So I’m bopping to Rick Springfield’s Jessie’s Girl in my head as I type this. The Springfield Baptist Church has nothing to do with the 80s crooner.
Springfield Baptist at the corner of P and 6th Street NW, was a steeple church of unknown vintage in 1957, according to its survey entry. I’m not exactly sure what would qualify as a mega-church circa 1957, but Springfield had a large congregation of around 1700 members, 900 of whom showed up on the average Sunday.
So let’s get into the demographic nitty gritty. It is and was a predominately African American church. The occupation spectrum seemed fairly even, a small percentage of professionals, a nice chunk of white-collar workers, some skilled manual and some entrepreneurs. The largest group were unskilled laborers at 45%, not half but a large percentage.
You might be wondering, was this a commuter church? Yes, no, maybe. Twenty percent lived in the Northwest Urban Renewal Area, which was later shrunk to the Shaw School Urban Renewal Area. There is a mention that about 15% of the membership moved out of the renewal area in the last two years. Seventy percent lived in other parts of the District, in NE and far parts of NW. The far part may have been closer to their former education center at Kansas Avenue and 8th St NW in Petworth. The E.L. Haynes Charter School sits around there now.
So unlike the survey pages I really like, this one is fairly sparse. Anyway, today’s feature is Salem Baptist Church at 917 N Street NW in Shaw. It’s a church building on lot 0809, and a residential structure. Looking at PropertyQuest, there’s another lot the church owns on the other side of the main building. The survey does not tell the racial make up. I’m not 100% sure about the major racial make upof it now, but I’ll guess, African American.
This is going to be a quick one, and I don’t have a picture.
First Rising Mt. Zion, just looking at the 1957 survey answers appears to have been a more working-class Black church, where many of the members lived in the urban renewal area. With the previous surveys for other Black churches in Shaw, I was seeing a more middle-class group and began forming a theory behind it, and then this shows up in the rotation and blows that theory to heck.
Well, this survey and the church’s own history. The 1957 survey has Rev. Ernest Gibson as the head pastor, and when we drop down to his tenure as the shepherd of the flock their history has this to say.
Rev. Ernest R. Gibson, Sr. was called as the second pastor of First Rising on January 14, 1952 and began his tenure of service on February 3, 1952. He came to First Rising with his wife, Mrs. Etta C. Gibson, and three children, Ernest, Jr., Delores and Mark. During Rev. Gibson’s tenure, payments on the property at 1215 8th Street, NW were completed in 1952. In December 1954, the red brick church on the corner of 6th and N Streets, NW was purchased; the second trust of the church was paid off on October 22, 1966, and the mortgage burning ceremony was held on Sunday, May 21, 1967.
So in 1957, they were kinda new to the block. Their previous location of 1215 8th Street NW is currently somewhere inside the Convention Center. They moved around a little bit since their founding in 1939.
Okay, back to the demographics of the church. It was an African American church with a large unskilled manual labor workforce membership (62%). The professionals (5%) and white collar (15%) parishioners were a smaller percentage. Considering the economics of the neighborhood in 1957, it would make sense that the church would draw its working class membership from the surrounding area.
Okay, let’s get back to the boring church surveys….well they can be exciting when you take them in as a whole looking at the changes of the neighborhood. They also chip away at an idea that some churches have been here since the dawn of time. Just as there is this myth that certain people have been in the neighborhood since a vague forever. People move around. We are aware of it, but sometimes we don’t apply this knowledge. Churches, they also move around, let’s take the church at 44 Q Street NW in Truxton Circle.
According to the survey, this was previously the chapel for St. Agnes, a Roman Catholic church I believe. I think there was a graveyard where Eckington is, that was associated with St. Agnes. At some point in time, maybe 1949, the Catholics moved on and the Baptists moved in.
Corinthian Baptist Church is a church constantly on the move. According to the survey they were founded in 1919 at 4th and New York Ave. From 1920-23 they moved south to 4th and K. Then in 1923 they moved north to 4th and Q, possibly where the Fourth Street Seventh Day Adventists sit, but I’d have to research that further. Then in 1932, they moved a block over to where Mt. Sinai sits at 1615 3rd St NW. I gather they moved to 44 Q St NW in 1949. When the survey was done, they were already thinking about moving to 5th and I St NW, and they did. I found a Facebook page with some great 80s photos of church members at the 502 I Street NW location in Chinatown. Currently, the Chinese Community Church is in that location. As of April 14, 2019, Corinthian Baptist Church (the same one I think, not 100% sure) is in Lanham, MD. I don’t know when Ebenezer Baptist replaced the itchy-footed Corinthian Baptists, but that is the church that currently sits on that spot.
