Stepping into 130-year-old shoes doesn’t normally sound enticing, but it is for the Rev. Mike Taylor of Central Baptist Church.
The church on Main Street is celebrating its 130th anniversary Sunday, Jan. 26, and even though it’s Taylor’s first year leading the church, he has a deep appreciation for the building’s history.
The church first opened in 1891 as Chestnut Street Baptist Church, but changed both the name and location in the few years following, according to Helen Martin, Central Baptist Church historian.
This Sunday, the celebration service will start at 10:30 a.m. instead of the regular 11 a.m. service time.
Music has been an important part of the church’s history, so there will be congregational singing, a children’s choir, soloists and hymns. Bruce Fields, a representative from First Baptist, will also be singing and bringing special greetings from the mother church.
There will be a meal following the service, Taylor said.
“Afterwards we’re going to do a deluxe meal,” Taylor said. “When I say ‘deluxe,’ just say that we have 21 spiral-cut hams that are prepared and ready for service on Sunday, plus all the great cooks here at Central are going to bring their best dishes and dessert. It’s going to be a feast.”
In 1919, Scott Patterson, who was the Central Baptist pastor at the time, purchased the property on which the church now sits. The building itself was completed in 1932, according to Martin.
The tornado of ‘36 would blow through four years later, devastating huge areas of downtown and midtown Gainesville — except Central Baptist.
The church was located near the railroad depot, so doctors and nurses rode in from Atlanta and other cities to help, according to Martin.
“The primary sanctuary was used as an operating facility and the basement was used as a mortuary. 257 people died in the tornado and hundreds of people were injured and had to be taken care of there,” Martin said.
According to Taylor, some doctors actually did surgery on the altar, and they still have that piece of furniture upstairs in the history room.
The altar is just one of hundreds of artifacts Martin has acquired and organized on the second floor of the church.
“There’s just lots and lots of history that accrues in 130 years. They allowed me to use the upper floor in the Patterson building to have a little “mini-museum.” I grabbed every piece of furniture over the years that started out the door that had some kind of significance. The museum has hundreds and hundreds of pieces of historical memorabilia in it,” Martin said.
The mini-museum will be open to the public following service Sunday.