After weathering the fifth flood in recent memory, restoration work to reopen the Historic First Baptist Church at 421 S. First St. is nearing completion.
The church and service building were filled with 3 feet of water during the late December 2015 flood, destroying carpet, drywall, heating and cooling, and most of the furniture and fixtures in the church and service building.
The recently renovated kitchen in the service building was completely destroyed.
The white frame structure that sets in the lower section of the city has flooded at least five times — in 2015, 2008, 1993, 1985 and 1982.
The building may have flooded in the great flood of 1915, but no records indicate how the congregation responded to that flood.
Under the direction of Deacon Loyed Pruitt, a host of volunteers removed flood debris from the two structures. Drywall up to 5 feet had to be replaced in the sanctuary, and all the drywall in the service building was damaged.
The sanctuary now has new drywall, thanks to Jim Doering, a retired science teacher who helped restore the structure after the 2008 flood. Doering has spent the past several weeks taping drywall and applying joint compound in preparation for painting.
When painting is completed, and a decision is made whether to replace the carpet or sand the wood floors that survived the floods in perfect condition, Pruitt will move a set of pews donated from First Christian Church into the sanctuary.
The church structure is 142 years old this year, one of the oldest church buildings in the city. Only the Pacific Presbyterian Church at Fourth and St. Louis streets, whose yellow brick facade covers an early stone church, is older.
The story of the Historic First Baptist Church, which covers a span of more than 150 years, reveals the history of the community’s black population that settled here at the close of the Civil War.
The cornerstone at the front of the white wood frame structure is dated 1864, which indicates that the black families were attending worship services on that spot before the end of the war on April 9, 1865.
Among the black families at the time was King William Adams, who would rear 15 children in Pacific, urging them to celebrate freedom, develop good language skills and have respect for work.
Adams saved enough from his earnings doing yard work to buy the lot at South First and West Pacific streets, where the black families were holding service, and deed it to the Historic First Baptist Church in 1874.
Adams, his son Jesse and grandson Udell would continue to support the church for the next 100 years.
After Udell Adams’ death, the church closed temporarily and the building served as a prayer chapel for area families.
In 2004, the Glass family, who were among the early church members, persuaded the Rev. Jim Perkins of Robertsville to become pastor of Historic First Baptist.
Under Pastor Perkins’ leadership, Historic First Baptist has become a more modern institution, developing a web page and offering ministerial classes.
On May 2, 2015, 10 people received certificates after completing the one-year Elite Ministerial Christian Training classes held at the church, including David Offord, Thomas Glass, Jr., Mitzi Glass, Gabrielle Moore, Sean Moore, Jacqueline Waller, Shavar Ingram, James Perkins, Dale Polmonari and Reginald Moore.
In the spring of 2015, the church hosted the fifth community Sunday Fellowship Service, that combined the congregations of four other historic black churches: Mount Calvary Baptist, Robertsville; Rose Hill Missionary Baptist, Villa Ridge; Robertsville Temple COGIC, Robertsville; and Pacific Temple COGIC, Pacific.
For Perkins, the church is the common denominator in African American life.
“To know the African American people, you need only to go to their church,” Perkins said. “Church is where the history is.”