church courtyard is open as a space for community members to enjoy Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
"We want to be a vital part of downtown," Jenkins said.
Seddon echoed those thoughts as well by remarking that, "On a daily basis, you'll see a mix of different people in the courtyard. It's there for anybody that just needs an outdoor space."
Since the opening of the courtyard, maintenance of the space has become one of Seddon's routine tasks. Seddon also mentioned that in the near future, the church plans to add access to restrooms as final renovations are completed.
While preserving the historic character of any downtown locality is important, the courtyard is proof that introducing something new to the square can be just as beneficial as keeping something old. The motives behind the change is what makes the greatest difference and according to church staff, the space was established to grow and flourish a community rather than demolish it.
Contact Harleigh Cupp at firstname.lastname@example.org
Click here for article: Church Finishes Community Green Space On Court Square