San Marcos Fights to Preserve Historic First Baptist Church

First African-American church in San Marcos up for $150,000 grant

Want to help restore the Old First Baptist Church? Vote through Oct. 29 to support San Marcos' bid to win a $150,000 grant from the Partners in Preservation: Main Streets campaign. (photo by Patrick Melon @melontao)

The Old First Baptist Church in San Marcos has been boarded up for over 30 years. It stands on MLK Street, where the sanctuary was relocated after its original building was burned down by the Ku Klux Klan. One hundred and forty-five years after the fire, San Marcos is trying once again to restore it – and they have a fighting chance.

Rev. Moses Johns organized the original church in 1866, making it the first African-American congregation in San Marcos. After the KKK attack, relocation, attempts at renovation, and relocation again, the church was bought by the Waldhausers, private owners unfamiliar with its turbulent history. When community organizers, including members of the Calaboose Museum, a center for African-American history, walked them through the church and explained its cultural role in San Marcos, the Waldhausers decided to take action.

“They said, ‘Okay, we want to do right by this building, but we don’t know anything about grant funding and foundation and the nonprofit sector,’” said Josie Falletta, interim Main Street Project Manager with Downtown San Marcos. “There were neighborhood meetings. What came out of those meetings was, ‘Everybody reach out to your networks, everybody see what grant funding is available, everybody see what we can do to help out.’”

Among the networks was Downtown San Marcos, a subsection of the Main Street program. Through this network, the restoration effort found an opportunity – the Partners in Preservation: Main Streets campaign, which will give $150,000 to the 10 historic sites across the nation that receive the greatest number of votes.

“The national Main Street Center reached out across the nation and said, ‘We’re looking for stories that are historic preservation sites that tell the story of diversity and civil rights,’ and I said, ‘We’ve got the perfect project for you.’” Falletta said.

The money would be a first step towards making the building safe to use. For Calaboose Museum board member Ramika Adams, this is a familiar pattern.

Historical photo courtesy of San Marcos Public Library

“I feel like the city of San Marcos right now feels like the church being re-established and restored and given back to the community is the same thing that is symbolic of when the church was burnt down originally,” Adams said. “It was rebuilt bigger and better.”

Following that pattern of coming back stronger after hardship, Adams also hopes to see the church return to being a community center.

“I would love to see the building itself being given back to the community because when people came around to rebuild it once it was burnt down by the KKK, it wasn't just the African-American community,” Adams said. “Everyone came together. They had dinners there. They had graduations. It was a community building. It thrived and gave back and poured into the community.”

Downtown San Marcos will hold an open house event next door to the church on Oct. 20 and 21 from noon to 3pm. The event will offer education about the building’s history as well as a community art project and a digital time capsule.

You can vote to help the church win $150,000. Voting closes Oct. 29.

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Old First Baptist Church, Rev. Moses Johns, Josie Falletta, Downtown San Marcos, Calaboose African American Museum, Ramika Adams

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