Feature Photo (above): Front entrance view of the historic Old First Baptist Church. Image: Google Streets.
by Adolfo Pesquera
San Marcos (Hays County) — The Old First Baptist Church, dormant for more than 30 years, will be considered today by City Council for recognition as a Local Historic Landmark, this following a $150,000 grant for its preservation.
Last week, three philanthropic partners–Main Street America, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and American Express–announced grants totaling $1.6 million for 11 historic sites. The 2018 Partners in Preservation: Main Streets campaign began with an additional award of $400,000 that was distributed to the 20 Main Street communities that participated.
The First Baptist Church built by the African-American community was the only Texas recipient. Located in the Dunbar neighborhood at 218 W. Martin Luther King Drive, the church was built to replace a black church built in 1866 that was burned to the ground in 1876 by the Ku Klux Klan.
A historical building survey done by the city rated the church of “Medium” priority due to alterations that were made in 1953, but that was changed to “High” priority after a consultation with the Texas Historical Commission, which based their opinion on its community significance.
In addition to religious services, it was a social center and was used for commencement exercises for the San Marcos Colored School during segregation. In 1923, 20,000 Klansmen returned to frighten the community, but the community united and stood its ground.
The building was home to a local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Civil rights meetings were held there through much of the 20th century.
Konrad and Katherine Waldhauser (Waldhauser LLC) purchased the property in 2017 and worked with the community to save the building. In a letter to council requesting the local landmark designation, the Waldhausers state, “We envision the church restored to its grandeur and able to serve the community once again. It is our belief that the building once restored will again be a crown jewel of San Marcos.”
The church walls, made of lap siding, are riddled with holes. The first step must be to weatherproof it from the elements.
The building design is typical of early black churches. It has a cruciform floor plan. The structure is raised over a tall basement. There is a gabled porch that is flanked by two bell towers.
The staff presentation to be given this evening states, “A mural, located behind the baptistery which depicts the Jordan River, still exists inside. It was commissioned by a committee of women from the church and executed by Mrs. Henry Kyle.”
The baptistry mural of the River Jordan in the Old First Baptist Church. Courtesy: Main Street Program of San Marcos.
During the grant competition period, the community produced a YouTube video to explain the church’s significance and garner votes. See #LandMarkofHope.
Comanche Street side view of the Old First Baptist Church in the Dunbar Neighborhood, San Marcos. Image: Google Streets.