[Note: A member of the Albright congregation recently brought us some photos from and artifacts from the church. One of these photos led to a much larger conversation about church architecture and we have learned even more about how significant Albrigth is in terms of architectural history.]
Akron Plan Churches and Albright by John Conti
There are many variations of the Akron Plan, but it too, like the auditorium style church, is a product of the late 19th century, and they are often found together. That is, many Akron Plan churches are also auditorium style – but not always. The Akron plan was invented – as it happens – at the First Methodist Church in Akron, Ohio in the 1860s-70s by a nationally-influential Methodist Sunday School superintendent named Lewis Miller along with his minister John Heyl Vincent. (Miller and Vincent are also famous as the founders of the Chautauqua Institution in new York State, which they started as a training ground for Sunday School teachers and which is now something else entirely.)
The Akron plan is a perfect example of architecture being enlisted to support a teaching program and was used in literally thousands of churches — mostly Methodist, but also Baptist, Presbyterian and Congregationalist. They key idea was to have Sunday School rooms with moveable partitions clustered around a central space from which all the occupants of the room could be addressed. There could be two (and sometimes three) tiers of such rooms. The program that Miller and Vincent advanced was this: The Sunday School superintendent or minister, speaking from the “superintendent’s platform” in that central space, or possibly from the pulpit or the floor in smaller churches, would talk about the day’s topic for Sunday School study – perhaps an item of scripture. Then the partitions would be drawn and each class would engage in discussion of that topic. This would apply to all grades, and sometimes even to adult classes. Each class would discuss the topic of the day at an age-appropriate level. The platform would also be used for opening and, possibly, closing prayers.
This was a case of architecture being created to satisfy a particular teaching program, and it was very popular. Sometimes the Sunday School space would be separate from the sanctuary. Sometimes the classrooms would adjoin the sanctuary. Here’s a plan where the Sunday School rooms are in a separate space behind the sanctuary. This, incidentally, is roughly what you’ll see if you go beyond the altar area at Calvary Methodist on the North Side:
In Albright’s case, the Sunday School rooms appear to have been in a curve around the back of the sanctuary. In some churches, the rooms could be at the sides, which was also common. Here’s one with an assembly room and Sunday School rooms at the side:
I can’t find a good floor plan of a church with the rooms at the back, but I can tell you that the former Dormont Methodist Church had exactly that – two levels of Sunday School room fully adjacent to and opening to the sanctuary from the back. All these qualify as Akron Plan churches.
The Akron Plan was falling out of favor by the 1930s. In many Akron Plan churches the moveable partitions have since been replaced by fixed partitions – separating them from the sanctuary. Some of these rooms are of course still used for Sunday School, but in several places I’ve seen you find them converted to offices or storage.