Good for past, present and future

Published 9:53 pm Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Though it will give the church a fresh, new look, the design of a proposed addition to First Baptist Church on North Main Street will also be evocative of the way the church looked early in the 20th century.

Members of the Suffolk Historic Landmarks Commission agreed unanimously last Thursday — except for the abstention of one church member who also serves on the commission — to approve a plan for renovations on the building, which is located within the downtown historic district.

The church plans to begin building a 2,000-square-foot addition in the narrow courtyard between its two existing buildings. The structure will provide a new entrance complete with a welcome center, a youth area and an indoor play area for children.

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But what might be most exciting for folks in Suffolk who care about preserving and honoring the history of downtown is the fact that a bell tower planned for the new entrance will replicate one that was torn down when the current version of the main church structure was built in 1957.

In fact the church building that existed prior to 1957 was also not the first one on the site. Historians say the first church was built on the North Main Street property in 1836, and it was replaced in 1887 by the one that stood until 1957. So it would be hard to argue any long-term historical significance of the structure itself.

Still, it’s appropriate in a historic district that history should be honored, even as progress marches on, and the plan to re-introduce a bell tower at the front of the First Baptist Church property will do just that.

“We’re very conscious of our history,” Kermit Hobbs, chairman of the church’s renovation committee, said in Thursday’s public hearing. When a man with Hobbs’ reputation for integrity and historical appreciation says such a thing, it carries some weight.

As Hobbs later said, though, the church is now in need of a new space. Pastor Thurman Hayes added he hopes the new space, along with renovations to the sanctuary, will help attract new worshipers.

Members of the Historic Landmarks Commission did the right thing both for history and for the future in agreeing to the church’s request.