Group Bringing Church Back From Brink

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A historic southern Indiana church has been removed from Indiana Landmarks' 10 Most Endangered properties list. The First Baptist Church in West Baden Springs is currently undergoing a structural assessment to inform new owners, the Southeastern District Association of the Indiana Missionary Baptist State Convention, of restoration needs. December 18, 2014

News Release

WEST BADEN SPRINGS, Ind. - In May 2014, the First Baptist Church - historically known as the West Baden Springs Colored Church or the Negro Baptist Church - appeared as one of Indiana Landmarks' annual 10 Most Endangered. The nonprofit preservation organization recently announced that it has removed the 1920 frame church from the endangered list.

When Rev. Anthony Toran saw the endangered announcement, he brought the situation to the attention of his denominational association. As moderator of the Southeastern District Association of the Indiana Missionary Baptist State Convention, he saw an opportunity to restore and reopen the church. On December 1, the West Baden Springs Town Council, owner of the church, voted to sell the church to the association of 18 congregations for $1 if the group is able to secure funding to restore and reopen it.

The church is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Because of the 10 Most Endangered status, Indiana Landmarks helped the town market the property and used a grant from the Efroymson Family Fund to commission a structural assessment. The study by Silver Creek Engineering, underway now, will identify structural deficiencies and estimate the costs to correct problems.

Rev. Toran said that by spring 2015, his denominational association would create a separate nonprofit organization to own and restore the church. The group will raise money to restore the church and also rely on in-kind contributions of sweat equity from skilled members of its congregations, including electricians, carpenters, dry-wallers and painters.

Rev. Toran noted that in addition to preserving an important African American landmark, his Missionary Baptist district will hold religious services there on a weekly basis.

BACKGROUND

West Baden Springs Hotel owner Lee Sinclair donated the land for the church, recognizing the beneficial role it would fill in the lives of his workforce - the African American waiters, bell-boys and porters recruited to work at the grand hotels. The congregation built the white frame Gothic Revival church in 1920 at 8034 West Sinclair Street, very near the West Baden Springs Hotel.

During that segregated era, it became the thriving center of African American social and religious culture in French Lick and West Baden. By 1991, the congregation had dwindled to a single member, who donated the building to the West Baden Historical Society. When the society disbanded in 2011, it gave the church to the town of West Baden.

Indiana Landmarks revitalizes communities, reconnects people to heritage, and saves meaningful places. The non-profit organization has 8 offices throughout the state to help people rescue endangered landmarks and restore historic neighborhoods and downtowns. Members of Indiana Landmarks receive its bimonthly magazine, Indiana Preservationist. For more information, call 317-639-4534, 800-450-4534, or visit www.indianalandmarks.org.

Source: Indiana Landmarks