After the church lay dormant for decades, volunteers brought the church back to life with donations from the community.

WEST BADEN SPRINGS, Ind. — A historic church in Indiana, once declared an endangered landmark, celebrated its rededication this weekend with a ribbon cutting, church services and tree planting ceremony.

“It is called the First Baptist (Colored) Church of West Baden Springs, Indiana. It’s the last and only structure left of the black community from the Jim Crow era,” Elizabeth Mitchell, a historian who helped with the project, told 13News. last year.

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The historically significant Little White Chapel represents the history of black people in West Baden Springs. After the church lay dormant for decades, volunteers brought the church back to life with donations from the community.

They spent the last few years restoring it and after a delay with the pandemic, they rededicated the building on Saturday.

The church is located in a community known for bringing back the treasures of Hoosier from the brink of destruction. Right across the highway from the church is the restored West Baden Springs Hotel.

At the turn of the 20th century, at the height of segregation, West Baden Hotel owner Lee Sinclair recruited black employees to the famed resort. They were well paid, had their own homes and helped provide excellent service in a luxury hotel. But outside of work, it was a dark time in our history. Black families were forced to have separate restaurants, hotels and churches, and there was no place of worship in West Baden.

At the time, West Baden Springs and French Lick were extremely competitive.

Sinclair did not want his workers to attend services at French Lick, just a mile away.

So he sold his workforce this land in West Baden Springs for a dollar to create a spiritual sanctuary.

“Lee Sinclair knew how important faith was to the black community,” Mitchell explained. “He wanted to make sure that his workers – the bell ringers, the maids – had a place to worship, and so the First Colored Baptist Church was built.”

It became a thriving center of religion and culture and was known for helping people in need, regardless of race.

But when the hotel refused, so did the community, which eventually dwindled to one member.

The church sat dormant for decades and was named one of Indiana’s most endangered landmarks.

That’s when a group of religious leaders from Bloomington decided to save him.

The Southeastern District Association of the Missionary Baptist Convention of Indiana bought the church from the city council for a dollar, promising to restore it to its former glory.

“It wasn’t just outsiders who saw the need, the community saw the need and they welcomed us here and they still do,” Mitchell said.

“The siding was falling apart. The animals, the dust, you could see the rafters where the fire was and it burned down,” said Dr. Bruce Rose, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Bloomington and chairman of the West Board. Church restoration project in Baden. “It was very much like, how can we get this back?”

They did it with the support of the community, donations and volunteers – mostly qualified retirees from Pastor Rose’s church.

Over the past four years, they have been dismantling the building, fixing bent walls, restoring floors, doors and windows.

They also kept the original pews, restored the original bell tower and kept a large piece of stained glass from a church in western Indiana.

“What am I most proud of? I love that ceiling! It’s absolutely gorgeous,” Pastor Rose said.

“And they (volunteers) faithfully came twice a week every Wednesday and Friday on their own time, with their own money, to rebuild this church,” Mitchell said. “I don’t think we’ve had anyone say ‘no’ or ‘can’t.’ Sometimes we came here and there was money at the door. Today when we arrived there was a note on the door saying “I will come and help paint and this man was from out of town”.

Now, after many years of work, the project is complete.

Mitchell sought out the descendants of the original congregation: educators, musicians and business owners from around the country. They were all invited to the rededication, the opportunity to participate in the first church service and celebrate the legacy of their ancestors.

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