First Baptist Church Narrative Description

Narrative description of building


First Baptist Church of Walnut Hills is an historically Black Church in the Walnut Hills neighborhood of Cincinnati. The congregation traces its roots before the Civil War; the current brick building was constructed by the Black congregation beginning in 1908, with a 500-seat sanctuary.

The church is situated on the southeast corner of Lincoln and Park Avenues. The front gabled façade faces west toward Park. The north elevation of the church facing Lincoln presents a longer single-story brick wall with six stained-glass windows. This original auditorium now forms the nave of the completed church. On the Lincoln Avenue side, the brick wall rests on a high rough ashlar broken-course stone foundation with several windows and a generous street level door opening into the undercroft. The original south wall included six stained-glass windows symmetrical with those facing Lincoln. Owing to the slope of the land, the stone foundation wall on the south was quite low and largely hidden by a home for aged colored women and other housing on Park.

A chancel added on the east end of the original building in 1926 is so sympathetic with the original design as to be hard to detect as an addition. It extended the original building with a new brick wall along Lincoln atop a stone foundation and added two stained glass windows on the north side facing Lincoln Avenue. The first of these opened into the enlarged sanctuary; the eastern-most window opened into a vestibule. The sanctuary expanded into the annex and provided a new rostrum, an organ and choir loft, and pastoral entrances to the loft from new offices below. The interior addition was blended with the original building as skillfully as the exterior. On the South side, a single added window bay provided symmetrical fenestration in the nave and sanctuary.

Expanded membership and especially educational programming during the Civil Rights era of the 1960s led the congregation to construct a new educational wing just north of the existing building in 1965. The modest, utilitarian brick structure is sited on a lower foundation and sized to allow full sun on the seven stained glass windows on the south side of the 1908/1926 sanctuary. Interior bridges connect the two buildings at the west and east corners of the south side of the unified 1908 and 1926 structure. The exterior and the sanctuary maintain the architectural integrity of the early twentieth-century building. The educational wing maintains the character of a straightforward classroom building and church offices, with a midcentury modern colored glass façade on the Park Avenue end.


1908 Building

In 1906, aggressive zoning enforcement forbad the use of the frame First Baptist building on Lincoln Avenue as a church.[1] Pastor Frank Green planned an ambitious building project in 1906 set to cost about $10,000. First Baptist Church hired (white) Cincinnati architect Harry Burbank to design a new, fire-resistant structure on the southeast corner of Lincoln and Park Avenues.[2] The area had been densely developed by 1880, so the size of the building was tightly constrained. The existing frame church building on Lincoln marked the east end of the new building site eighty-one feet from Park Avenue. (Figure 1) A house on the east side of Park was located close to its lot line just sixty feet south of Lincoln.[3] On this eighty-one by sixty-foot corner, Burbank sited a brick church on a stone foundation that measured seventy-five by fifty feet.[4]

Lincoln Avenue takes a jog to the south just west of Park.[5]  This peculiarity of the site means that the northeast corner of the building lot is prominently visible from the west. (Figure 2) Burbank’s design took advantage of the site and anchored his brick gothic design on the corner; early photographs of the church feature the northwest corner as the center of a perspective with vanishing points along the two streets. (Figures 3 and 4)[6]

The building adopted Gothic massing and architectural details. Following the dictates of the site as much as Christian tradition, the brick façade was oriented to the west, overlooking Park Avenue. (Figure 5) The asymmetrical design facing Park includes a square tower on the north corner (to the left) dominating the perspective view. It is the tallest architectural element. A symmetrical gabled central wall, set off by pilasters, presents a large gothic arch containing a stained-glass window with gothic tracery. The south corner, diminishing to the right, is slightly recessed behind the plane of the gable wall, as the tower protrudes from that plane. Symmetrical rectangular double doors topped with stone lintels are set in the northern tower and the southern façade wall.

The three visible corners of the tower are decorated with brick quoins. (Figures 5 and 6) At its base in the Park Avenue façade stand the double doors; around the corner facing Lincoln Avenue a large rectangular stained-glass window is placed symmetrically with the doors. Centered above both the door and the rectangular window, two stacked gothic arches contain a stained-glass window and above it a wood-louvered arch providing protection for a putative bell in the tower. (Indeed, on the east side of the tower above the pitched roof line of the auditorium, a third louvered arch completes the symmetry.) The brick tower soars above the ridgeline of the gable; at the top of the brickwork is a decorative fluted brick architrave – a quite fanciful structural element, but formally correct for the style of the building. (Seen most clearly in Figure 4) Above the brick detailing, a factory-made sheet metal, corbelled frieze and cornice decorate the tower. Above it all, the tower has a steep pyramidal roof, hinting at the traditional gothic steeple with a cross.[7] (Figure 3)

Apart from the double doors and the window at the base of the tower, all the openings in the original brick structure are gothic arches. The arches are decorated with stone keystones, spring lines and sills mimicking gothic stonework. Above the spring line a single course of bricks perpendicular to the radius of curvature acts as a voussoir, the structural element that carries the weight above following the circular segments from the keystone to the spring line. This brickwork is uncharacteristically unobtrusive.[8] The sills on the façade blend harmoniously with the stone lintels above the rectangular doors. (Figure 5)

The central gabled bay of the façade, defined by brick pilasters, encloses the back of the interior narthex. At the level of the narthex, the gable wall is pierced by the large brick gothic arch with the consistent stone keystone, spring lines and sill. The Y tracery in the window defines two full gothic arches within the lower part of the brick opening, in addition to the main arch in brick. The two peaks in the white tracery, the window frame at the top of the nesting arch, and the keystone in the brick arch echo the intersecting frieze boards at the ridge point of the gable.[9] The cast name plaque above the gothic arch adds visual interest to the gable wall and forms another triplet with the stone lintels above the doors. The slightly inclined repeated 1908 dates on the plaque present an amusing take on a cornerstone. (Figure 11)

The fluted brick detail, like an architrave, which we saw at the top of the tower continued beneath all the rooflines around the building, horizontal or pitched. (Figure 11 shows the detail under the pitched roof.) Apart from the tower with its vaguely crenelated cornice, simple white painted frieze boards sit above the brick fluting.

The south bay of the façade is slightly offset behind the gable end, as the gable end is recessed behind the protruding tower, creating another architectural triplet on the façade. Like the tower, the outside corner at the south end is decorated with brick quoins. (Figure 5) The second set of double doors pierces this plane, symmetrical with those in the tower. The doors together with the central window echo the three openings in a traditional gothic façade.

The original 1908 First Baptist building continued the same gothic brickwork as the facade onto the north and south elevations. (Figures 2 and 6) Fluted brick architraves and foundation sills combined with brick pilasters to define six bays with gothic-arched stained-glass windows in the recesses. As on the Park Avenue façade, the gothic arches in the north and south elevations are defined by stone keystones, spring lines and sills. The rectangular auditorium was oriented on the east-west axis, with the preacher inside the east wall, facing west.

The gothic massing of the 1908 building faltered at this point: the church enclosed only a traditional rectangular auditorium with a sloped theater floor facing east. We have found no photographs or plans, and only a few descriptions of the original east wall or of the interior arrangement of the east end of the 1908 church. There was a rostrum of some sort – it is plausible that the current rostrum over the Baptismal Pool survives from the original auditorium. We can assume that the wall included some method of egress. Fenestration, if any, would have opened onto the side of the old frame church which remained standing. The rectangular auditorium with large windows along both sides was a common feature especially of vernacular protestant churches in America from colonial times, so there is nothing remarkable in the plan.  First Baptist always had an active musical program; it is not clear what accommodations there may have been for the choir and piano in the early years.

Inside the Park Avenue facade, the doors at the base of the tower open into a vestibule protected on the north (Lincoln Avenue) side by the large rectangular stained-glass windows at the base of the tower. A second, more modest, vestibule stands behind the doors at the south end of the façade. Here again we get traditional gothic detailing. The south vestibule opens into a narthex at rear of the auditorium, illuminated by the large gothic-arch stained-glass window facing Park Avenue. Flanking the window, a square staircase leads down one floor to the undercroft and up one floor to a small loft at the peak of the large central window of the façade. (Figure 12) It is not clear how the loft was integrated into the worship experience in 1908. (Figure 13) The north end of the loft opens into a small but lovely room in the tower above the vestibule, now used for storage. (Figure 14) The mid-tower gothic windows flood the small space with light.

The 1908 First Baptist building incorporated variations on geometrical Tiffany-style stained-glass into all the window openings. The glass in the Park Avenue façade, as well as the matching rectangular window at the base of the Lincoln Avenue side of the tower, used dark or muted colors. (Figure 15) The triple Gothic arch under the gable featured more representational lilies centered in the abstract geometry of the lower pair of gothic arches. The peak of the third, nesting arch includes a crown and cross icon prominent in protestant decoration at the time.

The dozen original gothic arch windows in the sides of the auditorium used similar geometrical forms but embraced a bolder and more cheerful palette. (Figure 16 shows three of the windows, not proportionally spaced.) The rectangular bases of the windows did not display any representational art. Most included small commemorative panels, traditionally memorializing a person specified by the donor of the window. In all cases the pointed arches contained various stylized Christian icons (such as the cross and crown in the top of the arch in the façade), or ceremonial grapes or grain, or alpha and omega pages in an open book. These windows fall within the genre of nearby and near contemporary Walnut Hills protestant churches.[10]

There was one replacement window added to the sanctuary no later than 1921. The active Walnut Hills Educational Missionary Society presented a “missionary window” to the church – “the only church with a window of its kind in the US.” [11] The $56 window was a slight departure from the existing glass. The interior rectangle of the lower pane included a portrait in the “warm glass” style, painted onto a pane of colored glass and then fired. (Figure 18) It was located discreetly at the west end of the north (Lincoln Avenue) side of the auditorium, as far as possible from the rostrum. It has at least aged well.

Like so many lots in Walnut Hills, the corner of Lincoln and Park had a considerable slope, down toward Lincoln Avenue to the north and east. The brick building stood atop a stone foundation. Nearby, older buildings generally used simple field stone foundations, with thick mortar lines (often prone to cracking). While the First Baptist foundation is rough faced with broken courses, presenting a similar appearance to field stone, it is in fact ashlar: the bed and side faces of the blocks are tooled flat allowing tight fits, thin masonry lines and great strength and stability. (Photographs 2-6, 15, and 19)

The foundation under the south wall facing the Chapel-street end of the block, which was obscured by houses to the north on Park Avenue, would have been visually unobtrusive. On the Park Avenue façade below the gable, and especially on the north side facing Lincoln Avenue, the low-level stonework is prominent. Along Lincoln Avenue, each brick bay in the auditorium with its stained glass stood atop a window or full-size door in the stone foundation, topped with a stone lintel. (Figures 3 and 19) These opened into the undercroft. Visual documentation of the original interior undercroft is again lacking, but the slope of the site allowed a full story with generous clear windows below the level of the auditorium. It housed space for both offices and fellowship. (Thank God for church basements!)

Minor exterior modification c 1919

First Baptist Church grew in membership to fill its 1908 building, though paying the mortgage was a nearly fifteen-year struggle.[12] The traditional mortgage burning service did not come until 1921.[13] As soon as that burden was thrown off, Pastor Green sought to embellish and expand the house of worship. The first adjustment came in about 1919, when an architect named Schwartz added two external stairways leading up to porches on the Park Avenue facade. The north porch on the tower end wrapped around the corner facing Lincoln Avenue, with another stairway to the sidewalk on that side. These decorative embellishments maintained the stone foundation surmounted by a brick wall. (This was a happy victory for the architect over some in the congregation who preferred less costly poured concrete.) [14]

1926 Music Addition

Pastor Green had convinced his congregation to take on the original mortgage of $10,000 in 1908. With their donations the church finally paid it off in 1921. Within five years, he had them remortgage the building for the same amount to finance additional construction. This new building loan was one of two capital projects taken on simultaneously. The second, at an additional cost of $5,400, paid for an organ for the new space.[15] We might even see the new construction as much as a $15,000 music extension as an enlarged worship space. This was a considerable investment for even a prosperous Black congregation like First Baptist.

