First Baptist Church Groundbreaking Dayton Tennessee
March 21, 1971
First Baptist Church members held a groundbreaking ceremony for their new church on March 21, 1971. A disastrous fire destroyed the church on Saturday September 19, 1970. There was nothing left of the church after the fire except a hollow shell with gaping window openings and charred column sections from the entry way porch.
The First Baptist Church was organized in 1888, and the first meeting of the church was held in the Gardenhire Opera House located on Main Street. In 1891, the first building for the church was built at a cost of $410.50 on Fox Street. According to an old Sanborn map, Fox Street is what we know today as Alabama Ave. and the church sat just directly behind our present-day Police Department.
The church remained on Fox Street until 1897 when they purchased the present site of the church. A small, one room brick building was erected on the site and used until 1928 when the new church that burned was built on the corner of East 2nd Ave & Church Street.
The building served well for more than forty years. In 1970, the educational and worship facilities were remodeled at a cost of $35,000.00 which would increase their seating capacity in the auditorium by 100 seats.
The remodeling project was almost complete, and services had been held in the newly decorated sanctuary for only a few weeks.
The final painting of the six white columns were all that remained to be done. The painters were at work painting the columns when the fire was discovered.
Fire was first seen breaking out around the belfry on the roof of the building in an area where the units for the air conditioning system were located. The alarm was sounded around 2:35 pm.
By the time the Fire truck arrived under the direction of Fire Chief Bill Keylon, the tower was in flames. Not long after the fire department's arrival, smoke began to roll from under the roof, both in front and from the rear of the building. The fire burned fiercely all afternoon and it was long after dark before the fire department withdrew their trucks.
During the fire, both of Dayton’s fire engines were put to hard use during the afternoon. The Spring City Fire Department sent one of its engines down to Dayton to cover the city in case of any additional fire calls came in. A score of young by standers joined the volunteer firemen in manning the hoses and fighting the blaze. Two “cherry pickers” that belonged to the electric department were also called into service to lift the firemen and hose lines high and closer to the fire.
A couple of volunteer firemen were left on guard through the night to periodically wet down the interior to prevent any potential flare-ups. The ruins smoldered until late in the afternoon on Sunday.
Two men Carl Smith and Paul Pugh were overcome by the smoke and heat, and were treated at a local doctor's office.
The Sanctuary was a complete loss, and the adjoining education building, although remaining, suffered extensive smoke and water damage.
Future services were to be held at Dayton City School.
The morning worship service on March 21, 1971, was dismissed early to allow the congregation time to attend the ground breaking ceremonies. A brief and meaningful service was planned and would involve the entire congregation. Mr. Jim Abel delivered the invocation, at the time he was one of the oldest active male members of the church. Mrs. E.B. Arnold was a long standing, active member who taught a women’s Sunday School class also presented a reading of the scripture. O.W. McKenzie, whose father was functional in the building program of the church destroyed in the fire, rendered the remarks.
The pavement breaking on the construction site was done by the pastor, the Rev. Hayden Center, along with the chairman of the building committee, and civic dignitaries. The Ladies of the Fidelis Sunday School Class turned the first shovel of dirt.
The new church building was constructed in 45 weeks under the supervision of Equitable Church Builders of Nashville. The first Sunday service was held in the new building on April 30, 1972. The Church stands today on the corner of 3rd Ave and Church Street.
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