16 Feb African American Church Buildings in Noblesville
African American Church Buildings in Noblesville
By: David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian
Hamilton County has had organized churches since the first settlers arrived, and this includes the Black community. The oldest African American church building in the county is at Roberts Settlement. There were two congregations in Noblesville, the Baptist and the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.), and this post will look at buildings associated with them.
The Baptist church for African Americans was organized in 1853. At different times, it was referred to as the “African Baptist” or the “Second Baptist”, since a white Baptist church had been organized in 1827. (The white church was defunct long before 1853.) It was also called the “Colored Baptist”, which was and still is regarded as offensive, and there was a lawsuit in 1938 that established their name as First Baptist. The A.M.E. was organized in 1862 and first met northwest of Noblesville in an old log schoolhouse. The congregation moved into town in 1868.
Both congregations acquired permanent homes because of a political event. In 1872, there was a massive rally put on by the Hamilton County African American community to support the election of Ulysses S. Grant to the presidency. I wrote about it here. Part of the purpose of the event was to raise money, not for the candidates like today, but to build churches in the community.
The Baptist building was constructed at Fifth and Cherry Streets. It was begun 1873, finished in 1875, and cost $653. Some of the noted minsters who served there were Barney Stone, an ex-slave and Civil War veteran, and Ernest Butler, a Hamilton County civil rights leader. The church dissolved in 2005, but the building still stands. It is now administered by the Hamilton County Artists’ Association as the Birdie Gallery.
For the A.M.E. building, the church purchased a lot at 14th and Division Street for $125. They built a one story 18’ X 32’ frame building which cost $700. The congregation began holding services there upon its completion in 1874. They remained in this building until they moved to a building on Fifth Street formerly occupied by Wesleyan Methodists. It was a newer structure, having been dedicated May 14, 1895. The A.M.E. church history says that the move was on Easter In 1914. For some reason, the city directories say the Wesleyans and the A.M.E. were still their original buildings in 1916 and 1920. At any rate, the A.M.E. had occupied the building by 1922. The 1874 structure may still exist as a private home.
It’s interesting to ask why the A.M.E. decided to move. Did they need more room? Was there too much Industrial growth in the area? Three years after the Division Street church was built, the Midland Railroad came to town and passed a block south. In 1919, the Burdick Tire and Rubber Company, (which would eventually be absorbed by Firestone), constructed their factory one block east. Was it social pressure? The 1920’s saw the rise of Klan in Hamilton County and an increase in social segregation. Whatever the reason, they stayed at the Fifth Street building until their move to their present home in 2011. There is now a new congregation in the Fifth Street building, but the A.M.E. had the longest residence of any denomination.