I spent Sunday walking around the historic Yangnim-dong neighborhood of Gwangju, a major base of operations for the American Southern Presbyterian Mission. If you attended Tuesday’s RAS lecture by Dr. Steven Linton, you’ll already be familiar with a lot of the places, names and events.
But before we do the missionary stuff, I’ll serve a starter of a few non-missionary dishes to whet the appetite.
Old Jeollanam-do Provincial Hall Main Hall
The former Jeollanam-do Provincial Hall, completed in 1930, is a rare example of a major colonial-era public building designed by a Korean. Architect Kim Sun-ha (1901—1966), a native of Gangwon-do, came to Gwangju after graduating from Keijo Industrial High School — then Korea’s top industrial arts school — in 1925. He spent eight years as an architect attached to the provincial government before moving to the Government-General in Seoul in 1933. The Provincial Hall is his best known work.
Originally a two-story structure, the exterior of the Provincial Hall is brick and granite; the red brick was painted white after Liberation. A third floor was added in 1975. You’ll notice not a few similarities with the former Supreme Court building in Seoul’s Jeong-dong neighborhood, another symbol of colonial authority built at around the same time.
I arrived at the Provincial Hall rather late in the day, and I still had to get to Seoseok Elementary School (see below), so I didn’t give the hall as much time as I should have, nor did I get a chance to photograph the extraordinary former Provincial Council Building, another Kim Sun-ha work completed in 1930, only this one utilizing an increadibly modern design for the time.
While the building’s architectural history is interesting enough, the hall is most famous for the role it played in the 1980 Gwangju Uprising. It was at the Provincial Hall that, on May 21, martial law troops opened fire on protesters, the climax of violence that turned the demonstrations into a full-scale revolt. It was also here that the Uprising came to an end, when at 7:00am on May 27 government troops retook the Provincial Hall, bringing the Uprising to a close.
On a related note, the old Provincial Hall complex has been the subject of recent controversy thanks to a plan by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism to tear down the old Provincial Hall Annex — a large structure to the right of the Main Hall built in 1973 — to build an Asian cultural complex. The Annex is where the final battle between diehard rebels and government troops took place on the morning of May 27, so it’s of obvious historic significance, and a coalition of Uprising survivors, victims’ families and other groups have been battling to preserve the complex in its original state.
Gwangju Seoseok Elementary School
Seoseok Elementary School, in Seoseok-dong, Buk-gu, was established in 1896 as Gwangju’s first public elementary school. Its historic buildings — the main hall, gymnasium and classroom annex — were built in 1935, 1930 and 1943, respectively. A lot of love got put into this school — fine, imported wood was used in its construction, and the building exteriors are built of special, high-quality bricks baked at Gwangju Prison (!). The design is also quite striking — whoever designed the school was clearly channeling his inner Frank Lloyd Wright. You’ll notice some similarities with the Kyungpook National University School of Medicine in Daegu, which was built at around the same time.
Your obligatory Jeolla-do Food Porn. Granted, it’s just kimchi jigae from a restaurant near Gwangju Station, but it was good. And colorful.
Yangnim-dong: Where the South and South Meet
In the southern ward of Nam-gu is Yangnim-dong, literally, Willow Forest District. Yet the area was better known for yangnom, namely, the missionaries of the American Southern Presbyterian Mission, who built their homes, schools and hospitals on the slopes of Yangnim Hill.
As mentioned earlier, Dr. John Linton — the great-grandson of early Southern Presbyterian missionary Rev. Eugene Bell — lectured the RAS on Tuesday night. From the RAS homepage:
The Southern Presbyterian Missionaries, though much poorer and less equipped than their Northern Presbyterian and Methodist brothers, had a profound impact on the Southwestern part of Korea. Due to being on the losing side of the U.S. Civil War, they did not come to Korea with a political or cultural agenda. Later during the Japanese occupation of Korea, 2% of the population of the Southwest was Christian, but represented 30% of the anti-Japanese underground movement. Dr. Linton’s talk will center on the story of the Medical Missionary Dr. Forsyth who came to Korea in the late 19th century and served in Mokpo. He was summoned into Gwangju to treat another missionary, Dr. Owen, who had fallen gravely ill with pneumonia. On his way by pony, he stopped just outside Gwangju to attend to a woman in her thirties who had been abandoned in a ditch suffering with secondary ulcers from leprosy. Dr. Forsyth put her on his pony and guided her into Gwangju, surprising Koreans for displaying himself in a servant-like manner. Very sadly, Dr. Owen had already died, and although the leprosy patient succumbed sometime later, this act of true Christian love had a profound impact on the many soon-to-be converts in the Gwangju area.
