Court Street Baptist Church is regarded by many as "the mother church" of Lynchburg's black Baptists. The congregation was organized in 1843 when it split from its parent church, the white First Baptist Church. The newly formed African American church was known as the African Baptist Church of Lynchburg. The congregation purchased an old theater and used it as a church until it burned down in1858. Next, they converted a nearby tobacco factory on Court Street between Fifth and Sixth streets. They then moved to a third building which was in use until being demolished in 1867. The next building witnessed an unfortunate incident when a wedding was held there in October 1878. During the wedding, an alarm was given that the crowded balconies were collapsing. Although the alarm was false, the ensuing melee resulted in the deaths of eight persons, who were trampled and crushed in the attempt to evacuate the building. Remembrance of that tragedy would find expression in the new, 1880 building, where the iron supports of the balcony were made to extend below the basement to rest on solid rock. This building is still in use today.
Although it was designed by a white architect, R.C. Burkholder, black laborers constructed the building and created several of the wooden features within the church, such as the ornate pulpit.
The church building standing today was begun in 1879 and completed in 1880. At the time it was the largest church edifice in the city, with a tall spire topped by a copper ball 9.5 feet in circumference and weighing 34 pounds.
Geographical and Contact Information
517 Court Street