The construction loan required several months to negotiate in 1925. Details of the organ fund are less clear; the balance was repaid in only three years. The prompt settlement of the organ loan perhaps set back the repayment of the mortgage. The church was saddled with the debt throughout the Depression. Pastor Green’s second mortgage burning service was delayed until 1944; it was the last great accomplishment of his forty-year career at First Baptist.[16]

Financing aside, the most immediate problem in 1926 was the space available for the expansion. The old, condemned frame church on Lincoln Avenue behind the 1908 auditorium still stood; the condemnation was apparently for its use as a church and not of the wooden structure itself. The congregation still owned the building, but it had only about 22 feet of frontage on Lincoln Avenue. The east brick wall of the 1908 building stood nearly at the property line. Even more emphatically than in 1908, the 1926 expansion filled its lot. Given the loss of the old frame building, still suitable for some purposes, it is not clear that the net square feet of the plant increased at all. (Figure 20 shows the addition in a darker pink)

Architecturally the new construction did not so much enlarge as complete the gothic design of First Baptist. The new brickwork on the north and south matched the 1908 patterns exactly, including the faux brick architraves, foundation sills, and pilasters. The stone foundation along Lincoln Avenue continued the rough, artfully random ashlar face. The 1926 construction at the east end of the church added a transept with a north-south axis perpendicular to the rectangular auditorium. The footprint of the completed building became a T. (Figure 21. Figure 20 also shows the T.)

The north wall, facing Lincoln Avenue, bumped the gable out a few feet from the nave wall toward the street. This extended gable wall formed the traditional gothic transept. Especially when viewed and photographed from the northwest, the lower gable of this transept peeking out behind the corner tower lends a plausible gothic perspective on Lincoln.[17] The added transept extended the 1908 elevation east by two additional window bays. (Figures 2 and 22 show the transept from the northwest. Figure 21, from the northeast, adds additional perspective.)

In the densely built block around the church, the site dictated some asymmetries in the transept. The south elevation extended east a single window bay flush with the 1908 wall opening into the extended auditorium wall. This extension, hard up against a house on Park Avenue visible to the right in Figure 22, required a bit of architectural sleight-of-hand. The gable, which from the east appeared symmetrical with the Lincoln Avenue side, extended west only far enough to accommodate a small entryway that wrapped behind the home on Park. (The notch in the south transept gable is seen most clearly in Figure 24.) Steps down from the entry opened into a narrow, existing passageway between the church and the neighboring house.

In 1926 the new east wall, now clearly visible, sat cheek by jowl with a storefront next door. The stone foundation wall as it wrapped around the corner from Lincoln Avenue was built with cheaper fieldstone concealed by its neighbor. North of the wide central brick chimney, the obscured east brick wall had no exterior openings. South of the chimney two large and architecturally appropriate windows illuminate the vestibule added to the rear of the south elevation. Even in the stone foundation a large double window allows light into the room below – a new pastor’s study. (Figure 21)

The roof at the east end tied the 1908-1926 building together with an attractive, though not gothic, solution. The original ridgeline of the roof was extended just enough to accommodate a skylight; beyond that, the east end of the original gable roof was extended and transformed into a hipped roof. The new construction added gable walls facing north and south at the rear of the original church, with a lower ridgeline than the 1908 structure. The eave side of the transept gable roof blended into the hipped roof carried out from the east end of the original structure.  (Again, this is seen most clearly in drone Figures 24 and 25.)

The architect cleverly presented different interpretations of the transept from the interior and exterior elevations. The 1926 addition completed the worship space. It transformed the original rectangular auditorium into an architectural nave facing a now distinct chancel. (Figure 26) The interior east wall presented an imposing spectacle. Pride of place, at the center, went to the organ loft that pierced the plane of the wall with a large gothic arch. (Figure 27) The north arm of the transept and the void behind the gothic arch defining the loft suggested the cruciform interior of a classic Christian worship space. The organ’s high decorative pipes are bathed in the natural illumination of the skylight. The opening also becomes the peak of cascading architectural levels both in the plane of the east wall and thrust into the transept.

Along the axis of the transept, a rich wood choir wall featuring carved gothic arches protrudes from the wall. We might expect to find a baptismal pool behind this screen, but in First Baptist instead the primary feature is the organ console with space for a choir.  (Figure 28) In front of the choir wall, several steps below, there is a rostrum deep enough to accommodate the traditional full immersion baptismal pool, usually covered with a false floor in the rostrum. (Figure 29) This generous space, when covered, provides seating on ceremonial chairs not only for the preacher, but in good Black Baptist tradition for several additional ministers of the church. (Figures 26 and 27) They sit, without so much as a knee wall, facing the congregation. (Figure 30) Several more steps are required to descend to a smaller platform, and then one more step down to the floor of the transept. This floor in the crossing was left open, though movable chairs could be placed there, usually to be occupied by singers and musicians. The original auditorium space, now the nave, was filled with fixed pews in the round.

The interior elevation of the east wall similarly cascades down from the organ loft. (Figures 30 and 31) The large arch is flanked by twin gothic arches chamfered into the east wall. These arches contain pointed wooden doors. The cantilevered square corners above the doors are echoed in the square wooden corners of the choir wall, cascading like the thrust rostrum toward the transept floor. Near the outer ends of the east elevation wider gothic arches enclose wooden doors with panels separated by Y rails like the tracery in the window in the façade. The descending gothic doors present symmetrical triplets with the organ loft. The soaring height of the transept is achieved by the placement of the east interior wall at the ridgeline of the exterior gable wall.

The plaster ceiling of the worship space is architecturally unusual. It forms a segment of a barrel vault, interrupted only by the clear glass skylight as neatly flush with the vault as the exterior glass is fitted over the original east-west ridgeline of the auditorium. (Figure 31) It is not clear whether this whole vault, including the section over the original auditorium, was installed in 1926. The dormer ceiling above the narthex facing Park Avenue (west) suggests the 1908 building had a more conventional flat ceiling under the gable roof. (Figure 13) The clean barrel arch would have seemed quite modern, or even avant-garde in the mid-1920s.[18] The worship area seems spacious, simplifying but suggesting the more elaborate vaulting in traditional gothic stone.

Complicated volumes occupied the available space behind the east interior wall of the sanctuary. We have observed that the crossing stops at the peak of the exterior transept gable, where in a full-scale gothic church it would continue back to the eve wall. There are seven windows in the north and south interior walls of the nave. The eighth window on the north (Lincoln Avenue) elevation in true gothic tradition would also open into the rear of the transept. In First Baptist, the window instead opens into a small choir cloaking room behind the interior east wall. (Figure 33) The organ loft reaches back into what in a gothic cathedral would be the apse, but there is no exterior hint of an apse. Instead, the loft is nestled between separate rooms on the east end of the church, accessible through the doors leading from the transept floor.[19] On the north side the door opens into the room for the choir graced with the eighth window bay facing Lincoln Avenue. (Figures 33 and 34) The south door leads just to a vestibule opening into the new exit door in the truncated south transept.

The higher doors flanking the organ loft counterintuitively lead down stairways tucked below the hipped roof. The south door hides a U-shaped staircase that leads all the way down to the new pastor’s study beneath the south arm of the transept with its east-facing windows. The staircase provided quite an entrance for the pastor into the choir loft, seemingly from on high. (Figure 35) The symmetrical high north door provides a second hidden staircase, down into the architecturally busy and much trafficked choir robing room behind east interior wall. (Figure 34) Yet another U-shaped staircase like the pastor’s, down from the choir room, leads to the enlarged assembly hall in the undercroft.

1965 Education Wing

The brick gothic 1908-1926 building remains, essentially unchanged, to this day. The neighborhood, however, has changed considerably over the intervening century. Pastor Green was succeeded in the 1940s by Burrell E. Edmonson, another long-serving leader. In the 1960s the First Baptist Church, like many Black institutions in Walnut Hills, became more involved, and more radically involved, in the Civil Rights struggles of the African American community. In 1965, pastor Edmonson built a new Education Wing on the south side of the church. (Figures 35 and 24)

The wing replaced the house on Park Avenue immediately south of the church.[20] The new construction was a separate low, single-story building parallel to the lofty 1908-1926 structure. It is now the only other surviving building of any sort on the First Baptist Park Avenue block. In 1965, it crowded into the still dense fabric of the street. Sited and sized to allow sunlight to reach the south-facing windows in the unified 1908 structure, the modest addition actually opened up the street view of gothic elevation and significantly enhanced the interior light in the nave and crossing. (Figure 37) Clad in red brick, the low addition blended harmoniously with the original building. Enclosed brick-clad bridges connect the two buildings at their west and east corners. The narrow walkway between the original church and neighboring two-story house now provides a bit of protected outdoor storage space for the church. The low entrance into that space is most clearly shown in Figure 38.

The plan of the new building was a simple rectangle, with a hallway on the north side facing the original church. Transparent ripple glass windows provide natural light in the hall. Across the hall, doors open into rectangular rooms facing south. The south-facing windows have cement sills echoing those under the gothic arches in the main building. Fenestration is provided by aluminum framed three-pane horizontal windows extended up to the low eves. (Figure 37) An airy pastor’s study, with windows both south and east is at the corner. The study, a couple of meeting rooms, and restrooms had fixed walls. Between them, a large open room with four doors to the hallway, four south facing windows, and folding dividers could be configured as required to provide from one to four rooms of assorted sizes. (Figure 39)

The west gable of the education wing, facing Park Avenue next to the original façade, featured a mid-century modern rectangular wooden lattice with glass panes of many colors. (Figures 38 and 40) A street level pair of double doors in this lattice finally completed the traditional third entrance for the gothic façade. The gently tapered overhang in the 1965 addition shades the large glass area in the entrance, especially from the midday sun. The peaks of the pyramidal roof of the original tall square tower at the corner, the gothic gable peak, and the ridgeline of the education wing with its gentler pitch and lower elevation, form another triplet like the cascading interior design of the 1926 transept. The stained glass in the small gothic arch at middle height in the tower, the nested gothic window under the gable with its elaborate stained glass and tracery, and the low-slung colored glass panes of the 1965 addition broaden along the same descending path. (Figure 36)



Historical Narrative


Ohio, always a free state though subject to the Fugitive Slave Acts of 1789 and 1850, attracted a significant African American population by the 1820s including free-born, manumitted and self-emancipated individuals and families. Cincinnati, across the often-fordable Ohio River from the slave state of Kentucky, was a particularly common destination. The riverbanks with plentiful unskilled jobs loading and unloading steamboats and warehouses were the most common neighborhoods for both Black and Irish laborers. The city also had a small population of Black service workers and entrepreneurs who prospered. Black worshippers in Cincinnati generally did not feel welcome in white churches. From the 1820s they began organizing their own congregations. The two earliest and largest churches with Black preachers and congregations were an AME (African Methodist Episcopal) congregation later called Allen Temple, and the Union Baptist Church.[21]

Walnut Hills was among the first of the communities to develop on the hilltops overlooking the old city in the basin. In 1794, one of the (white) Cincinnati pioneers, the Presbyterian minister James Kemper, bought a tract of more than 180 acres. He called his bit of wooded land Walnut Hill. He was born into a prodigious family, many of whom joined him, and provided prolific offspring to clear and people his farm from the last years of the eighteenth century. Beginning around 1830 the Kemper family, at the urging of James’ son Elnathan, partly bequeathed and partly sold a hundred acres to the Lane Presbyterian Theological Seminary which remained on its original land grant for a hundred years. The (white) faculty, students, support personnel and their families and retainers increased the scope of the community that early on was little more than a frontier settlement on the outskirts of Cincinnati. The earliest African American residents of Walnut Hills worked as cooks and washerwomen serving the seminary communities by the 1840s.[22]

