Danville Presbyterian Church

Historical Marker #754 commemorates the Danville Presbyterian Church, which was used as a hospital following the Battle of Perryville.

When the Reverend David Rice traveled through pioneer Kentucky, he saw a need for churches. "I found scarcely one man and but few women who supported a credible profession of religion . . ." Rice wrote. "Some were given to quarreling and fighting, some to profane swearing, some to intemperance, and most of them totally negligent of the forms of religion in their own homes." Therefore, in 1784, Rice established one of the first Presbyterian churches west of the Allegheny Mountains in Danville. The Danville Presbyterian Church building was built around 1830.

During the nineteenth century, the presidents of nearby Centre College were the church's ministers, and several prominent residents worshipped at the Danville Presbyterian Church. These included antislavery advocate James G. Birney, Union General Speed S. Fry, and, when he was a student at Centre, the future U.S. vice president and Confederate secretary of war John C. Breckinridge. It is also likely that Breckinridge's uncle, the Reverend Robert J. Breckinridge, preached in the church when he taught at the Danville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

After the October 8, 1862, Battle of Perryville, Union authorities used the church as a makeshift hospital. The building was crowded with sick soldiers, who filled the sanctuary and balcony. Pews were pushed together to provide beds for the ill troops, and, one resident remarked, the patients "occupied both the auditorium and the gallery [balcony]."

The building, occupied for five or six months, was extensively damaged. Stoves, pews, and the pulpit were destroyed, windows were broken, walls were scribbled upon, and plaster was damaged. Danville resident Patty Engleman lamented that "it was in such a condition you would not want it for a church." Another citizen said that, "I was in the church immediately after the soldiers left, and saw how mutilated it was."

Once the soldiers departed, many members were afraid to use the building. G. W. Welsh remarked that "a great many people [were] afraid to attend services at that church until it was scraped and painted and varnished and cleaned" because they feared catching the soldiers' illnesses. Repainted and replastered, it took nearly a year for the church to be repaired.

The churchyard adjacent to the structure contains several memorials, including the town's Confederate monument. The Reverend David Rice and some local casualties from an 1833 cholera epidemic are buried there. Dr. Ephraim McDowell is also interred next to the church.

Images

Danville Presbyterian Church

Danville Presbyterian Church

The Danville Presbyterian Church was used as a hospital for weeks after the 1862 Battle of Perryville. Courtesy Centre College. View File Details Page

Street scene, Danville, Kentucky

Street scene, Danville, Kentucky

The Danville Presbyterian Church can be seen in the distance, on the far right of this early photograph of downtown Danville, Kentucky. The church on the left is Trinity Episcopal, which was also a makeshift hospital following the 1862 Battle of Perryville. Image courtesy of Centre College. View File Details Page

The Reverend Robert J. Breckinridge

The Reverend Robert J. Breckinridge

The Reverend Robert J. Breckinridge likely preached at the Danville Presbyterian Church on a regular basis. In addition to being a founder of the Danville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Breckinridge was the editor of the "Danville Quarterly Review," a pro-Union journal published in town during the Civil War. Courtesy the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Sanders, “Danville Presbyterian Church,” ExploreKYHistory, accessed July 26, 2017, http://explorekyhistory.ky.gov/items/show/103.
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