Hometown News For Orange County, Texas

LSCO will use landmark church building

A landmark historic church building abandoned in 2008 will once again have people congregating. But instead of seeking salvation, they will be seeking education.

The domed Greek revival brick former First Baptist Church on Green Avenue will become a reception center for Lamar State College-Orange.

Dr. Tom Johnson, president of LSCO, said last week that the Stark Foundation will be donating the building to the college. The 110-year-old church at 800 Green Avenue is catacorner to the college's new $38.1 million academic building under construction. In addition, the church building is across Fifth Street from the LSCO Wilson Building, where industrial classes are being held.

Dr. Johnson announced the donation last week at the Lunch Bunch gathering for The Record Newspapers' founder Roy Dunn, who has turned 89. Attendees including all members of Orange County Commissioners Court, a member of the Orange City Council, two justices of the peace, and a state district judge. Dunn is the only surviving founder of the informal group of leaders and friends who for many years met weekly to share and meal and exchange stories.

The addition to the college campus expands LSCO across the old downtown area as it has grown to become the state college with the fastest growing enrollment. It also preserves a historic building to help in promoting the rich history of the county with its roots back to settlers some 200 years ago.

The church's history goes back to 1879 when the Rev. Andrew Peddy helped 18 charter members form the congregation, according to the Texas Historical Marker at the Green Avenue site.

In 1883, Sarah A. Finch, along with Ann and L.L Bettis donated the land on what is now Green Avenue. Then in 1884, a 40-foot-by-60-foot woodframe building was constructed. An old photograph from a 20th Century newspaper shows the building had a steeple and was at a wooden bridge where a creek crossed Fifth Street.

The church congregation named itself Green Avenue Baptist Church as part of its name. By that time, Green Avenue was becoming a trendy place to live. As the town grew, so did the Baptist congregation.

By 1902, the Orange Daily Tribune newspaper reported the Green Avenue Baptist pastor had announced the church needed "more commodius quarters."

In 1909, the congregation merged with the Eighth Street Baptist Church and renamed itself First Baptist Church of Orange.

Later members called the grand Greek revival sanctury soon constructed as the "people's church." The women members of the church held bake sales, and others did more fundraisers.

First Baptist Church was not like the First Presbyterian Church. Frances Ann Lutcher, the wife of the wealthy timber baron Henry Jacob Lutcher, paid for First Presbyterian Church as a tribute. The price has never been revealed.

The First Baptist Church building was constructed of brick, instead of pink granite. The dome was covered, and not made of handcrafted stained-glass angels. The two churches, though, shared the Greek revival style popular at the time. Both have pillars and domes.

Through the next 80 decades, the church campus expanded with additions of Sunday School buildings and a family life center. However as the 21st Century arrived, Orange's population was dwindling as more people moved northward. The congregation, too, was shrinking and members voted to move to land along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in the Little Cypress area.

Hurricane Ike in 2008 flooded downtown Orange with several feet of storm surge waters. The basement of the historic First Baptist sanctuary flooded, as did the other buildings. The church congregation left the complex alone and never moved back.

The Stark Foundation bought the complete complex in 2013, five years after the flood waters had receded leaving mold to build. The foundation demolished all the buildings but the historic sanctuary and restored it.

Though the foundation had announced the building could be used by its venues, it never was. The building though has been preserved to its post-storm restoration shape.

Dr. Johnson said LSCO has remodeling plans to put the building to use for the community once again.

 

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