Antebellum African American residents of Walnut Hills included John I. Gaines, a successful grocer especially to Black steamboat stewards and cooks. Gaines bought a house on what is now Yale Avenue just east of Park Avenue as a sort of retreat from his residence and business downtown. Gaines’ nephew Peter Clark, later principal of the Colored High School downtown, lived for a time in his uncle’s house.[23] William H. Parham, son of a wealthy tobacco processor, had a house on Willow Street, now the northern block of Preston.[24] A less affluent downtown hotel cook with the wonderful name Dangerfield Earley also settled on Willow before the Civil War. It also seems that Dangerfield Earley had some sort of a school in his home for Black children in the neighborhood.[25]

Most of the Blacks in Walnut Hills belonged to one of the downtown churches, but it was quite a trek to the city basin. Sometime in the mid-1850s they began to convene Sunday prayer meetings in their homes. At least retrospectively these meetings were referred to as the First Church on Walnut Hills.[26] Accounts of the First Church cite Peter Harbeson as the leader of a group of members of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) denomination. Harbeson was a “Class Leader” at Allen Temple, the large AME church in the old Bucktown neighborhood near the Miami Canal between about Fourth and Ninth Streets. Dangerfield Earley was a devout member of Union Baptist; that downtown church rewarded his ardor with a license to preach. During the Civil War Dangerfield and his son Joe both served in the short-lived Cincinnati Black Brigade.[27]

After the Civil War, Walnut Hills began to attract well-to-do residents. Above of the stench of the city basin and blessed with breezes during the sweltering summer, they could enjoy the services already provided to the Seminary and to increasingly wealthy legions of Kempers. By the 1880s, most of these new residents were the families of wealthy white businessmen who could afford to commute downtown in private carriages. (They of course brought along servants and working-class entourages.)[28]

But the growing suburb also attracted Black families – it became an exclusive enclave for free and freed African Americans even earlier in the Reconstruction era. The wealthiest of these were Robert and Georgiana Gordon with their daughter, Virginia. Gordon had amassed a fortune in the competitive coal business. During the Civil War he sold his business and bought Union War Bonds; during Reconstruction he sold the bonds and bought, developed, rented out and sold real estate, mostly in Walnut Hills.[29] (It is worth noting that the white department store owner and hotelier Frederick Alms bought a house next door to the Gordons’ two decades later.)

Lane Seminary required only a small portion of its land for the campus. To generate income the trustees offered long-term, modestly priced land leases on plots around the campus, where the lessees could build homes. A hotbed of Antebellum abolitionist thought and activity, after the Civil War the institution self-consciously contracted with Black lessees.[30] Thus, the neighborhood for several blocks east of the Seminary on Gilbert Avenue was overwhelming Black by the time of the 1870 census and included many Black homeowners as well as renters.[31]

The Walnut Hills Black religious community likewise grew and diversified during the 1860s. Sources generally agree that Peter Clark, at the time a member of the AME church, organized the meetings in his (uncle’s) house, and that Dangerfield Earley led a Baptist contingent. Earley, with his preacher’s license, may have sermonized.  It is clear that the so-called First Church did not offer full religious services; if nothing else, the differences in communion practices required that the folk on Walnut Hills visit their denominational churches downtown to take the sacraments.[32]

In 1862, the AME members of the prayer meetings determined to establish their own church, which they called Brown Chapel. The Episcopal structure of the AME – organized from the top down – meant that the bishop promptly appointed a minister. Phillip Toliver was assigned to the pastorate in 1863 and built a frame church, probably near Chapel and Willow, with around 25 members. In 1867 Benjamin Arnett pastored the Chapel; he would go on to serve Allen Temple downtown, then as an Ohio states legislator, AME Bishop, and finally as president of Wilberforce College. (In the mid 1870s Brown Chapel would build a new brick sanctuary on Park Avenue just north of Chapel Street.)[33]

First Baptist History before 1908

After the AME members withdrew in 1863, about 16 worshippers remained in the prayer meeting. Baptists all, they decided to form their own denominational congregation. It took them some time to organize First Baptist. Dangerfield Early was licensed to preach, but actually forming a congregation recognized by the downtown churches required appropriate authorization. Examined by a committee of the Union and Zion Baptist Churches in the city basin, Earley was allowed to organize a board of deacons.[34] Worship services of the prayer group were held in a series of places, mostly homes. By 1874 the church met at the Earley residence on the west side of Willow Street (now Preston) just south of Chapel Street. There were about 75 members. (Brown Chapel AME, for comparison, had about 100 members at the same time.)[35]

Beginning in 1876, directories reported two Black Baptist churches in Walnut Hills. Dangerfield Earley continued to pastor the “Willow Street” church in his home. (Even after Dangerfield’s death in 1884 the family home on Willow Street continued to host services.)[36]  Deacon Alfred F. Darnell took the pulpit at what was fussily listed as the “First Baptist Church (Colored), Chestnut Street, Walnut Hills.”[37] Darnell’s congregation bought a lot on Chestnut (now Foraker) for $1,250, and the Black member Frank Reeder built the house of worship for $850, the cost of a moderate residential home. The sanctuary provided adequate space for the membership of about fifty.[38]

The 1890s proved turbulent for First Baptist. The congregation that had remained in the Earley home split with Darnell in 1892 to form a new Bethel Baptist Church which continued meeting in the house on Willow Street. Bethel announced ambitious plans for a new building, but during the financial panic of the 1890s they came to naught. [39] Darnell’s First Baptist hired a new pastor, the Rev. Richard D. Phillips, who took over the church on Chestnut Street in 1894. First Baptist’s own history lauds Phillips’ pastorate as harmonious and prosperous. He did organize a Baptist ministerial alliance, perhaps smoothing the waters in Walnut Hills ruffled by the disputes between Pastor Darnell and his rivals at Bethel Baptist.[40] The deacons under Rev. Phillips ran a tight moral ship, occasionally “withdrawing the right hand of fellowship” from members over drink, dancing, adultery, and illegitimate births. Most often the accused repented, and the deacons relented.[41]

Rev. Phillips resigned in 1901 in order to become the Baptist State Missionary, certainly a suitable move for a successful minister. His departure led to another rough patch for First Baptist. A few pastors passed through the pulpit, and a few more acted as supply. As the centenary history of the church observed, the period “ushered in a crisis for the church. Not only were they without a Shepherd, but without a House of Worship…. The Church Building had been condemned.”[42] The church was reduced to renting worship space in the former studio of the Italian sculptor Louis Rebisso.[43] After the sculptor’s death in 1899, the studio for a decade became a sort of community center in Black Walnut Hills. Owned by Rebisso’s (white) widow, it was in this space that the First Baptist Church found refuge.

First Baptist in its 1908 Building

In 1903 First Baptist hired a new minister away from a successful Black Baptist church in Indiana. Frank P. Green[44], in his mid-40s, an experienced and respected pastor, was hired on a year-by-year basis. Green first supervised the disassembly of the condemned church on Chestnut, saving the lumber to build a new frame building on the south side of Lincoln Avenue between Park Avenue and Elmwood Street (now Alms Place).[45] The church had some debt to clear, and in 1906 the rebuilt house of worship was again condemned, at least as a church. Green set about raising money, retained an architect, and obtained a mortgage of $10,000 to build the 1908 brick gothic church still standing at the corner of Lincoln and Park Avenues.[46] Green remained as a leader in the Black community in Walnut Hills until his death in 1944.

The large seat auditorium at First Baptist also became an important meeting place for African Americans in Walnut Hills and Cincinnati. An early notable event was the 1915 convention of the National Association of Teachers in Colored Schools (NATCS) held in the (new 1911) Frederick Douglass School in Walnut Hills. The school had a 350-seat auditorium; First Baptist could accommodate 500 visitors. Pastor Green’s church hosted the keynote address at First Baptist on July 30, 1915. The address was delivered by William Pickens of Marshall, Texas, who argued for the need of “impartial suffrage” to empower Black voices. [47] The principal of Sumner High School in St. Louis – where Peter Clark taught for about 20 years after he left Cincinnati – delivered the next address to the conference, also at First Baptist.[48]

The NATCS conference demonstrated the close connections between institutions in Black Walnut Hills. Despite occasional disagreements and jealousies, Douglass School and the churches generally cooperated, frequently hosting meetings and fundraisers for each other and for organizations like the nearby Colored Orphans’ Asylum. Indeed, the Colored Widows’ Home at 2918 Park Avenue was located just a few houses down Park from the First Baptist Church from 1895 through 1918. (In 1918, Horace Sudduth arranged the purchase of a modern apartment building for the purpose a few blocks east on Lincoln Avenue.)[49]

During Pastor Green’s tenure, many important African American businesspeople in Walnut Hills belonged to the Church. Lizzie Branch ran a business “renovating lace curtains” from her home at 2918 Monfort. Mrs. Branch also did significant business in real estate with Sudduth and made generous contributions to First Baptist. The breadth of her interests in the community is clear from the organizations she served. “She was instrumental in the locating and securing the Old Women’s Home, and the Women’s Federation Clubhouse. She is prominent in the Y. W. C. A., N. A. A. C. P., U. N. I. A., and every movement for racial uplift.”[50] Abraham Prossett, who owned a grocery store at 1035 Foraker, served the church as a trustee.[51] Irene Kirk, secretary – a corporate officer – of Horace Sudduth’s Industrial Savings and Loan and the first Black woman licensed as a notary in Ohio, lived in O’Bryonville and joined First Baptist. Even more than Lizzie Branch, she played a business role in many of Sudduth’s ventures, including his own real estate business, the investment vehicle Creative Realty, and the Walnut Hills Enterprise company. [52]

Many other individuals could be cited. In the mid-1920s, Wendell Dabney reported that Green had grown the church from about 300 members in 1903 (and that number might be an exaggeration) to a thousand. These numbers did not include some 500 members who had been dropped from the roles, mostly owing to death or moving over the decades.[53]

We can get a sense of the central role of the Church and its building in Walnut Hills by reviewing some of the meetings in the months of May and June in 1921.

  • On May 4, 1921, the Cincinnati NAACP called “A Big Mass Meeting” at First Baptist, with the blessing of Pastor Green. The fundraiser was part of a project of the Black “Ministers Meeting” and featured a song with lyrics written for the occasion called “Supplication,” set to the tune of “America” and performed at First Baptist. Thus, Pastor Green’s church dove into politics and Racial Equality.[54] The NAACP was headed by publisher Wendel Dabney, a militant integrationist. In addition to the announcement of the meeting, Dabney’s Union also ran a news article, “Many are joining,” on the same page.[55]
  • On May 13, the Black “Simon Commandery No. 1” of the Masonic Knights Templar, a so-called “secret society,” held its annual public “Ascension Day Services” at the church. Freemasonry remained a popular social gathering in the Black as well as the white community. As was common, the church gave the society a sufficient blessing to allow it to use the auditorium. First Baptist supported independent African American organizations.[56]
  • The church also supported the community’s young people. On June 18 First Baptist hosted “an evening with our graduates”[57] – a tradition that emulated the great Gaines Colored High School graduations in the nineteenth century.[58] The 1921 program featured the accomplishments of those students from the Walnut Hills neighborhood who finished at any of the city’s high schools. There were ten graduates in all. Miss Ruth Stevens played a piece on the piano. Ducella Glenn recited a poem called “Life’s Mirror” by the (white) poet Madeline Bridges. Marie Penn sang a solo – the family lived on Park Avenue and her father Irvine Garland Penn, an official in the Methodist Church, came to Cincinnati to head the Freeman’s Aid Society of that denomination.[59]
    DeHart Hubbard, who had just graduated from Walnut Hills High School, read his essay “What Athletics Means to a Boy.” Hubbard would go to Paris in 1924, where he was the first African American to win an individual gold medal in the Olympics, in his Walnut Hills specialty the broad jump. A member of Brown Chapel AME, Hubbard would remain tangentially connected to First Baptist for most of his life.[60]
    Pastor Green offered the invocation at the graduation ceremony, and St. Andrews Episcopal choir master Clinton Gibbs (a member of First Baptist) directed a quartette from his adult Queen City Glee Club who sang a selection from Verdi, and a more popular song by John Metcalf and Catherine Young Glenn. Pastor R. D. Phillips who had served at First Baptist in the 1890s, visiting from Columbus, offered the benediction.[61]
  • On June 25, 1921, Pastor Green offered a special afternoon service to celebrate the final payment on the 1908 loan for the building. Green’s predecessor Rev. Phillips preached the sermon from Corinthians 3, 9. (Green had preached on Colossians 3, 11 in the morning.) The First Baptist choir sang, a collection brought in $280.60, and Green ceremoniously burned the mortgage. The Black congregation owned its church free and clear.[62]

A Music Historical Interlude

The 1926 construction completed the Gothic church building, primarily to create a magnificent musical performance space. It is worthwhile to consider the Black musical climate in Walnut Hills during the earlier history of First Baptist Church to understand the context for its architectural significance. In the white musical world, there are repeated stories about the “discovery” of antebellum African American song. In fact, it was African Americans who introduced their own pentatonic and rhythmically complex music into European classical forms. There was always code switching in the community.

