This Is Our Home: First Baptist Church Faces the Future

Submitted 2 years ago
Created by
Dave Nelson

Without a doubt the biggest Lebanon news story of 2016 was the tragic loss of the First Baptist Church on School Street just one block south of Colburn Park. The 145-year-old local icon was declared a total loss following an arson fire that Lebanon firefighters responded to on the night of December 28.

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The morning light presented a devastating scene in downtown Lebanon. The smoldering remains of the once-beautiful Gothic Revival structure drew a horde of spectators who were kept at a safe distance by the Lebanon Police Department because of fears that the steeple would collapse and fill the street with debris. As they watched the sad proceedings, many people hugged each other while tears flowed freely down their faces. Once again, fire had devastated their community. The festive holiday season had ended in sorrow.

But Lebanon community members are looking to the future to bring back the First Baptist Church on its original site. Interim Pastor Rev. Rick Pinilla made it crystal clear that the beloved structure would arise from the ashes, saying, “This is our home.”

Plans are rapidly moving forward to address the issues: First the demolition and then the difficult task of designing a suitable replacement. Lebanon resident Keith Davio serves as Church Moderator and said a building committee is being assembled from volunteers within the church.

“First we have to deal with bids for the demolition on the present site,” Davio explained. “That should go fairly rapidly. The most important first step, however, is getting everyone to agree on a unified plan. There is a spiritual mission to consider, especially for the inside of the church, just how that will look. Then address the appearance of the outside of the new proposed building. There is a lot to consider there because we have become the face of the community in many ways. We have to present a plan that pleases many.”

In the meantime, Sunday services are being held at Lebanon Middle School on Moulton Avenue.

Lebanon is certainly no stranger to tragic fires. Reviewing the city’s past reveals an unfortunate connection with blazing infernos. First there was the great fire in 1887 when more than 80 buildings covering 12 acres were destroyed in central Lebanon. Then came the infamous fire of 1964 that wiped out 20 downtown buildings, causing an estimated $3 million in property damage.

Then there was the fire that destroyed the 160-year-old United Methodist Church, also on School Street just a short distance from the First Baptist Church. That blaze was also attributed to arson and occurred on February 21, 1992, shortly after midnight. Once again, the citizens of Lebanon rallied and the structure was rebuilt on the original site.

Perhaps the most bizarre fire took place in 1931, when The Park Street Hotel and the adjacent Odd Fellows Home were completely destroyed in a blaze. That was also a case of arson by the hotel’s owner, who left his automobile idling in front of the structure while he torched the building from the inside. It was his intent to rush to the awaiting car for his getaway, but he was trapped in the inferno and perished.

The resiliency of Lebanon residents also has a long and enduring history. After those devastating events that could have brought any community to its knees, Lebanon actually flourished. The city arose from the ashes each time and came back in courageous fashion to make Lebanon the shining star it is today. Here is a fact to consider from the Lebanon Historical Society: “Despite the effects of the fire in 1887, the population of Lebanon increased by 12.2 percent between 1800 and 1890.” Following the 1964 disaster, you now have one of the most scenic downtown areas in the entire country. That is backed up by the fact that Lebanon was named the Most Beautiful Small Town in the United States last year.

Ed Ashey, who serves as the Lebanon Historical Society Curator, has been carefully reviewing past fires and offers a suggestion for the future of the First Baptist Church.

“I have heard a lot of people talking about how the church should be restored to its original appearance. That would be nice, but I have to warn them that modern building codes would make erecting an exact duplicate almost impossible. That was the case with the United Methodist Church as well.”

No matter what lies ahead for the First Baptist Church in Lebanon, rest assured it will indeed become a place of peace and love that will comfort so many


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