The Influence of Churches in Gainsboro

The Influence of Churches in Gainsboro (HM2N8J)

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N 37° 16.535', W 79° 56.382'

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In addition to religious activities, the churches in Northeast and Northwest were instrumental in providing community leadership, childhood education, and information on public and social issues. By 1900, there were nine black churches in the area, and many more would follow. Four of the earliest churches are still active in the community.
The Big Lick Colored Baptist Church was established in 1867, developing out of Bible study classes for black residents taught by Dr. Charles Cocke, founder of Hollins College. Later known as the First Baptist Church (Colored), the congregation bought a lot and built a new structure in 1898. The Roanoke Times reported that the new building "impresses the visitor as being the handsomest colored church in the city." One of the longest-serving ministers of the church was Reverend A.L. James. Pastor for over thirty years, James also served on the Library Committee, the Burrell Memorial Hospital Association board, and was Vice President of the Negro Organization Society of Virginia, an organization that promoted community self-improvement for African-Americans during the Jim Crow era. He founded, edited and published The Church News, the only black newspaper in Southwest Virginia at the time. In 1982, the church built a new sanctuary; the old church was listed on the National Register



of Historic Places until it was destroyed by fire in 1995.
St. Paul Methodist Church moved in the early 1880s to a church on the corner of Henry and High Streets, in a building that was once home to Greene Memorial Methodist Church (which had relocated to downtown). After 35 years on Henry Street, the church moved to its current location on Fifth Street, in the former St. James Methodist Episcopal Church. The entire congregation celebrated the move in a procession from the old church to their new one. Like many church ministers of the day, St. Paul's Reverend D. W. Harth served in many capacities, including as principal of the Gainsboro School and as a practicing attorney.
The original Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church (constructed in 1898) featured a stained-glass window dedicated to Confederate General Stonewall Jackson. The window was designed in 1906 by Reverend Lylburn Downing, the church pastor; it honors Jackson's legacy of teaching Sunday school to blacks, including Downing's parents, in Lexington, Virginia. When the original church burned in the 1950s, the congregation built a new church at the same location (Patton Avenue, which was formerly Fifth Avenue). The window was salvaged from the burned structure and is the centerpiece of the new sanctuary.
Reverend Downing served as the pastor of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church for over forty years,



until his death in 1937. He was a probation officer, supervisor of a home for delinquent youths, served on the Library Committee and was a member of various social organizations. For twenty years, he was the only black member of the Roanoke Republican Committee.
Park Street Baptist was established in 1892 by five members who met in a building on Park Street (now Fifth Street). Four years later, the congregation built a new structure at the corner of McDowell and Peach Road, and changed the name of the church to Hill Street Baptist. The church was remodeled and expanded in the mid-1900s, but was later demolished during urban renewal efforts of the 1970s. In 1980, the congregation built a new church in the neighborhood on Madison Avenue, where they continue to worship.
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HM NumberHM2N8J
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Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Friday, November 29th, 2019 at 1:01pm PST -08:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)17S E 594001 N 4125971
Decimal Degrees37.27558333, -79.93970000
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 37° 16.535', W 79° 56.382'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds37° 16' 32.1" N, 79° 56' 22.92" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Which side of the road?Marker is on the right when traveling West
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