For the time Corinthian Baptist was in Truxton Circle, it drew a number of congregants from the community. They estimated about 33.5% of their members lived in the Northwest Urban Renewal Area (parts later to become the Shaw School Urban Renewal Area), and 66% lived in other parts of the city. I will dare to say this was a middle class, white collar African-American church, as they claimed a large percentage (no numbers given) were government workers. Also, 4-5% of the roughly 800 members were professionals.
Back in the aughts, I was looking for an Episcopal Church (St. A &A) but I had the address all wrong. I knew it was somewhere near or along Massachusetts Avenue but I was lost. I was running out of time, and so I saw Luther Place and thought ‘Episcopal/ Lutheran…. close enough’, and joined them for service.
Looking at the 1957 Church Survey for Luther Place, the congregational makeup is fairly similar to the small crowd of people I encountered when I wandered in sometime between 2000-08, mostly white. It was a very small group and it was so long ago. The 1957 crowd mostly (67%) lived in other parts of the city and good quarter living in the ‘burbs. I’m sensing a trend of 1957 Shaw churches being commuter churches.
I went to St. Luke’s once or twice when I was church shopping. Although it doesn’t say so on the 1957 Church Survey for the Northwest Urban Renewal area, the ethnic makeup was primarily African American. Maybe it was a little more mixed in 1957, but circa 2001-2002, for the visit(s) I made, it was an African American congregation.
Regarding the number of parishioners who lived in the urban renewal area, the survey says that a number used to live in the area but in a period of 10-15 years many began moving out. Actually, they don’t give any numbers. How many people lived in the urban renewal area….. “a few.” How many in the rest of DC? A “large majority.” How many out in the burbs? Well, there we get something numerical, “few (8 families).” They had parking for 44 cars, so let’s call it a commuter church.
Let’s also call it a retiree church. Though professionals (17%) and white collar workers (29%) had significant numbers, I couldn’t help but notice the 22% of the congregants being retirees. So far it doesn’t look like the other churches I’ve featured had so many retirees.
So back in 1957 Mt. Sinai was a “storefront” church, so its listing was in the rear of the survey. Now it isn’t a storefront, especially when one thinks of a commercial property. Now it, or the newest part, looks obviously like a church. A church that believes in stairs. I have no idea when the older section was built, which also has a classic church look. Maybe the survey was mistaken.
So Mt. Sinai Baptist at 1615 3rd Street NW was a commuter church. It still is a commuter church. Almost all of the congregants, 96% to be exact, lived outside of the Northwest Urban Renewal Area. Despite being a commuter church, it has been an asset to the Truxton Circle community. It is the location where the Bates Area Civic Association meets as well as the location of other community meetings. The church has been very open to working with community members.
The congregation’s workforce make-up was a mix, 40% white collar and 55% unskilled manual.
I should write more, but I’m getting sleepy, so I’m going to bed.
Okay, let’s do a Shaw Church for this series of churches in the 1957 Church Survey. A survey that has never been done since, because a later “survey” done in the 1970s or 80s was very uninformative compared to this one. My last church was Metropolitan AME, and before that Eckington Presbyterian, so I figured I bring the posts back to the part of the Northwest Urban Renewal Area that later became Shaw.
Mt. Gilead still stands at 1625 13th St NW. According to their history website, their church building was bought at auction from Trinity Baptist Church in 1932. The church (people) itself was a mission group of about 75 people who started this church. As far as I can tell from their site, it is still an African American church.
Okay, not in Shaw, and I was thinking of another Metropolitan church, probably Baptist that used to be on R Street. Well since it’s in the 1957 Church Survey, may as well get this posting over with. I’m using the DC government’s PropertyQuest site to located existing churches and the 2004 photographs I don’t want to take.
Okay so Metropolitan AME is in the Downtown area is sandwiched, as you can see from the photo, between two office buildings. In 1957 the lot value was $74,448, now it’s $17,137,180.
Metropolitan in 1957 was a fairly large African American church with about 1200 members, of which only 450 showed up on any given Sunday. A huge chunk of the membership were professionals, white collar workers, and skilled labor. In the survey, they didn’t give any numbers for the geographic disbursement of their membership, but said a number lived in the Northwest Urban Renewal Area.
Yeah, this one isn’t in Shaw but it is Truxton Circle adjacent.
Eckington Presbyterian was an all white church that disbanded in the mid 1960s rather than integrate. It’s listed address of North Capitol and Florida Avenues don’t really help with figuring out where exactly the church sat. Thankfully the survey says it sat on Square 3516 on lots 116, 117 & 800. Unfortunately, those lots seem to no longer exist, so I’m going to say it is where the NY Pizza place stands. That’s my best guess.
In the survey it does not mention the racial make up but from other sources, it was a white church. It was also mainly white collar families who lived elsewhere in DC. Only 4% of the 290 members lived in the urban renewal area.