The most important vector for the new American music came through the Fisk Jubilee Singers, a small a cappella vocal ensemble from the Freedmen’s Bureau’s Fisk University beginning in 1871.[63] This choir set out to demonstrate the capabilities of southern Black students to master European classical music. On the road, in their loneliness and sorrow, the Jubilees consoled themselves with spirituals and plantation music from their own traditions, which they cast in the European harmonies they were performing on the tour. These almost accidental Spirituals, presented from the concert stage, took the world by storm. In addition to concerts on the East Coast, in Britain and the courts of Europe, the Jubilee Singers published their arrangements extremely successfully, and those have become canonical.

Another important Reconstruction Collection of Revival Hymns and Plantation Melodies was published by the Black Methodist minister Marshall Taylor in 1882.[64] The collection had Cincinnati and Walnut Hills connections. Taylor at the time was in Cincinnati at the Union Methodist Episcopal Church downtown when he published his more than 100 African American songs. While a distant second to the Jubilee arrangements, the Collection remained in print for more than twenty-five years and served as the main hymnal for many Black Methodist congregations. The book was a family project; the music was copied out for the printer by his nieces Amelia and Hettie Taylor. Both remained in Cincinnati after their uncle’s departure, both graduated from Peter Clark’s Gaines Colored High School in the West End, and both taught at Frederick Douglass School in Walnut Hills.[65]

In 1885, one of the original Fisk Jubilee Singers moved to Walnut Hills. Jenny Jackson[66] had married Cincinnati native Andrew J. DeHart, who would become principal of the Elm Street Colored School in Walnut Hills. (Under his leadership it would take the name Frederick Douglass School.) When First Baptist moved to Lincoln Avenue it became a near neighbor both to the school and to the DeHarts. The couple always lived within a block of the school, first on Chapel Street just east of Alms Place, and then on Park Avenue just south of Chapel. Jennie Jackson DeHart continued her touring concert career for some years. Increasingly, however, she sang around Walnut Hills and Cincinnati, and offered voice lessons and coached girls’ singing groups. Jenny Jackson DeHart lived until 1910.[67]

It was in this astonishing musical neighborhood that First Baptist Church emerged. From the beginning, the congregation embraced song in worship (not a given in a Baptist church) and used its music as a fundraising tool. The church’s own history states that Rev. Darnell organized a choir in 1883.[68] A July 1887 snippet in the (white) Cincinnati Commercial Gazette noted that the First Baptist choir was giving a concert for the new Black Avondale Baptist Church, including an entertainment on Willow Street offered by Mrs. Dangerfield Earley.[69] In 1888, the church offered a May festival over a period of several weeks.[70]

These musical strains came together with others introduced into Cincinnati during the first wave of the Great Migration of African Americans around the time of the First World War. The amalgam is perhaps best observed in a remarkable concert at Fredrick Douglass School’s 350-seat auditorium in 1915. Music Teacher Evermont Robinson, a 1911 graduate of Howard University in music, staged a fully Black, fully classical concert. The chorus consisted of an adult evening class Robinson conducted at the school. The featured work was “Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast,” based on the Longfellow poem and set to music by the Anglo-African composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. (A few years earlier Robinson had directed a 1000 voice chorus singing the piece in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.) The concert featured visiting tenor Rowland Hayes of Boston, one of the first Black concert singers to break into the national and international classical music scene. The composers on the program, in addition to the Anglo-African Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (and the token white Giuseppe Verdi), included African Americans Henry Thacker (“Harry”) Burleigh, J. Rosamond Johnson, and Will Marion Cook.[71]

First Baptist set out to build its 1926 music addition in this cultural context. A block north of the splendid 1911 Frederick Douglass School building, the church eclipsed the music facilities in the school. For decades both venues brought a wide variety of African American music to Walnut Hills.

The most important musician associated with first Baptist, Clinton Gibbs, was born in Kentucky 1892, but settled in Walnut Hills by 1900. As a child he would have attended Principal A. J. DeHart’s Frederick Douglass School. He may have been in an elementary classroom of Hettie Taylor. Perhaps he encountered Jubilee Singer Jennie Jackson DeHart in that community. After Douglass, in 1909 he went down the hill each evening to the East Night School in the old Woodward High School building where he graduated in 1913 at the age of 21. Clinton spent one year, 1914-1915, at the University of Cincinnati, studying education in the circle around the great Black educator Jennie Porter. The circumstances around his withdrawal from the university, and from the community of teachers, are lost.[72]

At about the same time, Gibbs moved with his family to 2817 Preston Street (previously called Willow), a few doors from the Earley home, and a block east of the Frederick Douglass School in the heart of Black Walnut Hills, and two blocks from First Baptist. He would live there for the rest of his life. The Gibbs family also belonged to First Baptist Church by that time.[73]

Clinton Gibbs found his way into another Black community around the African American Carmel Presbyterian Church downtown, a fascinating institution that touched on Walnut Hills.[74] The Presbytery had recognized Carmel around the turn of the century as a mission congregation but offered little support. The first public mention of Gibbs as a musician came in February 1915. The (white) First Presbyterian Church downtown presented a “Pan-Presbyterian Bazaar” with one evening set aside for African American music. Along with an impressive array of better-known talents, the “choir of the Carmel Church will render two choruses: pianist and conductor, Clinton Gibbs.”[75]

At the height of the progressive era, yet another institution appeared to support the African American community. A new building for Carmel Presbyterian was erected by the carpentry and construction classes of the McCall Colored Industrial School during its second year of operation in 1915.[76] It is not clear whether Gibbs first entered into the community around the Industrial School,or the Carmel congregation. Whatever the case may be, he served as choir director and piano accompanist at Carmel and became the director accompanist for the McCall Choral Club.

1919 was an eventful year for Clinton Gibbs. He started his own choir, called the Queen City Glee Club, which sang mostly in church settings, often for fundraising events. He moved as music director from Carmel Presbyterian to the larger and wealthier St. Andrew’s Episcopal, the sole African American parish in the primarily white diocese. There he worked with rector Edmund Oxley, a native of Trinidad educated in England.[77] Oxley came to the US for further study at both Howard and Harvard, before settling in Cincinnati in 1912. Around 1918 Oxley also recruited Black musician Artie Matthews from a church in Chicago. Both Matthews, first known as a ragtime piano composer and arranger, and Gibbs were serious students of European liturgical music.

In 1919 Clinton Gibbs directed one of his first public concerts at First Baptist in Walnut Hills, leading the McCall singers in a Christmas cantata.[78] The fact that the Negro Industrial School had a voluntary singing group capable of presenting the piece speaks volumes about the role of music in the community. It was a modern piece in classical European style, an ambitious undertaking for an amateur choir.

Several other concerts also occurred in the 1908 auditorium before the 1926 Music Annex was built. One brief news item in September 1923 noted “The men’s singing class of First Baptist Church, E. P. Good, leader, sang all day Sunday.”[79] With the high interest in music, and tremendous talent, it was a natural thing for the congregation to build its music wing.

First Baptist in its completed 1926 building

The enlarged 1926 building promptly brought First Baptist of Walnut Hills, and pastor F. P. Green, increased prestige. In October 1927, the General Association of Ohio Baptists chose First Baptist as its meeting place. The week-long conclave attracted a “large delegation of the leading divines of this and neighboring states”.[80] In February 1934, the Baptist Young People’s Union held a mass meeting at Pastor Green’s edifice.[81] In May of the same year the church hosted the Back-To-Sunday School Mass Meeting.[82]

The church’s 1926 addition fitted in with other developments in the near neighborhood. Perhaps the most relevant was the purchase of a mansion at 1010 Chapel Street by the Cincinnati Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs.[83] Many members of First Baptist also participated in local women’s clubs, and in the Federation. Each of the clubs, often based in churches, offered a social service to the community. The Club House was located just one block west of First Baptist.

Lincoln Avenue and Chapel Street east of Gilbert Avenue anchored a Black business district that included, in addition to Prossett’s grocery,[84] three generations of Thatcher’s Fish and Poultry beginning in 1933,[85] and drugstores owned over the years by Black pharmacists Archibald Dickerson (1908-1924), Anna Beckwith (1924-1929), and William Langston Manggrum (1935-53).[86] The immediate neighborhood sported everything from African American dressmakers and tailors to a florist and a photographer.[87] The church and its members were woven into the fabric of Walnut Hills.

First Baptist Church came into its own musically when Clinton Gibbs “came home” to assume the role of director and accompanist for the choir with the brilliant new organ and choir loft. Gibbs very quickly launched a tradition of presenting three annual cantatas at Christmas, Good Friday and, a few days later, Easter. [88] Gibbs also collaborated with Loretta Cessor Manggrum, director and accompanist at Brown Chapel AME and wife of the pharmacist, in neighborhood and city-wide concerts of the Classical choral repertoire. These classical concerts were by no means the only ones in the music wing of First Baptist Church. Mrs. Minnie McAdoo organized the first Gospel Chorus. A Gospel Union formed including First Baptist and other Black churches. Once a month the mass choir sang at one of the member churches. On those Sundays, the host church was filled to capacity.[89]

We may get some sense of Gibbs’ talent as a director and vocal teacher if we consider the career of one of his proteges. Estella Rowe, twenty years younger than the director, had a similar life-story.[90] Active in the musical life of the church, Estella Cavanaugh was born in Kentucky and grew up in Walnut Hills. She earned her diploma in 1933 from the East Night School. It was in the community that she became a musician. By the late 1940s Artie Matthews, principal of the Cosmopolitan School of Music, and Clinton Gibbs had her performing classical solos in the Black musical community.[91] Estella married and became Mrs. Rowe. In 1952 she became the first Black woman to sing in Music Hall in a pops concert for a primarily white audience.[92]

Estella Rowe was an anchor in First Baptist Church. She served as its secretary for over 40 years. She also served as the keeper of records for the annual Women’s Day Services at First Baptist during the 1950s and 1960s. She passed a book each year to the new organizing committee. It remains in the archives, with worship bulletins and photographs gradually changing over from black and white to color. In 1965, Mrs. Rowe herself was a co-chair of the Services. [93]

In another continuing thread in First Baptist’s history, Olympian DeHart Hubbard returned to Cincinnati after graduation from the University of Michigan.[94] A progressive reform city charter led to the creation of the Cincinnati Recreation Department in 1927. It was a modern Civil Service organization, with examinations to determine a list of qualified candidates. Hubbard’s University of Michigan education held him in good stead: he scored well on the exam and earned an appointment as the first supervisor of the Department of Colored Work.[95]

Three other departments served the white community: Athletics, Recreation, and Music, each with its own (white) supervisor. Hubbard ran all three functions for the Black community. It is not surprising that he developed a wildly successful athletic program. He also lobbied for more playgrounds and recreation areas, and organized activities especially for children.[96] Hubbard more surprisingly also provided the third leg of the Recreation stool: he initiated a Black music program. In this project, he reconnected with First Baptist Church.

