This Is Our Home: First Baptist Church Faces the Future
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
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
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
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