“Be a good human being, a warmhearted, affectionate person. That is my fundamental belief.”
~ Dalai Lama
To be honest, I’ve never paid much mind to the First Baptist Church on Main Street across from Rupp Arena. Suddenly, there it was. It sits on a hill, a sort of lonely hill, like an island really, in much the same way the courthouse in West Liberty has become an island with the surrounding land leveled in a grotesquely disproportionate way. In any case, I did some digging on the place of course. There are fifty steps leading from Main Street to the sprawling 1913 Gothic church building.
This is the fourth church building in this location. The church itself was first known as Town Branch Church established in 1786 (one of the first west of the Alleghenies) and attended by some of the city’s founders. It’s first pastor was Rev. John Gano who is said to have baptized George Washington. The church split after The Great Awakening; a series of revivals just up the road at Cane Ridge that shook up America’s Christian denominations. Half of the church went on to form what is today Central Christian which you might recall from a few weeks back.
Naturally, being a founding church, Lexington’s pioneer cemetery was located here as well. In fact, it was in this cemetery where William “King” Solomon buried most of the city’s dead during the Cholera outbreak of 1833. They, along with King Solomon, were relocated to the Lexington Cemetery several decades later. However, when the congregation outgrew its third building (the first two burned) and chose to build the current church, workers discovered the grave of Kentucke Gazette publisher, John Bradford, under the west wall. Rather than disturb it further, they left him buried and built the church atop his grave. Incidentally, the Kentucke Gazette is not only Kentucky’s oldest newspaper (started when we were still Virginia), but it is the first newspaper west of the Alleghenies as well (that yours truly had a hand in digitizing – see the links).
Herald-Leader’s Tom Eblen wrote an informative piece on the church back in 2009. In it Eblen describes how the congregation had dwindled to just fifty members at the time. Unable to tithe the cost of upkeep, the church was, and as far as I can tell – still is, suffering from a great deal of construction dilemmas as a result. He posted some interior photos with his piece and I am now on a mission to find the current pastor and ask if I can photograph the inside. Its vaulted wooden ceiling looks like something from a Nordic cathedral, its pipe organ, balconies, and stained glass windows are things of sheer beauty. I saw it for only a moment from the outside, but I am inspired by such majesty.