Clinton Gibbs earned his position as music director at First Baptist about the same time as Hubbard took on his role at the recreation commission. Hubbard set up a series of Black adult community choirs sponsored by the Recreation Commission. In Walnut Hills he recruited Gibbs to lead a community chorus at the Frederick Douglass School. Archie Matthews of St. Andrew’s Episcopalian Church led the community chorus at Jenny Porter’s African American Stowe School downtown. Over the years additional choirs were added. Each choir rehearsed individually each week, but all worked on some of the same music, both classical and Spiritual.

Almost every year, all the Black choruses attended a few “mass” rehearsals, often under the baton of visiting conductors, mixing and balancing hundreds of voices. Often the Recreation Commission then provided concerts in large public venues, most often in Eden Park in Walnut Hills. These concerts eventually became known, even in the white community, as simply the “June Festival.”

The concerts had their roots in Department of Negro Recreation initiated by the Negro Civic Welfare Committee of Cincinnati’s Council of Social Agencies in the early 1920s. Douglass School music teacher Evermont Robinson collaborated with his brother James, also for a time a teacher at Frederick Douglass School and later the Executive Director of the Negro Civic Welfare Committee, in the creation of Black choirs and community orchestras. (James was quite a musician in his own right.[97])  Hubbard in fact moved the program into the Recreation Department, beginning in 1929.

Ironically, the Black music program in the Department of Colored work grew sufficiently successful that in July, 1938 the Recreation Commission’s Department of Music took it over. Despite its decade-long history in Hubbard’s department, and the preceding years of Black choirs and orchestras under the Negro Civic Welfare Committee, in 1939 it came the second annual June Festival of Recreation Commission’s (white) Department of Music. (Figure 41)[98] DeHart Hubbard, Clinton Gibbs, Artie Matthews, and Loretta Manggrum continued to rehearse community choirs in Black churches, schools and community centers for many months each year; Hubbard even recruited the great Black athlete, activist and singer Paul Robeson to sing with the Black mass chorus in 1940.[99]

The special musical role emerged in the context of a church otherwise fully engaged in weekly worship, Christian Education, men’s and women’s groups, and youth programming in a heathy, thriving church.

First Baptist in its 1965 Education Wing

First Baptist Church, a conventional Black Church in stable, middle class Black Walnut Hills, nonetheless stepped into a more outspoken role in the Civil Rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s.[100] In 1965, the congregation, under Rev. Edmondson’s leadership, purchased new property on Park Avenue, adjacent to the church, for the purpose of building their “Educational Building.”[101] The church continued its support for and leadership in the neighborhood. Yet the neighborhood was changing. The church hosted an appreciation service for Black city council member Myron Bush just a few months after the opening of the new wing. Bush worked comfortably with the white power structure in the city, but he had pursued Civil Rights during his many years as an attorney. As a council member he served the needs of his Black constituents, especially in assuring that Civil Service jobs in the city were available to the community – even before official affirmative action programs were introduced.

Also in 1965, Mrs. Mary Bowman became supervisor of the children’s band. With Mrs. Bowman in charge, the group began visiting area nursing homes where they would take meals to the sick, share the gospel in song, and attend annual retreats. In an oral history interview with Mrs. Mary Bowman and her daughter, Crystal North, they shared memories of her time as the church’s youth choir director.[102] During Mrs. Bowman’s tenure, the church had robust programs for both youth and adults that expanded over the years – and Rev. Edmondson found ways to accommodate the church’s growth. Crystal had fond memories of Rev. Edmondson and how the church flourished under his leadership. She also recalled that before the educational wing was built, there were homes next door that were owned by the church where members, trustees, and clergy could stay when they needed a place to rent. Once the church expanded, youth programs were no longer confined to the basement. Instead, the expansion provided classrooms for middle school-aged kids.

A few years later, the neighborhood and the Church faced civil unrest, especially during the riots of 1967 and 1968. The tremendous destruction and disinvestment from the disturbances were only a part of the stresses placed on the community. Major transportation projects in the 1970s and 80s, especially the construction of I71 and of Martin Luther King Drive, tore through Walnut Hills. The five-lane MLK project condemned the entire block north of First Baptist, at once sundering the previously walkable neighborhood and taking hundreds of Black-owned homes.

The focus of the church’s teachings departed sharply from the practice of a century earlier of concentrating on sin, especially in matters of personal morality. In 1984, the church’s Women’s Day Committee sponsored a free workshop called, “Getting the Facts” — a seminar on topics ranging from “Reducing Your Utility Bills” and “Stress Management” to “Assault and Rape Prevention”.[103] According to the Cincinnati Herald, around 1991, the church’s Youth Ministry Team also held special training workshops.[104] But these renewed activities push the boundaries of our period of significance.



Architectural context


First Baptist Church is the best-preserved brick gothic revival church in Walnut Hills dating from the period of its construction, 1908-1926. The sanctuary and fellowship space are still owned and used by an active congregation with deep roots in the neighborhood. It is an architectural gem, consonant with ecclesiastical, commercial, and residential styles and details. First Baptist, including its additions, has helped to set the style for Black ecclesiastic architecture in its neighborhood.


First Baptist Church at Park and Lincoln Avenues fits into a rich architectural context in Walnut Hills. A few antebellum buildings remain in the neighborhood. The hilltop population boomed in the Reconstruction years, and especially after the introduction of the Mt. Adams incline and the Gilbert Avenue cable car in the 1880s. Significant residential and commercial structures have survived from this period. Walnut Hills remained a vibrant, modern neighborhood at least through the 1970s. Art deco limestone structures appear among great brick and stone Victorian piles; sleek smoked glass midcentury modern low-rise office buildings (mostly now repurposed) stand in the shadows of Italianate Streetcar apartments. The neighborhood is still well churched despite the closure of many congregations.

The most striking example of Gothic Revival ecclesiastical architecture is the large stone St. Francis DeSales Catholic Church on the northeast corner of Madison Road and Woodburn Avenue. The building dates from 1887. (Figure 23) The south-facing façade on Madison presents classic high gothic features – two square corner towers flank a soaring gabled wall with a high rose stained-glass window. Only the tower on the corner sprouted a belfry and steeple rising higher than the gable. At ground level, steps lead to three sets of double doors that adorn the three sections, each enclosed in nested stone gothic arches. The west elevation on Woodburn uses buttresses to define soaring window bays in the aisles; a transept kicks out toward the avenue; north of the transept the choir extends to a proper semicircular apse. The neighborhood might use this as a Gothic reference specimen. All the details described at First Baptist, and more, are available in a larger scale at St. Francis.

The Catholic Church of the Assumption on the east side of Gilbert Avenue between Taft Road and Yale Avenue, built at about the same time as St Francis, presents a more eclectic take on a gothic façade. (Figure 42) The interior structure is not as high gothic as the stone pillars supporting the aisle arches at St. Francis; Assumption (like the First Baptist auditorium) is roofed in a single span.[105] The Catholic parish no longer exists, but the building still stands awaiting redevelopment for another purpose.

Several (white) protestant churches offer similarly gothic exemplars. Most traditional is the former Walnut Hills Methodist Church on the south side of McMillan Street at Ashland Avenue, built in brick during the 1880s. (Figure 8) It provided an exemplar in the same material as First Baptist, symmetrical except for an unbalanced steeple and pyramidal roof topping the two square towers. The Methodists were blessed with a large gothic arch in the central gabled wall including four smaller tracery gothic arch windows surmounted by three roundels. The placement of the gothic arch above the entry doors reflects the location of the sanctuary a floor above the entry doors as much as to gothic tradition. The white Bedford Stone accents presaged the stonework at First Baptist. It offered an architectural reference for Victorian Brick Gothic design the way St. Francis did in stone. This reference photograph is purely historical; for the past century the Methodist has been clad in (excellent) faux stone.[106] (Figure 43)

The (white) Episcopal Church of the Advent at Kemper and Cross Lanes has many gothic elements at a smaller scale, more like an English country church than a cathedral. The original square stone tower was eventually elevated and castellated. (Figure 44) Advent features both pillared aisles like St. Francis and an open timber roof like Assumption. (Figure 45) The congregation dates from 1855, about the same as the “First Church” in the Black community. Even more than First Baptist, Advent grew in many stages from the first stone auditorium in the 1870s through many nineteenth- and twentieth-century additions, spilling over into the lot to the east and taking the house located there.

Beyond these grand showplaces, the neighborhood was and is home to many more modest houses of worship. A more obvious comparison to First Baptist might be the former (white) Walnut Hills Evangelical Lutheran Church at the southeast corner of what is now Taft Road and Stanton Avenue. (Figure 46) Constructed of stone in about 1890, it is much closer in size and design to the later First Baptist.[107] The massing and details including pointed arches for most openings follow Gothic patterns; the treatment of the voussoirs above the arches, sometimes in the limestone of the walls and others in different stone, is unusual. The stained glass preceded the similar style of First Baptist, up to the iconic Christian images in the points of the gothic arches. Indeed, the congregation in the building is now the (Black) Calvary Baptist Church, which relocated from its original downtown location to Walnut Hills. An unbuilt drawing of a proposed Black Bethel Baptist Church from 1894 (Figure 47) bears a striking similarity to Walnut Hills Lutheran.

The most obvious, and closest, comparison church to First Baptist is Bethel Baptist on Alms Place between Yale and Myrtle. We have seen that Bethel was planned during the same wave of condemnations of Black frame churches as First Baptist, and that it too was completed, behind schedule, in 1908. (Figure 10) Bethel has been radically altered, and at first glance it appears architecturally unrelated to First Baptist. Nonetheless, the historical photos show that the two were cut from the same cloth. First Baptist was both the larger and the more elaborate of the two. Its plan was fifty by seventy-five feet; Bethel’s was forty by sixty-five.[108] First Baptist also had higher eves; in Bethel the stained-glass windows in the original auditorium are rectangular; there is no room for arches above. Moreover, while in proper gothic fashion Bethel had a square tower on the southeast corner, that tower was of frame construction, not built to last.

Expansion at Bethel removed the square tower and added a series of more modern, and more boldly modern, exterior architectural styles. (Figure 48) Some have aged more gracefully than others. While the original gothic exterior is completely lost, the character of the nave nonetheless maintains the same early twentieth century ambiance as First Baptist. (Figure 49) The original windows at Bethel ring similar changes on geometrical patterns to those at First Baptist and share the same character. (Figure 17)

The most important architectural landmark in Black Walnut Hills built around the time of First Baptist was the 1911 Frederick Douglass School. (Figure 50) Built on the site of the 1870 Elm Street Colored School, Douglass was a reinforced concrete structure clad in brick, stucco, and terracotta. The school, officially segregated from its Reconstruction beginnings through the mid-1950s (and de facto, in yet another building, to the present day), became a community center. We have seen that its 350-seat auditorium was sometimes used in concert with First Baptist’s even larger space for meetings. The lovely landmark of Douglass fell to the wrecking ball in 1980 during a short-lived attempt to integrate the school by eliminating its great historical Blackness.

There are three architectural details common to First Baptist and several other buildings in the immediate neighborhood. The first is an elaborate split staircase.[109] We have seen that First Baptist added complicated staircases and porches in about 1920, some years after Douglass was built. Such porches had both gothic ecclesiastical precedents, and more immediate use in the 1911 Frederick Douglass School a block to the south (Figure 50) and the 1895 Walnut Hills High School building at Ashland and Burdette just a few blocks further from First Baptist. (Figure 51) The similarity is especially striking when we compare photos of a Black teachers’ convention on the Douglass steps and courtyard in the 1910s (Figure 52), or a class picture at Walnut Hills High School in the late 1910s (Figure 53) with a photo of the First Baptist congregation (Figure 54), arranged similarly on the sidewalks, steps and porches in 1931.

