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100 Years Ago

Black History
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Mt. Vernon Baptist Church

The roots of the church began in the homes of two former Randolph slaves shortly after their settlement in the area in 1846; with the Roger Lee home on Hardin Pike and the Frank Brown residence located in the area of what is today the Shelby County Fairgrounds on Fair Road, alternating each Sunday as places of worship. Through the assistance of a circuit rider minister by the name of Samuel Jones, and the organizational skills of its founding members: Roger Lee, Frank Brown, Hannah Shelby, Sarah Shelby, and Carter Lee, the new church was born. 300dollarrewardannouncement.gif (7678 bytes)

Paul Cumberland was the first clerk and Mrs. Paul Cumberland and Mrs. Charles Dickerson were the first candidates for baptism. The first official building was built on a site that was set aside in Charles Starrett’s originalplat of Sidney for the purpose of religion, and was located on the corner of South and West Avenues on the current site of the Monarch Community Center.

Starrett’s plat set aside two such sites with one for the Presbyterians, and thesecond lot (location of former Armory) not designated. This second piece of land originally contained a cooper’s shop (in apparent contravention of the original town plat) that was remodeled to serve as a small Catholic church.  This house of worship was destroyed by a gunpowder blast that provoked a strong response from the City of Sidney in the form of a poster, printed by the Sidney Journal job office, that offered a $300 reward for information about the perpetrators. Hitchcock’s "History of Shelby County" records, "In 1855 this (church) was blown up with gunpowder and stone during the know-nothing excitement."

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The 'colored school' was located south and slightly east of the Mt. Vernon Baptist Church
and can be seen in this photo.   Picture courtesy of Jim Humphrey. 

The Know-Nothing political party’s (1852-1860) objective was to prevent immigrants and Roman Catholics from holding political office. They also opposed the Catholic Church. It was a secret organization that attained its name from the response of members, who, upon questioning about the party, responded, "I know nothing." In the mid-fifties it elected governors and legislatures in New York state and four other New England states, however its collapse and ultimate demise came when it refused, in the 1856 presidential election, to take a stand on slavery.

Following the destruction of the Catholic church, a new black church, The Mount Vernon Baptist Church, was erected on the site and remained there until 1912 (pictured above). The Catholic church ‘moved’ to the corner of Main Avenue and Water Street in 1858.

Hitchcock tells us that in 1913, "The Mount Vernon Baptist Church, African, is now in the process of building at the corner of Park and Linden Streets in the northwestern part of the city. The structure is built of cement at a cost of $3,000 and is modern in all of its appointments, making a splendid church home for its sixty-five members. The Rev. Hathcock [Haithcock] is the present pastor. The congregation worshipped for many years at the corner of South and West Avenues in a little frame church on property bequeathed by Charles Starrett. The town council bought the lot last year for $1,800 and it has been selected for the new armory (now the Monarch Community Center) to be built by the state this year of 1913. James Humphrey indicates that the council sessions to discuss the purchase of the property were actually held within the old church.

From its Park and Linden Streets location, the church, today, is active in the spiritual and secular lives of its congregation; supporting a Christian evangelism that is an integral part of Sidney and Shelby County. Its current pastor is Reverend J. A. Fleming.

'Black History' segment written in June, 1998 by David Lodge


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