First Christian Church (Immanuel Baptist Church)
The imposing, historic church enjoys a Beaux Arts design, drawing on classical structures, which resembles the architectural trend of the early twentieth century. The building differs from the many historic buildings in Old Louisville, most of which are Victorian-designed and emerged during the late nineteenth century. However, the congregation does date back to the Civil War era, having built its original church during the 1860s. As the area grew, its property value skyrocketed. The church sold its original land to developers who built the historic Stark building on the property. As a result, the First Christian Church could afford to build a new, impressive structure. Renovations during the 1970s and 1980s, along with recent work by its current occupant, Immanuel Baptist Church, has allowed the building to survive into the twenty-first century.
Backstory and Context
Built in 1910, the First Christian Church, designed by Louisville's McDonald and Dodd, stands out as an imposing Beaux-Arts structure, which differs from the plethora of historic, nineteenth-century, Victorian buildings in Old Louisville.
The First Christian Church of Louisville received its charger in 1846, making it the oldest congregation of the Disciples of Christ in Kentucky; they split from the Baptist Disciples of Christ in 1833. The First Christian congregation of Louisville worshiped first in a stone church built around the time of the Civil War. The property's value skyrocketed during the late nineteenth century, so the congregation sold the land to a realty company, who consequently tore down the church and erected a commercial building — The Starks Building, designed by the famed D.H. Bunham and Company — on the site of the original church. With a sizable profit garnered from the sale, the church commissioned Kenneth McDonald and William J. Dodd to build the now-historic First Christian Church.
The placement of the stained glass windows in the banquet hall resembled the design of the 1860s stone chapel, but the church design mainly speaks to the shift in architectural trends from the late nineteenth century to the early twentieth century. Whereas most of the historical buildings in Old Louisville are Victorian style, erected mainly during the late nineteenth century, the First Christian Church enjoys a Beaux Arts design as architects began drawing on classical forms.
First Christian Church's congregation decreased in size throughout the twentieth century. By the 1970s, the church moved to a suburban location. The Lampton Baptist congregation purchased the historic structure after being displaced due to the University of Louisville Medical School's expansion. They gained praise for the restoration work they accomplished, thus allowing the building to survive. Not to be outdone, Immanuel Baptist Church purchased the building in 2015 and subsequently began renovating the historic church in May 2016.
In short, the congregation emerged in Louisville's "Southern Extenstion," during the 1860s, a bit before the area saw an influx of wealthy residents move into the area. Still, the neighborhood's growth eventually led to a rise in commercial construction, which allowed the church to sell its original land for a high price. The historical church serves as a lasting example of both the church's and area's growth. But, because it was built in 1910, it indeed differs from the multitude of Victorian structures as it enjoys a classic-inspired Beaux Arts design complete with imposing columns.
Kleber, John E., ed. The Encyclopedia of Louisville. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2014.
Middleton, R.T. et. al. "Starks Building." Clio: Your Guide to History. February 10, 2018. Accessed April 10, 2021. https://www.theclio.com/tour/86/9.
Poynter, Marty. "Nomination Form: First Baptist Church." National Register of Historic Places. nps.gov. 1979. https://npgallery.nps.gov/GetAsset/0e85cbb3-653a-4df9-b154-5b369efb9625.
By Kenneth C. Zirkel - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57360289