Even later in the century, the use of split staircases as a formal entrance continued. When the original First Baptist building went up, Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) had its own brick building just down the block on Park. In the late 1920’s, the AME congregation determined to build a new facility. They purchased a lot across Alms Place from Frederick Douglass School and first dug out a basement in 1930. The congregation retained the Black architect Edward Birch who designed a modern building finally completed in 1951. The new Brown Chapel was a clean, spare, flat-roofed, yellow brick collection of rectangular boxes descending from a tall narrow column supporting a prominent metal cross to a shorter square tower with double doors opening into a vestibule to the shorter rectangular auditorium with a much larger footprint. (Figure 55) Still, in keeping with the surrounding architecture, Birch thrust a porch with a stairway at a right angle, an ornament common to the nearby schools and to First Baptist; the requisite crowded picture of congregants on the steps was published. (Figure 56)

We have seen how the Educational Wing at First Baptist featured a mid-century modern rectangular wooden lattice with glass panes of many colors, under a slanted eave. (Figures 37) This second architectural feature was also incorporated into other neighborhood churches. When Brown Chapel installed new windows in the 1980s, replacing the aluminum-framed clear glass of 1951, they chose thick glass windows with flush cement (or resin) separators rather than traditional metal framing – so-called Dalle de verre stained glass, developed in Europe in the 1930s and popularized there in the 1960s. The work in Brown Chapel is stunning. (Figure 57)

New church construction continued in Black religious communities in Walnut Hills. Corinthian Baptist in Avondale – originally First Baptist of Avondale – was founded and originally constructed around the same time as First Baptist of Walnut Hills. A new building was raised in 1964, around the same time as the First Baptist educational wing.  Corinthian adopted strikingly similar colored glass in a vertical lattice with a large cross tucked under the eaves (Figure 58). About the same time, the Metropolitan Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) church on Melrose Avenue between Oak Street and Lincoln Avenue built a new and decidedly modern facility, also featuring a central (clear) floor-to-ceiling glass section with an even more extremely tapered overhang than the First Baptist educational wing. (Figure 59) The even more recent, and more rakishly modern James Temple Church of God in Christ, just across Lincoln Avenue from First Baptist, outdoes the tapered overhangs of the 1960s, with a narrow, horizontally tapered Dalle de verre window folded under an acutely angled frieze board corner. (Figure 60) The architectural progression continued in Black-built churches.


A third detail shared by First Baptist and the 1911 Frederick Douglass School were square towers with pyramidal roofs. This architectural icon crops up all over the neighborhood. The 1895 Hauck building on the southwest corner of McMillan Street and Kemper Lane is the most massive surviving example, replete with full Romanesque decoration in light stone. (Figure 61) Two substantial stone Presbyterian churches (both white) were also constructed in the 1880s. The First Presbyterian of Walnut Hills on the northwest corner of Gilbert Avenue and Taft Road (Figure 62) and Seventh Presbyterian (of Cincinnati) on the southeast corner of Madison Road and Cleinview Avenue (Figure 63) leave only their lofty square bell towers. Only the Seventh retains its pyramidal roof.

A quarter-century before the Hauck Building, and much closer to First Baptist, the DeVote grocery building from the 1860s was adorned with a square tower with a pyramidal roof thrust up from a corner of the completely secular structure. That building on the northeast corner of Chapel Street and Alms Place fully entered the Black community in the early 1920s when Horace Sudduth’s Creative Realty investment vehicle bought it and rented the Chapel Street storefront successively to the Black pharmacists Archibald Dickerson and Anna Beckwith. (Both the drugstore and the building were renamed Peerless.) (Figure 64)

Like Bethel Baptist, Brown Chapel AME has been radically altered since its initial construction. (Figure 57. Compare Figure 55) Most striking to me is the change in the massing. It is almost as though First Baptist had become the model for a conventional Black church in the neighborhood. Brown’s original flat roof gave way to a tripartite gabled façade. The AME church sprouted a square tower with a pyramidal roof; the massive cross of 1951 was removed in favor of a very small one in the place of the First Baptist lightening rod.

With this remodel, Brown Chapel took its place in a row of square towers lined up on Alms place. Two blocks to the north is the DeVote (Peerless) building. (Figure 65) Two blocks north of that, on Lincoln Avenue, is a nineteenth century apartment building over a retail storefront – with a prominent square tower cantilevered diagonally from the red brick building with its white stone trim. (Figure 66 and 67) A block east of that, we complete the circuit to First Baptist. (Figure 68)




Books and Journal Articles


“Walter Alexander Scarborough,” Walker Funeral Homes, March 19, 2023,

Adina E. White, “’Looking Backward’ through the spectacles of Jennie Jackson DeHart,” in Monroe A. Majors, ed. Noted Negro women: their triumphs and activities (Chicago: Donohue & Henneberry. 1893).

Andrea Gutmann Fuentes on behalf of Ohio History Service Corps, Sue Plummer, and Program Manager Ohio History Service Corps. “Cincinnati Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs.” Clio: Your Guide to History, March 19, 2023.

Arnett, Benjamin W., Proceedings of the Semi-Centenary Celebration of Allen Temple (Cincinnati, 1874).

Beecher, Charles (ed.), “Anti-Slavery Imbroglio,” in Autobiography, Correspondence, &c., of Lyman Beecher (New York: Harper, 1864), v. 2, Chapter 34.

Clark, Peter, The Black Brigade of Cincinnati: being a report of its labors and a muster-roll of its members (Jos. B. Boyd, Cincinnati, 1864).

Dabney, Wendell, Cincinnati’s Colored Citizens (Dabney Publishing Company, 1926).

Dawson, James W., Picturesque Cincinnati (John Shillito Company, 1883).

Graphic Press, Cincinnati and suburbs: the graphic blue book and family directory, 1886-7 (Graphic Press, Cincinnati 1867).

Harrison, Joanne K. and Grant Harrison, The Life and Times of Irvine Garland Penn (Xlibris US, 2000).

Hill, Cissie Dore, Walnut Hills: City Neighborhood (The Cincinnati Historical Society No. 3, 1983).

Kemper, Willis Miller and Henry Linn White, Genealogy of the Kemper family in the United States (Chicago, 1899).

Kornbluh, Andrea Tuttle, “James Hathaway Robinson and the origins of professional social work in the Black community,” in Race and the City: Race, Community and Protest in Cincinnati, 1820-1970, ed. Henry Louis Taylor Jr. (University of Illinois Press, 1993.)

Kornbluh, Andrea Tuttle,“Municipal Harmony: Cultural Pluralism, Public Recreation, and Race Relations,” Chapter 3, in Historical Roots of the Urban Crisis; African Americans in the Industrial City 1900-1950, ed. Henry Louis Taylor Jr. and Walter Hill (Garland, 2000).

Kraemer, Albert Otto, Kraemer’s Picturesque Cincinnati (A. O and G. A. Kraemer, Cincinnati, 1898)


Maxwell, Sidney, “Walnut Hills” and “Woodburn” in The suburbs of Cincinnati : sketches, historical and descriptive (Cincinnati, 1870), pp. 133-155,  and pp. 156-166.

Monfort, Joseph Glass, First Presbyterian Church on Walnut Hills, 1819-1888 (Cincinnati, 1888).

Monfort, Joseph Glass, Presbyterianism north of the Ohio River from 1790 to 1822 (Cincinnati, 1872).

Neely, Ruth, Women of Ohio; A Record of their Achievements in the History of the State (S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, Springfield, IL, 1937) .

Roncker, Bob, “Before Jesse Owens There Was DeHart Hubbard,” History of 20th Century Running in Greater Cincinnati, March 17, 2023,

  1. B. Nelson and Co., History of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, Ohio (Cincinnati, 1894).

Shotwell, John Brough, A History of the Schools of Cincinnati (The School Life Company, Cincinnati, 1902).

Simmons, William J., “Rev Marshall Taylor, D. D.,” Men of Mark: Eminent, Progressive and Rising (Cleveland, 1887).

Sutton, Geoffrey, “Archibald Dickerson and the Walnut Hills Pharmacy, 1919-1924,“ Walnut Hills Stories, March 19, 2023,

Sutton, Geoffrey, “Douglass School, High Culture, and American Performing Art,” Walnut Hills Stories, March 19, 2023,

Sutton, Geoffrey, “Horace Sudduth and Women’s Institutions,” Walnut Hills Stories, March 19, 2023, .

Sutton, Geoffrey, “Jennie Jackson DeHart and the Fisk Jubilee Singers,” Walnut Hills Stories, March 19, 2023, .

Sutton, Geoffrey, “Lincoln Avenue Sculptor: Louis Rebisso,” Walnut Hills Stories, March 19, 2023, ,

Sutton, Geoffrey, “Louis Rebisso and the Modeling Arts in Walnut Hills,” Walnut Hills Stories, March 19, 2023,

Sutton, Geoffrey, “Louis Rebisso and Very Large Men on Even Larger Horses” Walnut Hills Stories, March 19, 2023,

Sutton, Geoffrey, “Robert Gordon, businessman,” Walnut Hills Stories, March 19, 2023,

Sutton, Geoffrey, “Robert Gordon: How History lost his Community,” Walnut Hills Stories, March 19, 2023,

Sutton, Geoffrey, “Thatcher’s Fish and Poultry,” Walnut Hills Stories, March 19, 2023,

Sutton, Geoffrey, ”Lincoln Avenue in the 1870’s and 1880’s,” Walnut Hills Stories, March 19, 2023,

Taylor, Marshall, W., D. D., Plantation Melodies: A Collection of Revival Hymns and Plantation Melodie D.D. Musical composition by Miss Josephine Robinson. Copied by Miss Amelia C. and Hettie G. Taylor. (Cincinnati, 1882).

Taylor, Nikki, Frontiers of Freedom: Cincinnati’s Black Community 1802–1868 (Ohio University Press, 2005).

Tenkotte, Paul A. and J. C. Claypool , “Clinton Gibbs,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, March 19, 2023,

Tjepkema, Thea, “Estella Rowe & Wade Mann: First Local Black Soloists with the CSO,” Friends of Music Hall, March 17, 2023,

Walnut HiIls High School, Remembrancer (Cincinnati, 1919).

Williams Directory Company, Williams Cincinnati Directory (Williams Directory Company, various years from 1850 to 1950).

Williams George W., History of the Negro Race in America from 1619 to 1880 (Putnam’s Sons, 1882).

Woodson, Carter G., “Robert Gordon a Successful Business Man,” The Negro History Bulletin, v. 1 n. 2, November 1937, pp. 1-3.

Woodson, Carter G., “The Negroes of Cincinnati prior to the Civil War,” Journal of Negro History, v. 1 n. 1, 1916, pp 1-22.

Writers Program of the Works Projects Administration in the State of Ohio, Cincinnati; A Guide to the Queen City and its Neighbors (Cincinnati, Wiesen-Hart Press [c1943]).



Government Documents

Annual Report of the Board of Trustees for the Colored Public Schools of Cincinnati [1855-1871/72], (Board of Education), Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library, Genealogy and Local History Department


The Annual Reports of the Common Schools of Cincinnati (Board of Education), Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library, Genealogy and Local History Department



Archival Materials

Fink, Lauren, “The Nelson and Florence Hoffman Cincinnati Postcard Collection” (University of Cincinnati, Digital Collections and Repositories at UC Libraries),

Insider account of the history of Bethel Baptist Church can be found at

The First Baptist Church of Walnut Hills has an extensive set of records dating to the late 19th century. Among these are:

  • Trustee Minutes
  • Obituaries
  • Church Bulletins
  • Scrap books with pictures, newspaper and magazine clippings, and private notes
  • Letters to and from church officials
  • Membership records
  • Women’s Day Celebration pamphlets
  • Anniversary Celebration pamphlets, many narrating the church’s history

These documents have been cataloged at .

Historical Newspapers and Magazines


Chicago Defender

Cincinnati Commercial Gazette

Cincinnati Commercial Tribune

Cincinnati Enquirer

Cincinnati Herald

Cleveland Gazette

Graphic (Cincinnati)

Labor Advocate (Cincinnati)

Post (Cincinnati)

The Appeal (Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN)

The Crisis (NAACP)

The Union (Cincinnati)

Times Star (Cincinnati)




Elisha Robinson, Atlas of the city of Cincinnati (1884). Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library, Maps and Atlases.

Sanborn Map Company, Real Estate Atlas of Cincinnati, Ohio. Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library, Maps and Atlases.


Sanborn Map Company, Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Cincinnati, Ohio (1904, revised through 1930). Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library, Maps and Atlases.


