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First Baptist Church

Photo courtesy of City Development, City of Asheville, North Carolina

When it was dedicated on March 6, 1927, the First Baptist Church embodied the distinctive style of its architect, Douglas Ellington, who incorporated traditional Beaux-Arts planning, the stark forms of early Christian church architecture, and fashionably modern Art Deco details in the new church. Ellington's building was the fifth house of worship for First Baptist Church since its organization in 1829. Membership grew from 37 in 1874 to approximately 1,500 in early the 1920s. The new church complex provided seating for 2,000 in the main sanctuary and space for another 3,000 in the surrounding educational buildings.

[photo] Historic view of First Baptist Church
Photo courtesy of City Development, City of Asheville, North Carolina

A slightly bellcast dome capped by a copper cupola sits atop the octagonal main auditorium and a full height hectacstyle portico greets visitors at the entrance. Although the outward form of the church is generally Neoclassical, the decorative patterns and surface ornament reflect the Art Deco style, which became popular in the 1920s. The primary exterior materials, brick and marble, are composed in a variety of patterns and low relief planes that enrich the wall surfaces with variations of texture and color. Terra cotta molding forms alternating bands of chevrons and nail head designs, while geometric star patterns set in low relief panels accentuate the entrance doors. The large, open sanctuary is richly detailed with geometric stars, stylized floral and feather motifs, diamond-shaped panels and abstract diagonal fretwork.

First Baptist Church

Photo courtesy of City Development, City of Asheville, North Carolina

Reverend Robert J. Bateman, pastor of First Baptist Church during the building campaign, noted in The Southern Tourist (September 1926) that the church was "located in perhaps the most strategic point in the Southern Baptist Convention territory, Asheville the tourist city, where thousands of people from all over the country gather each year." He went on to express his pleasure with the new facility, which he described as "a magnificent church of rare architecture, and one in which the denomination as a whole may feel a pardonable pride." He also emphasized that the "elegant simplicity and practicability" of Ellington's design would impress "the throngs, passing that corner, with a silent Gospel message."

First Baptist Church is located at 5 Oak St. at the northeast corner of Oak and Woodfin sts. Visitors are welcome. Services are held Sundays at 8:30am and 11:00am. For further information, visit the church's website or call 828-252-4781.

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