Not many lepers in Yangnim-dong anymore — as far as I know — but plenty left behind by the missionaries.
Yangnim Presbyterian Church and Owen Memorial Pavilion
Yangnim Presbyterian Church — or at least its ancestral church — was founded in 1904 by Rev. Eugene Bell and Dr. Clement C. Owen of the American Southern Presbyterian Mission. Kentucky-born Rev. Eugene Bell came to Korea in 1895, first setting up shop in Mokpo (where he founded in Yangdong Presbyterian Church and, I believe, Jeongmyeong Girls School). He moved to Yangnim-dong in December 1904, and held the city’s first service on Dec 24 at his home. Before he passed away in 1925, he had established about 20 churches in several cities, a number of schools, Kwangju Christian Hospital and more. He is also the progenitor of Korea’s well-known Linton clan, and one of his granddaughters — Ruth Bell — would become the wife of American preacher and presidential adviser Billy Graham.
Over at Coming Anarchy, Curzon wrote an outstanding post on Rev. Bell and how one individual can impact the course of human events. His name lives on, of course, in Eugene Bell Foundation, a humanitarian organization providing developmental assistance to North Korea.
Back to Yangnim Presbyterian Church. After going through a number of incarnations, it took its current name in 1926. The current church building dates from a 1958 reconstruction. To make things a bit confusing, there are actually three Yangnim Presbyterian churches in the same area — all tracing their lineage back to Rev. Bell’s church — thanks to the division of Korea’s Presbyterian church in the 1950s. This one is operated by the Presbyterian Church of Korea (Tonghap).
Lots of old photos detailing the church’s complex history can be found here.
Next to the church is the Owen Memorial Pavilion, built in 1914 to commemorate the missionary doctor Clement C. Owen, MD. A native of Virginia, Owen founded the American Southern Presbyterian Mission’s Mokpo Station with Bell in 1898. In 1900, he married a Yankee girl, Seoul-based missionary doctor Georgianna Whiting of the American Northern Presbyterian Mission. In 1904, Owen and Bell founded a mission station in Gwangju, which the two used as a base for missionary activities in Jeollanam-do.
Mr. and Mrs. Owen dedicated themselves to missionary and medical service… so much so that an exhausted Mr. Owen fell sick with pneumonia is 1909 and died. His last words were, apparently, “Oh, if they would only give me a little rest.”
The beautiful memorial pavilion, designed by a Westerner, is made of wood and brick (utilizing the ever popular Flemish bond). Funding was provided by contributions sent by Owen’s relatives in the United States. Owen had been planning to build a memorial hall to his grandfather William, so in accordance with his wishes, the hall memorializes both Clement and William Owen.
The interior was designed for use as an assembly hall, and in fact, the pavilion has been used as a church at various times in its history. The windows are absolutely beautiful, and the interior is reportedly quite something. I wish I could have seen it, but oddly, it was locked on Sunday… the one day you’d expect it to be open.
Located on the campus of Honam Theological University and Seminary, the Wilson House was built in the 1920s as the residence of Dr. Robert M. Wilson, yet another missionary doctor with the Southern Presbyterian Mission. Coming to Korea in 1907, Wilson made his name in treating leprosy — he was a proponent of Chaulmoogra oil, apparently an advanced technique at the time. In fact, his name lives on at the at Yeosu’s Aeyang Hospital, otherwise known as the Wilson Leprosy Center and Rehabilitation Center.
