On Easter Sunday those numbers swell as seemingly every member, nearly 20,000 combined for all three churches, comes to celebrate the most important day of the holy calendar.
Of the three, two existed before moving to Buckhead. St. Philip’s Episcopal Church dates back to 1847, when it was located across from the current state Capitol building on the corner of Washington and Hunter streets in downtown Atlanta.
Second-Ponce is actually a combination of three churches. The earliest church was Second Baptist Church, which was founded in 1854 and was originally located on the corner of Washington and Mitchell streets downtown, not far from the original St. Philip. The second church was Ponce de Leon Baptist, which not surprisingly was located on the corner of Ponce de Leon and Piedmont avenues and was founded in 1904. The third was Buckhead Baptist Church.
The decisions of these august institutions to merge and move is a familiar story. With the advent of the automobile, more families left downtown and moved north to Buckhead. These families were the backbones of these early churches. Memberships of downtown churches plummeted as a result.
In terms of who got here first, Second-Ponce purchased the land on the corner of Peachtree and East Wesley in 1929. Three years later the joined churches celebrated the first worship service in the current location.
In 1933 the members of St. Philip began worshiping in “a little gray church” on top of a hill at the intersection of Andrews and Peachtree. It would be another 14 years before Mikell Chapel was completed in 1947, and nearly three decades before the cathedral was completed in 1962.
A year after it opened its doors in 1936 in a temporary building, Christ the King was named the co-cathedral of Georgia, a designation it shared with the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Savannah. Designed by Henry Dagit and Sons and built of limestone to rival Notre Dame in Paris, the cathedral was dedicated in 1939. The opening ceremony lasted longer than two hours and featured four archbishops, a dozen bishops, 150 priests, Gov. E.D. Rivers and Mayor William Hartsfield.
The reason these three significant churches are located in such close proximity to one another is a matter of available real estate and a shifting population. At the time these churches came to Buckhead, Peachtree Heights and Garden Hills were the heart of the ever-growing community.
Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is a sixth-generation Atlantan and a former news editor of this paper. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.