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Traditional beauty
By Kathleen Ostrander

There is a calm, cool comfort about Central Baptist Church, 501 S. Fourth St. The church, with a rich history dating back to 1830, is across from the governor's mansion with a bang-up view of the gardens.

Central Baptist is done in a traditional Colonial design with a tall bell tower and spire. The bell in the tower that calls the faithful to worship services is the bell that tolled during Lincoln's time in Springfield.

Architecture of that era had clean, straight lines. It is square and symmetrical with a central door and straight line rectangular windows on the first and second floors. There are strong, unadorned white columns in the front of the sturdy brick front façade.

Above the paneled front door is a decorative arched area that is repeated inside at the front of the church.

A wide central aisle splits the church and adds to the general symmetrical look of the interior. Hallways feed off of the central aisle in the front and back of the church.

The style of the rounded light fixtures complements the interior, and they cast a soft, warm glow on the painted interior and the pews.

Traditional colonial interiors were either white or pale yellow. Central Baptist has a warm white and wooden interior. Although the church has been at several locations, according to business administrator John Peters, parts of the church move with the congregation.

The clean, symmetrical lines of the colonial architecture give a sense of balance and peace to the interior that does not escape visitors, Peters said. "We get people who may be members of other churches that want to be married here because of that," he said.

Originally founded as First Baptist Church, in its early days it was at Seventh and Adams streets. The original wooden structure was replaced with a permanent building in 1850. Funds were contributed to build that church by a number of Springfield's premier first citizens, including George Pasfield, John Bunn and even Abraham Lincoln.

Seven years later, a square tower was built onto the church to house the bell that traveled to the new building, which was dedicated in 1966. At that time, a town clock was also housed in the tower and it contributed to the church's nickname of "the Old Town Clock Church."

The steel bell, from Westphalia, Germany, weighs more than one and a half tons. It was purchased for $800 in 1859 and because of its weight, a bell tower had to be constructed to hold it. Use of the bell was put on hold in 1916 when the tower was deemed too weak to support the vibrations from the ringing bell.

When the bell rang to welcome the pastor and congregation to the dedication in 1966, it was an exciting occasion since the bell had been silent for 50 years.

Podiums at the front of the present-day church, which is a steel sub-structure covered with brick, as well as the pews are original, said Peters. A small stained glass window near the church offices was also original to one of the first buildings that Central Baptist occupied.

The history of Central Baptist Church goes back to July 1830, when eight pioneers formed Springfield's first Baptist witness, then known as First Baptist Church. Members from this congregation established a German Baptist church in Springfield and three English speaking congregations close to Springfield, including one in Decatur.

In 1882, Central Baptist took its present name.


Story published Friday, July 3, 2009 ( Volume 4, Number 4 )

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