Shiloh Historic Baptist Church
The Louisiana History Museum is raising funds to purchase the historic building of the Shiloh Baptist Church and make it the future home of the museum.
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Now in a dilapidated state, the historic Shiloh Baptist Church building on the corner of Washington and Martin Luther King Drive is a tangible holdover from the heyday of Alexandria.
“He’s a wonderful brick and mortar survivor of our past,” said Father Chad Partain. “It is a monument to the faith of our African American community.”
Partain, a Louisiana History Museum board member and Pat Boone, board secretary, treasurer and volunteer, said the museum was interested in purchasing the property because it is a building major historic downtown.
The museum has launched a campaign to raise $ 125,000 to purchase and secure the property. Boone has created a GoFundMe page, Funding for the Louisiana History Museum. Brochures soliciting donations were also posted.
“It is the first African-American brick and mortar church built during the heyday of Alexandria,” Partain said. “It is a major achievement of the African American community to have built this building when they did.”
For this reason, the museum wants to save and restore the building. Losing that property, Partain said, would be losing “a real piece of our history.”
Once renovated, the Louisiana History Museum is scheduled to move into the structure. The museum occupies the lower part of the Historical and Genealogical Library of Alexandria and the museum located on Washington Street in a building that was the former Alexandria Public Library.
It has been there since 1996. The purchase of the Shiloh property would also help the museum grow and expand its collection, as this would have doubled the space it currently has.
“We have so much that we can’t display now because the space is just too limited,” Partain said.
If the board is able to purchase the Shiloh property, plans are to move the Louisiana History Museum to where it could display its collection of local and Louisiana artifacts.
Among the collection are photographs, postcards, memorabilia from the Bentley Hotel and the Alexandria Golf and Country Club, and artefacts from all the great wars. The museum also houses a large display of artifacts belonging to former governors Huey P. Long and his brother Earl Long.
“There’s Hispanic, there’s Belgian, there’s Irish and we’re not touching on any of that here,” Boone added of other items in the collection. “We have it. We just don’t have any place to put anything.”
Many artifacts have been donated to the museum over the years and collected by the late Dale Genius who was the museum’s second director.
The genealogical library would remain at the current location. With the Louisiana History Museum housed in Shiloh’s property, the library would expand into the space where the museum is currently located.
“We also don’t have room to grow upstairs,” Boone said. “So it’s twofold. The museum can grow and the library can grow.”
The original structure of the Shiloh Baptist Church was a wood-frame building constructed in 1882 on the same spot where the brick and mortar building stands today. The church started with 47 members. Armstead Mr. Newman was the pastor. A cornerstone for the church was laid in 1890 and by that time the membership had grown to 225.
The current brick structure replaced the wooden one in 1904.
Partain said Booker T. Washington, a prominent black intellectual and adviser to Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, spoke at the church in 1915. Civil rights activist Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. also spoke visited the church.
The deterioration of the building was the reason the congregation constructed its new building, Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, on Lee Street. The last services were held in the old church in 2006.
A 2007 article in The Town Talk said the deterioration of the building was aided by a leaking roof which caused extensive damage to the floors.
Hurricane Rita also pushed the front door out of its frame.
“And that only helps us in our decision to relocate,” Reverend Raymond Franklin said in the article. “We were spending more money trying to fix the church.”
A new roof was put in place by the owner who purchased the church, but damage to the walls, floor and joists is still present, Partain said.
The council has Facebook pages, Friends of the Louisiana History Museum, the Louisiana History Museum and the Historical and Genealogical Library of Alexandria where a video showing the interior and exterior of the old church was posted. Partain tells the video.
“They have beautiful ceilings,” Boone said, pointing to photos of the church she had taken on her phone.
According to The Town Talk article, the church had Gothic stained glass in the front which was later replaced with cathedral glass. Above the stained glass window were glass windows in an arch which was later covered.
The floors were also sloped to provide a better view of the pulpit.
“And it was the only church in this area built like this,” worshiper Aaron Neal Jr. said in the soils article. “There was a man who came here and did our paneling. He said ours was the only church he saw built like this.”
The timeline for renovating the Shiloh property would depend on the money raised.
“The total cost of the renovation would be around $ 2 million,” Partain said.
The museum plans to apply for grants to help cover renovation costs, Boone said.
But before they can access this part, they must first buy and secure the property.
“And for that, we need the support of the community,” Partain said. “Donations to cover initial costs.”
Due to the pandemic, Boone said they had not been able to promote the project as well as they could and other things they had planned had to be canceled.
The overall project is a major project that could take around two years, Partain said.
“It will definitely be in stages,” said Boone.
“Phase I would be to buy and secure the building itself,” Partain explained. “Phase II would consist of the demolition of the parts that cannot be saved.” Like soils.
“The second phase would also secure the roof, walls, eaves, windows,” Partain said. “Phase III would then be new infrastructure – HVAC units, fire retardant systems, plumbing, new wiring. And then the final phase would be finishing.”
“We strip down to the bare minimum,” Boone explained. “We’re trying to get it back to usable space.”
The Alexandria Historic Preservation Commission took photos of the old church because they would like to list it on the National Register of Historic Places, which Partain says is also part of the long-term project.
“For us, as the museum’s board of trustees, the preservation of this building and the possibility of renovating it into a cultural center and museum for all of central Louisiana seemed like a win-win situation,” said Partain.
Boone said she would also like older members of the Shiloh Baptist Church to talk about the church and have a continuous loop so that visitors to the museum can hear them tell their stories.
“I am a visionary,” said Boone. “I have us in there. I have civil rights in one place and I have church in another. I have everything in my mind where it’s going to go but now we have to get the building.”
The city intends to turn the area in front of the former Shiloh property into a civil rights park.
“That was one of the other reasons we wanted to secure this site,” Partain said. “The city still has federal funds for the construction of the Civil Rights Park and if we can restore the Shiloh property then it is a nice gateway to the Civil Rights Park and, of course, could be part of. the narration of this story. “
This is because much of the civil rights movement started in churches, he said.
“Too often our African American history – the history of our African American community here – has been overlooked,” he said. “It was therefore an opportunity to highlight this aspect of our history.”
The Louisiana History Museum is located at 503 Washington St. in downtown Alexandria. More information about the museum is available at www.louisianahistorymuseum.org or by calling (318) 769-2216.