The interior of the old Decatur First United Methodist Church chapel with stained glass window above the organ pipes. Both the chapel and window date to 1899. Courtesy Decatur First United Methodist Church

Law firm mulling over long-term use for historic chapel

Later this spring the Decatur real estate law firm Williams Teusink will purchase two historic structures belonging to Decatur First United Methodist Church. One of those, the 121-year-old chapel with an exterior made of granite quarried in Stone Mountain, is possibly the city’s oldest public (non residential) structure, or at least close to it.

Kyle Williams, one of the law firm’s two founding partners, isn’t ready to elaborate on long-term plans for the chapel. He did tell the AJC it needs some minor renovations, including a change in carpet, but essentially the interior will remain intact, while the exterior is protected by its Historic Preservation status.

Though remaining in place for now, the church retains ownership of the stained glass window in front, possibly an original Tiffany piece that was probably installed around 1899.

Pastor Dalton T. Rushing has said the Williams Teusink arrangement allows DFUMC to continue using the building “for its original purpose on Sundays and religious holidays.” Williams added there’s already a wedding scheduled after the June closing involving the granddaughter of church members who were also married there.

But outside of this Williams is reticent except saying, “As far as the chapel, we have something in the works.”

One can’t help looking at the interior without seeing an events-type space or kind of mini-Ryman Auditorium. It’s much larger than it appears on the outside, seating about 500 to 600 (according to Rushing), filled with deep-stained pews on both floor and balcony and a series of arched wooden beams that look like the interior of a giant whale’s rib cage.

It was constructed on the site of the original, long demolished wooden church erected in 1823-26. The granite chapel took two years to build, 1897-99, cost $6,626, and in less than two decades the congregation had outgrown it. Two additions, or transepts, the transverse sections front and rear and both wider than the original building, were built in 1916, with the altar and choir areas moved to their present location.

According to an old church history, membership grew from about 150 in 1890 to 850 by 1920. But it took nearly a half century to outgrow the granite chapel, or until Jan. 1967, when the present sanctuary opened.

Williams Teusink, currently in the High House across the street, will move into the circa 1949 Decatur First Preschool building (adjacent to the chapel) sometime next year. The firm currently has seven attorneys and four staffers, but figures to both grow and sublease offices after taking ownership of the 16,000 square-foot space.

“Right now I can’t give you a definitive answer on how we’ll use the chapel,” Williams said. “But I’m excited about it. It’s a gorgeous building—I’ve been looking at it everyday out of my office window for the last five years.”

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