Sanborn Map Company, Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Cincinnati, Ohio (1904). Library of Congress, Sanborn Maps.




Oral History:


Mary Bowman Oral History, conducted by Deqah Hussein-Wetzel, November 2022.


Trade publications:


Cement World, v. 2, n. 12, March 1909

Concrete, v. 9, 1909


[1] It is interesting to note that the rival Bethel Baptist Church, which worshipped in a frame structure on Preston Avenue, saw its building condemned at the same time, and hired a different (white) architect to design a brick edifice on Alms Place between Myrtle and Yale Avenues, like the brick First Baptist. It is also noteworthy that the (white) Episcopal Church of the Epiphany, a frame structure at the northeast corner of Stanton Avenue and Locust Street (now William Howard Taft Road), suffered no condemnation and stands to this day with a different use.

[2] “Real Estate,” Cincinnati Enquirer. 29 July 1906, p. 10. “Makes Offer for Old Church Site,” Cincinnati Commercial Tribune Newspaper, July 12, 1906, p.9.

[3] The lot measurements come from Elisha Robinson, Atlas of the city of Cincinnati (1884) (Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library, Maps and Atlases) plate 18, and Sanborn Map Company, Real Estate Atlas of Cincinnati, Ohio (1922) (Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library, Maps and Atlases), v.2, plate 67. Both are available online.

[4] “Real Estate,” Cincinnati Enquirer, July 29, 1906, p. 10. Sanborn Map Company, Real Estate Atlas of Cincinnati, Ohio (1922) op.cit. gives dimensions.

[5] See any of the detailed maps.

[6] Figure 3, the earliest image we have found, appeared in Wendell Dabney, Cincinnati’s Colored Citizens (Dabney Publishing Company, 1926), p.280. Note that the photo was taken after the 1919 addition of porches (see the next section).

[7] Note the lightning rod, placed scientifically at the highest point on the building, the place where tradition would have a cross.

[8] It is common in Victorian brickwork in the neighborhood that the voussoir was done in stone, setting the arch off against the brick elevation. An excellent example is the 1886 fire station on Madison Road at Hackberry. (Figure 7) The stone in this example set off Romanesque (semi-circular) arches. Also note the window bays set off by brick pilasters, and the fluted brick above, as at First Baptist twenty years later. The Walnut Hills (white) Methodist Church, built around the same time as the fire station, in gothic brick, used white stone to cap its buttresses and gothic arches. (Figure 8) For two variations on the voussoir in stone, see the Walnut Hills (white) Baptist church from the mid 1920s. (Figure 9) The arch on the right, in a fieldstone elevation, uses fieldstone to form the arches; the slightly newer ashlar elevation on the left uses what is probably a structural cast stone arch without any architecturally appropriate voussoir.

[9] For other examples of contemporary tracery, see the Bethel Baptist façade from 1908 (Figure 10), no longer visible from the outside, or the Walnut Hills (white) Baptist Church from the mid-1920s. (Figure 9).

[10] One example is the windows at the Bethel Baptist Church from 1908. (Figures 10 and 17) Another is today’s Calvary Baptist Church on Stanton Avenue at William Howard Taft Road, originally (1888) the Walnut Hills Lutheran Church.

[11] ”W. H. M. S.”, The Union, April 28, 1921, p. 2.

[12] Minutes of the regular monthly business meeting for January 1916 notes “Bro Branch brought in the written statement from the Union Savings Bank and Trust Company stating that they were again willing to renew the loan at 5%.” First Baptist Church of Walnut Hills Archives: Trustee Minutes. This was a white-owned bank; A. J. DeHart’s Garnet Building and Loan Co. had closed in 1906; Horace Sudduth’s Industrial Building and loan did not open until 1919.

[13] ” Dedication Day,” The Union, June 25, 1921, p. 4.

[14] Minutes from in 1919. Archives of First Baptist Church of Walnut Hills, Trustee Minutes.

[15] ” Centennial History,” First Baptist Church of Walnut Hills Archives, Anniversary Celebration pamphlet, 1966.

[16] “Mortgage Burning and Re-Dedication of First Baptist Church, December 31, 1944”, Archives First Baptist Church of Walnut Hills, Bulletin.

[17] Compare Figures 2 and 22 of First Baptist to Figure 23 of the much larger St Francis De Sales. See further discussion in the Architectural Context section of this report.

[18] Timber segmented barrel roofs graced a few commercial buildings in the neighborhood, mostly from the 1930s: The roller rink on Gilbert and Curtis St. garage. See also Paramount theatre interior, 1929. (Figure 32)

[19] The organ recess was at least replastered between Figure 27, from the 1940s, and the current configuration in Figure 31.

[20] A glimpse of the house appears to the right of the church in Figure 22.

[21] Nikki Taylor, Frontiers of Freedom: Cincinnati’s Black Community 1802–1868 (Ohio University Press, 2005) is the best account of its topic. See also Cissie Dore Hill, Walnut Hills: City Neighborhood. (The Cincinnati Historical Society No. 3, 1983). Also useful are two chapters in Sidney Maxwell, The suburbs of Cincinnati : sketches, historical and descriptive (Cincinnati, 1870) “Walnut Hills” pp. 133-155,  and “Woodburn”, pp. 156-166.

[22] On the large and complicated Kemper Family, see Willis Miller Kemper and Henry Linn White, Genealogy of the Kemper family in the United States (Chicago, 1899). On Kemper and the Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, see Joseph Glass Monfort, Presbyterianism north of the Ohio River from 1790 to 1822 (Cincinnati, 1872) and First Presbyterian Church on Walnut Hills, 1819-1888 (Cincinnati, 1888).

[23] Benjamin W. Arnett, Semi-Centenary Celebration of Allen Temple (Cincinnati, 1874) pp. 55-56. The Haskins family that bought the house can be traced at the same address through the early twentieth century.

[24] On William Parham see Arnett, Semi-Centenary, pp.102-105 and passim. Most cited is John Brough Shotwell, A History of the Schools of Cincinnati (Cincinnati, 1902) pp. 449-50.

[25] On Earley, see Peter Clark, The Black Brigade of Cincinnati: being a report of its labors and a muster-roll of its members (Cincinnati, 1864) p. 25; Benjamin Arnett, Semi-Centennial, p. 62 and passim; James Dawson, Picturesque Cincinnati (Shillito Co, 1883) p 33.

[26] On the First Church, see the opening paragraphs of Wilber Allen Page “History of First Baptist” in the Centennial Souvenir and Program History,” First Baptist Church of Walnut Hills Archives, Anniversary pamphlets, 1963. Note that the (white) Episcopal Church of the Advent on Kemper Lane a block south of McMillan also began as a house church for Walnut Hills parishioners of downtown churches.

[27] Page, “History of First Baptist,” The standard source for Dangerfield Early is Wendell Dabney, Cincinnati’s Colored Citizens, (Cincinnati, 1926), pp. 79, 200.  More frequently cited is the Writer’s Program, Cincinnati; A Guide to the Queen City and its Neighbors, pp. 292-295. This discussion spells the surname “Early” and misdates his arrival on Walnut Hills as 1895 – other dates in the passage make clear the chronology.  Brief obituaries appear in the “Our Colored Citizens”, Cincinnati Commercial Gazette, November 30, 1884, p. 4, and in the “From the Queen City”, Cleveland Gazette, December 6, 1884, p. 1.

[28] See note 21 for references.

[29] On Robert Gordon, the standard sources are articles by Carter G. Woodson, “The Negroes of Cincinnati prior to the Civil War,” Journal of Negro History, v. 1 n. 1, 1916, pp 1-22 on pp. 21-22 and the more substantial “Robert Gordon a Successful Business Man,” The Negro History Bulletin, v. 1 n. 2, November 1937, pages 1 and 3. See also “Robert Gordon, businessman” archived at and “Robert Gordon: How History lost his Community”

[30] A convenient source is Charles Beecher (ed.), Autobiography, Correspondence, &c., of Lyman Beecher, v. 2, Chapter 34, “Anti-Slavery Imbroglio.”

[31] On Reconstruction demographics in Walnut Hills see the essays linked from

[32] “Centenary History,” Archives of the First Baptist Church of Walnut Hills, Anniversary pamphlet 1963.

[33] “Centenary History,” Archives of the First Baptist Church of Walnut Hills, Anniversary pamphlet 1963.

[34] “Centenary History,” Archives of the First Baptist Church of Walnut Hills, Anniversary pamphlet 1963.

[35] Arnett, Allen Temple Semi-Centenary (1874), “Church Statistics,“ p. iv, gives membership numbers for both Brown Chapel and First Baptist.

[36] “Church Directory”, Williams Directory 1880, p.30 lists both, as does James W. Dawson, Picturesque Cincinnati.

[37] Williams Directory, June 1877, p. 342. Chestnut is now renamed Foraker.

[38] ”Centennial History,” Archives of the First Baptist Church of Walnut Hills, Anniversary pamphlets.

[39] For Bethel’s own account of its origins, see “Church History,” Archives of Bethel Baptist Church. Ambitious but unbuilt plans for a 500-seat sanctuary appear in “Bethel Baptist Church,” Cincinnati Commercial Gazette, March 24, 1894. A memorial stained-glass window for Dangerfield and Georgina Earley still illuminates the sanctuary at Bethel Baptist. (Figure 17)

[40] ”Centennial History,” Archives of First Baptist Church, Anniversary pamphlet, 1963. See also “A House Divided,“ Cincinnati Enquirer, November 8, 1891, p. 9; “Cincinnati,“ The Appeal, p. 1: “By a decision of the courts, Rev. A. Darnell was given possession of the pulpit at the First Baptist Church, Walnut Hills, the dissatisfied members will at once organize another church.” “Items on the wing,” Cincinnati Enquirer, March 12, 1892, p.8: “The troubles of the First Baptist Church of Walnut Hills, after a hearing by Judges of Several Courts and a patient public, have at last been submitted to  the Baptist Ministers of the City, who will meet Monday at the Avondale Baptist Church for the purposes of adjusting if possible, the differences existing between the several factions of the Church. It is the earnest prayer of friends of all the parties concerned that this will be the final adjudication.” It was.

[41] ”Trustees Minutes,” Archives of the First Baptist Church of Walnut Hills, May 13, 1897, ”Bro. J C made unconditional acknowledgement to the Church; the acknowledgement was received as satisfactory. Bro A L was absent regularly and the Right Hand of Fellowship was withdrawn. Sister J H was dropped from the role. She should “go home and get straight with her church, and if she so desires come back again.”

Ibid., July 16, 1897, Bro. B’s name dropped from the role; he was “instructed to go to his church and get rectified and if he so desires obtain his letter, and return.”

Ibid., August 12, 1897, “Right hand of fellowship withdrawn from Sister G M for having an illegitimate child. Sister G M made her acknowledgement to the church and was restored.”

[42] ”Centenary History,” Archives of the First Baptist Church of Walnut Hills, Anniversary pamphlets, 1963.

[43] Louis Rebisso, the first teacher of modeling and sculpture at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, lived on Lincoln Avenue and had his studio mid-block between Lincoln and Chapel, in the block between Monfort and Park. His neighbors were overwhelmingly African American. Now a rather obscure figure, more information on Rebisso is available at Geoffrey Sutton, “Lincoln Avenue Sculptor: Louis Rebisso” , “Louis Rebisso and the Modeling Arts in Walnut Hills”, and “Louis Rebisso and Very Large Men on Even Larger Horses”. In his studio, he had created among other major works the large equestrian bronze statue of William Henry Harrison still installed in downtown Cincinnati.

[44] “Francis P. Green, clergyman” Wendell Dabney, Cincinnati’s Colored Citizens, p. 280.

[45] ”Centenary History” Op. Cit.

[46] ”Centnary History, ” Op. Cit.  “Will Erect New Church,” Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, July 12, 1906, p. 9.

[47] “Expects morals to better race,” Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, July 30, 1915, p. 113.

[48] Ibid.

