Former First Baptist Church tumbles down

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 27, 2009

NATCHEZ — The cracking pipes and falling bricks on Main Street had all the makings of a sad moment for the small group of onlookers standing by Monday, but most admitted they were glad to see the day.

Among the crowd watching the former First Baptist Church fall were a nearby neighbor, a former member and the staff of the Catholic church that now owns the lot.

“I’m glad to see it go,” Main Street resident Robbie Greer said. “I don’t think they had any other choice.”

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The congregation of St. Mary Basilica purchased the dilapidated building in August and announced plans soon after to clear the lot.

A small amount of asbestos was removed from the building a week ago, and demolition began late last week.

St. Mary has hired a contractor from Mobile, Ala., to demolish the building, haul away the rubble and leave a leveled lot for approximately $100,000. No timetable for the completion of the demolition has been set.

The Rev. David O’Connor, pastor of St. Mary, said the lot will become green space for the foreseeable future. The church will plant some shrubs and possibly crape myrtles around the edge of the lot and simply let it be for a while.

“We don’t know what form we’ll take with it eventually,” O’Connor said. “Beyond that there are no plans, and no plans will be made for a few years.”

Instead St. Mary is focused on the construction of a new family life center where Main Street Marketplace is currently located. No ground breaking day has been set.

O’Connor watched some of the demolition Monday, and said he knew the building carried memories for many locals. Though the church’s contract with demolition company leaves the debris to the contractor, O’Connor said — as long as the excavator operator agreed — he thought it was fine for former church members to come by and take a brick for sentimental reasons if they’d like.

“People have a lot of sentiments about this,” O’Connor said. “People were baptized and married there. But for the most part, people say it’s time to see it go.”

Brookhaven resident Doug Falvey is a former member of First Baptist who stopped by the demolition site while in town for other business Monday.

“It’s hard to believe,” he said. “My son was baptized there, and he’s a minister of First Baptist Church in Madison now. It makes me feel good about what he’s done with this life. It was a very close-knit church.”

Natchez resident Patricia Murphy was among the group watching as well.

“I hate the fact that it was left to deteriorate, but it’s a danger now,” she said. “I’m glad to get it down.”

First Baptist was built in 1921. The church moved from the location to its current one on D’Evereux Drive in the 1970s.

In the 1980s FBC sold the building to Durrell Armstrong of Wichita, Kan. The building’s roof fell in during 2005, and Armstrong soon donated it to Universal Missions Inc.

Universal Missions sold the building to Dream Homes in 2007, which announced plans to build condos. Under Dream Homes’ ownership the stained glass windows were removed from the church, further opening it to the elements and contributing to its destruction.

Last summer, the building was deemed to be in a state of demolition by neglect.

Dream Homes owner Judy Weatherly sold the former church to St. Mary for $147,000, avoiding the pending criminal charges for demolition by neglect.