Calvary Episcopal Church
411 Church St., Tarboro, NC
One of the finest antebellum Gothic Revival churches in the state stands within a memorably beautiful churchyard epitomizing the 19th-c. spirit of picturesque landscape. The planting of exotic specimens was begun y the Reverend Joseph Blount Cheshire, who became rector in 1842 and graced his churchyard— and parishioners’ gardens—with his avocation. He studied A. J. Downing and other authorities on landscape gardening and obtained plants from distant sources. The story is told that one day an elderly resident passed by the churchyard while Cheshire was gardening and chided him for making the place so beautiful he was “enticing folks to die.”
Calvary Church was organized in 1833, successor to earlier parish churches that came and went between ca.1749 and 1822. A small, frame church was erected in 1840. Under Cheshire’s leadership, in 1859 the parish of 33 communicants set out to build a church to accommodate 500. The church was designed by architect Percival, who had come from England to Raleigh by way of Virginia and worked in the late 1850s in Tarboro, Raleigh, Yanceyville, and Chapel Hill. The brick walls, the unequal towers with spires, and the roof were in place when the Civil War halted construction. Parishioners’ profitable cotton crop of 1867 financed completion, and the church was dedicated in 1868. The brick walls never received the intended stucco cover; their natural patina is now part of the church’s charm. Typical of the Early English Gothic style, surface ornament is minimal, and the interior is dominated by an exposed truss ceiling. The Parish House and Cloister evidence the tact that endeared architect Howard Upjohn to many Episcopal parishes in the early 20th century.