[49] See the references in


[50] On Lizzie Branch, see Wendell Dabney, Cincinnati’s Colored Citizens, p. 317 and passim. The Old Women’s Home, a residence mostly for widows, was first located at 2918 Park Avenue, just two doors south of the church; Branch worked with Sudduth on the relocation to the Wheatley Flat Building at 1332 ½ Lincoln Avenue in the late 1910s. The Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs purchased a mansion at 1010 Chapel Street in 1925.The Young Women’s Christian Association owned a former residence they called the “Blue Triangle club.” The Universal Negro Improvement Association, usually associated with the Jamaican immigrant Marcus Garvey, had quite an independent branch in Cincinnati that grew out of an existing organization operated by William Ware.

[51] Prossett advertised regularly in Wendell Dabney’s newspaper The Union; see for example June 21, 1919, p. 4; September 20, 1919, p. 8; March 28, 1920, p. 4. “Prossett and Hardin,” Dabney, Cincinnati’s Colored Citizens, p. 340.

[52] “Irene J. Kirk,” Dabney, Cincinnati’s Colored Citizens p. 258. “Woman Notary Public.” The Union, September 9, 1922, p1. On her role in the Creative Realty Company, see ”The Creative Realty Company,” The Union, March 1, 1924, p. 4.

[53] “Francis P. Green,” Dabney, Cintinnati’s Colored Citizens, p. 280.

[54] ”N.A.A.C.P.,” The Union, May 17, 1921, p. 1.

[55] Ibid.

[56] ”Simon Commandery No. 1, Knights Templar, Will Hold Ascension Day Services,” The Union, May 8, 1920, p. 1.

[57] ”At First Baptist,” The Union, June 18, 1921, p. 1.

[58] The reports of the Colored School Board for the years 1855-1872 are available online from the Cincinnati Public Library, bound together, as Annual report of the Board of Trustees for the Colored Public Schools of Cincinnati [1855-1871/72]. The city’s white School Board took over the Colored Schools in 1874; see also The Annual Reports of the Common Schools of Cincinnati.

[59] On Garland Penn, see “Men of the month,” The Crisis, May 1918; Wendell Dabney, Cincinnati’s Colored Citizens, p 353; Joanne K. Harrison and Grant Harrison, The Life and Times of Irvine Garland Penn.

[60] A good introduction to DeHart Hubbard is Bob Roncker, “Before Jesse Owens There Was DeHart Hubbard.”

[61] “First Baptist Church, Walnut Hills,” The Union, June 25, 1921, p. 4.

[62] ”Dedication Day,” The Union, June 25, 1921, p. 4.

[63] See, for example, ”Fisk Jubilee Singers.”

[64]Marshall W. Taylor, Plantation Melodies: A Collection of Revival Hymns and Plantation Melodies. Musical composition by Miss Josephine Robinson. Copied by Miss Amelia C. and Hettie G. Taylor.  On Taylor, see the “Author’s Preface” to Plantation Melodies, and William J. Simmons, “Rev Marshall Taylor, D. D.,” , Men of Mark: Eminent, Progressive and Rising pp. 933-935, and, more substantially by the Cincinnatian George W. Williams, History of the Negro Race in America from 1619 to 1880, pp. 469-474.

[65] See Marshall Taylor’s introduction to Plantation Melodies. Brief biographies in “Ameilia Taylor,” Ruth Neely, ed, Women of Ohio; a record of their achievements in the history of the state, p. 114. The title page to the edition online is lost; the text refers to the death of Hettie Taylor in 1937.

[66] For a Walnut Hills-based biographical sketch of Jennie Jackson, see Adina E. White, “’Looking Backward’ through the spectacles of Jennie Jackson DeHart,” Noted Negro women: their triumphs and activities. (Chicago: Donohue & Henneberry. 1893) ed. Monroe A. Majors. On Jennie Jackson’s School Girls Glee Club, see “Fair for the old and indigent,” Cincinnati Commercial Gazette, April 14, 1895, p. 7. And “In Colored Circles,” ibid., April 21, p. 4. On her music school, “Benevolent Work of Ladies,” Cleveland Gazette, November 8, 1890, p. 1.

[67] See “Jennie Jackson DeHart and the Fisk Jubilee Singers” on her life in Walnut Hills.

[68] “Centenary History,” Archives of the First Baptist Church of Walnut Hills, Anniversary pamphlet, 1963.

[69] “Our Colored Citizens,” Cincinnati Commercial Gazette, July 24, 1887, p. 10.

[70] “Items on the Wing,” Cincinnati Enquirer, May 12, 1888. Rather imperiously, the anglophiles who hijacked the traditional Sangerfest and announced it as a “May Festival” objected to others who, offering music festivals in that month, referred to them as a “May Festival.”

[71] Geoffrey Sutton, “Douglass School, High Culture, and American Performing Art”.

[72] Dabney, Cincinnati’s Colored Citizens, presented a biographical sketch, pp. 308-309. P. A. Tenkotte and J. C. Claypool, “Clinton Gibbs.”.

[73] There was no Gibbs in the membership list around 1910. The exact date of their joining is not clear.

[74] Russell Taylor had been a rare African American student at Lane Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Walnut Hills in the late 1890s. The son of Nebraska “Exodusters” – Black families during Reconstruction who relocated to tiny communities in Kansas and Nebraska – Taylor had come to Lane in 1896 from a stint at the Omaha Presbyterian Seminary. A. J. DeHart, principal of Frederick Douglass School in Walnut Hills at the time, had also served a short time with Congregationalist Exodusters in Topeka before his return the Cincinnati in 1885. The two must have been acquainted in the compact Black neighborhood in Walnut Hills. The Presbyterian Board of Missions for Freedmen in Cincinnati, already a bit of an anachronism by the turn of the century, encouraged Russell Taylor to form a group of Black Presbyterians. The community he brought together continued long after Taylor’s return to the great plains in 1898. In 1901, the Presbytery of Cincinnati embraced the congregation as the Carmel Mission, although it provided no permanent place of worship.

[75] ”Colored Choiristers,” Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, February 10, 1915, p. 9.

[76] “Colored Industrial School of Cincinnati, Ohio,” Wendell Dabney, Cincinnati’s Colored Citizens, p. 35. “A Great Institution,” Labor Advocate, January 20, 1917, p. 10.

[77] “Rev. Edmund Harrison Oxley, DD,” Wendell Dabney, Cincinnati’s Colored Citizens, pp. 231-233.

[78] ” Recital by the Queen City Glee Club,” The Union, November 22, 1919, p. 6.

[79] ” First Baptist Church,” The Union, September 15, 1923, p. 2.

[80] ” Meeting of Ohio Baptists,” The Union, October 6, 1927, p. 1.

[81] ” East End News,” The Union, February 8, 1934, p. 4.

[82] ” East End News,” The Union, May 3, 1934, p. 4.

[83] For an introduction, see Andrea Gutman Fuentes, “Cincinnati Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs,”

[84] See footnote 51.

[85] Geoffrey Sutton, “Thatcher’s Fish and Poultry.”


[86] On Dickerson see Geoffrey Sutton, “Archibald Dickerson and the Walnut Hills Pharmacy, 1919-1924.” On Anna Beckwith, see Wendell Dabney, Cincinnati’s Colored Citizens, p. 255-256, and ”Cincinnati News,” Chicago Defender, May 24, 1924, p.20. On Manggram, see Association of Black Health System Pharmacists, “African American Pharmacists and Sports.”

[87] On Sherman Flower Shop which operated from 1928-2007, see the obituary of Archie Sherman, Enquirer, March 13, 2012, p. B3. On photographer Walter Scarborough. see his obituary  on the Walker Funeral Homes website,

[88] ” History of First Baptist Church,” Archives of the First Baptist Church of Walnut Hills, Anniversary pamphlet, 2015.

[89] ”Centenary History,“ Archives of the First Baptist Church of Walnut Hills, Anniversary pamphlet, 1963.

[90] She was born Estella Cavanaugh in Kentucky in 1914; by the 1930 census she lived on May Street in Walnut Hills with her mother who supported three children as a laundress. By the mid-1930s the family of three moved to the more upscale address at 1231 Lincoln; both Estelle and her mother cleaned houses. They shared the two-story house with another family.

[91] “Music Festival one of the best on record,” Times Star, June 10, 1946, p. 17.

[92] Thea Tjepkema, “Estella Rowe & Wade Mann: First Local Black Soloists with the CSO.”

[93] See the Archive inventory for First Baptist Church of Walnut Hills. For contemporary press coverage see, for example, “Church of the Week: First Baptist,” Herald, October 24, 1964, p. 2, or “Womens Day at First Baptist,” Herald, November 13, 1965 p. 4, when Mrs. Rowe served as co-chair.

[94] He told a newspaper interviewer “People have wondered at my return to Cincinnati when it offers so small an opportunity in a business and financial way. They forget that money is only a small part of life. My duty is right here in this city The people of this city helped me obtain my education and now I feel that I should give them the benefit of what I learned.” “DeHart Hubbard, Olympic Athlete, Gets YMCA Post,” Commercial Tribune, December 1, 1925, p. 6.

[95] Andrea Tuttle Kornbluh has contributed two important chapters on the recreation, including discussion of DeHart Hubbard. “Municipal Harmony: Cultural Pluralism, Public Recreation, and Race Relations,” Chapter 3, Historical Roots of the Urban Crisis; African Americans in the Industrial City 1900-1950. “James Hathaway Robinson and the origins of professional social work in the Black community,” Race and the city: Race, Community and Protest in Cincinnati, 1820-1970.

[96] “Play Streets to be opened; children to get supervised recreation; Showers are included,” Post, June 28, 1924, Bonus Edition, p. 1.  “Play streets are open tonight”, Enquirer, June 30, 1924, p. 10. “Eight Play Streets to be Opened by Community Service Tomorrow,”Commercial Tribune, June 29, 1924, p. 10. It is worth remarking that the Douglass School music teacher, Evermont Robinson, got a summer job in 1924 supervising segregated Negro playgrounds and “play streets.”

[97] Geoffrey Sutton, “Douglass School, High Culture, and American Performing Art.”

[98] ”Second Festival of Negro Music Presented before Throng of 2,500 in Eden Park Dell,” Enquirer, June 5, 1939, p. 3.

[99] “Here Tonight: Paul Robeson,” Enquirer, June 18, 1942, p. 12; “June Festival,” Enquirer, June 19, 1942, p. 9.

[100] ”Your Church News,” Cincinnati Herald, December 25, 1965, p. 5.

[101] ”History,” Archives of the First Baptist Church of Walnut Hills, Anniversary pamphlet for 137th Anniversary,  2000, p. 8.

[102] Mary Bowman Oral History, conducted by Deqah Hussein-Wetzel, November 2022.

[103] “First Baptist to Hold Workshops,” Cincinnati Herald, April 21, 1984, p. 6.

[104] “The First Baptist Church of Walnut Hills”. Cincinnati Herald, August 24, 1991, p. 6.

[105] Figure 42 appeared in the Graphic, August 29, 1885, and also in Cincinnati and suburbs: the graphic blue book and family directory, 1886-7. An extensive description appears in “Hill of Churches; Another Handsome Suburban Sanctuary,” Enquirer, August 17, 1885, p. 8.

[106] The church had several brick preservation treatments by the Cemeline company. The first postcard shows the original brick design; later photographs show it clad in a cement coating applied around 1910. See trade publications Cement World, v. 2, n. 12, March 1909, pp. 896-898; and Concrete, v. 9, 1909, passim. The Ingalls building, Cincinnati skyscraper, was clad in the same material.

[107] The Walnut Hills Lutheran Church was founded by a group around Frederick Alms, of the Alms and Doepke department store. S. B. Nelson & Co., History of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, Ohio, p. 213.

[108] “Real Estate and Building,” Enquirer, July 29, 1906, p. 10.

[109] Photographs 14 and 16, discussed in the architecture section above, show the old Walnut Hills High School. The current Walnut Hills High School campus, overlooking Victory Parkway from Sulsar and technically in the Evanston neighborhood, was first built in 1931. The original building at Ashland and Victory, which housed several other schools, is now the Schoolhouse Lofts with an unfortunate replacement of the old slate roof, lost in a fire.