The house — the oldest Western-style residence in Gwangju — is absolutely gorgeous, as is the property it stands on. As this blogger said, “He came over to Korea and changed his name to U Il-seon, but it doesn’t appear he changed his lifestyle.” Like a lot of these houses, it uses a Flemish bond in its brickwork. As a nod to Korean custom, it faces east. That it’s such a big house may have been out of necessity — as Dr. Linton pointed out in his lecture, Wilson — in addition to being a big hunter — was also quite fruitful and multiplied: NoCutNews did a piece in 2007 on a Wilson family reunion in Montreat, North Carolina. Dr. Wilson — not sure if it’s the same one or one of his kids — also used the home to house about 40 orphans in 1949, the start of the famous Chunghyeonwon Orphanage, where a lot of Korean War orphans spent their childhood.
Other Missionary Homes
Up on Yangnim Hall are a number of other missionary homes. All these missionary homes actually have names from the missionaries who lived there — the Peterson House, the Dietrick House, the Underwood House, etc. — but I don’t know which ones are which. The pastor of Bell Memorial Chapel (see below) rattled them off, but I didn’t want to ask him to walk me through them.
Some of the homes are occupied, others are not. I really like the harmony of red brick and Korean roof tiles.
At the top of Yangnim Hill, overlooking downtown Gwangju, is the Missionary Cemetery, the final resting place of 22 American Southern Presbyterian missionaries and their family members.
This would be the grave of Rev. Eugene Bell.
This is the grave of Bell’s second wife, Margaret W. Bell. She was killed in 1919, when the car she and Rev. Bell were in was struck by a train on their way back to Gwangju from investigating the Jeam-ni Massacre in Suwon.
The grave of Dr. Clement Carrington Owen, in whose memory the Owen Memorial Pavilion was built.
The grave of Cora Smith Ross, the wife of Dr. James Ross, who worked at Alexander Hospital in Suncheon.
Not quite sure who this is, but it’s quite old.
The thing that most touches me when I visit these old missionary cemeteries is the conspicuously large number of graves of young children — it was the same in Daegu, too. That second photo here is especially heartbreaking. It really gives you an idea of how tough a place Korea was to live in back then.
Bell Memorial Chapel (Former Curtis Memorial Hall)
Built in 1921 as a chapel/school house, Bell Memorial Chapel — located on the campus of Gwangju Speer Girls High School, was renamed in 1955 to honor the founder of the school, Rev. Eugene Bell. The first floor was used as a school for missionary children, while the second was used as a chapel.
Prior to a recently completed (like in “can still smell the drying plaster” recently) restoration, the chapel was in very, very bad shape — in fact, it needed an external brace to keep it from falling over. The restoration, however, was tip-top — everything was restored to its original condition (save for the lower parts of the walls, which the pastor said were originally green). The pastor was particularly keen on the window work.
Speer Hall, Gwangju Speer Girls’ High School
The Jennie Speer Memorial School for Girls, currently Gwangju Speer Girls High School, was founded in 1908 by — you guessed it — Rev. Eugene Bell, when he and his wife began teaching three girls (and one boy) in the sarangbang of their house. To teach more students, they asked the home country for support. They got it in the form of a US$5,000 donation from Mrs. M.L. Sterns to build a schoolhouse… with the condition the Bells name the new school after Stern’s late sister, Jennie Speer.
The Speer Hall, which you see above, was built in 1911 with Mrs. Sterns’ donation, making it the oldest building on the campus of Gwangju Speer Girls High School. You’ll note these American Southern Presbyterians apparently like gray brick and Flemish bonds.
Old Classroom, Gwangju Speer Girls’ High School
This red brick classroom is believed to have been built in 1935.
Winsborough Hall, Gwangju Speer Girls’ High School
The Winsborough Hall, built in 1927 with funds from the American Southern Presbyterian Wives Association, was the second schoolhouse of the Jennie Speer Memorial School for Girls.
The large, red-brick building was designed by Martin L. Swinehart, an engineer/architect who, prior to joining the American Southern Presbyterian Mission in 1911 had been a railroad executive, teachers school head and banker — he also designed the George Watts Memorial Hall in Suncheon. I didn’t get photos of the interior, but its pretty period, too.