St. Paul's Church was constructed between 1855-57 in the Gothic style after the plans and supervision of the Baltimore architects Niernsee and Neilson. Modifications were made to the building in 1903 when the chancel was enlarged and in 1922 when a Parish House was built adjacent to the structure. The Rectory, built in ca. 1860, stands to the north of the church. One of the most famous communicants of St. Paul's was General Robert E. Lee who worshiped at the church during the Siege of Petersburg in 1864-65. Lee's son, W.H.F. Lee was married in the church in 1867.
The facade of St. Paul's Church faces east. It is dominated
by a three-story entrance tower. The first stage of the tower. The first stage
of the tower contains the main entrance which consists of a double-door, equilateral-arch opening executed in stone.
Above the door is a lancet-arch opening with a stained-glass window. The
tower's first story has corner buttresses. The second stage of the tower is marked by arch openings containing twin
lancet windows. The third stage consists
of a spire covered with slate shingles.
The tower is flanked on the first story by crenelated brick
wings each pierced by lancet-arch openings containing stained glass. Each wing
has a side entrance. The building's north and south elevations have a single
free-standing buttress off each of the side entrance wings. Each elevation has
five lancet-arch openings with stained-glass windows. The openings are flanked by clasping
buttresses. The rear (west) elevation has a large equilateral-arch opening
containing a stained-glass window. The rear elevation has five-course
American-bond brick. The gable roof is covered with slate shingles.
The interior of St. Paul's Church is richly decorated, the
scheme largely dating to renovations completed in 1903. At this time the
chancel was enlarged and a baptistry added to the space south of the altar.
Before the 1903 enlargement the chancel contained tromp l'oeil painting which
framed the space with columnns and created the illusion of an apse. As a result
of the remodeling the chancel was extended to the west and a wood and painted
reredos installed on the west wall together with a large arched opening
containing a stained-glass window. Carved wood paneling further embellished the
space. Exposed timber trusses found in the original interior were extended into
the chancel. Most of the present furniture dates to the 1903 remodeling.
A gallery runs along the south, east, and north walls
supported by composite capitals on slender posts. The pews date to the late 19th century. The present
stained-glass windows date from the late 19th to the early 20th century and
most probably replaced leaded-glass lights.
The parish of
St. Paul's Church descended from Bristol Parish. Formed in 1662, the original parish
was located on either side of the Appomattox River and encompassed what is
today the City of Petersburg and Dinwiddie County. According to Bishop William Meade's,
Old Churches, Ministers and Families of Virginia, St. Paul's Church was founded
in 1802 to serve, the increasing prosperity and numbers of
Petersburg. Its first edifice stood near the courthouse and served the
growing congregation until 1839 when a larger church was erected on a new site. This second building burned in
February,1854. The cornerstone of this
third edifice was laid in full masonic ceremony on June 20th, 1855. The
church was dedicated on May 19, 1857 with Bishop William Meade presiding.