Old First Baptist Church property

Demolition of a portion of the old First Baptist Church property on Kolstad Street began on Tuesday, Jan. 4.

Palestine prides itself on its history. It has the largest number of historic structures on the mainland in the state of Texas. But what do you do when a historic building falls into disrepair, starts to lack its luster and fails to put our best face forward? That was the decision the city faced when it decided to pursue action towards the demolition of a portion of the old First Baptist Church property on Kolstad Street.

According to Mark Miers, the Development Services Building Official for the city of Palestine, the property owner, Buttross Properties, boarded up and secured most of buildings on the property, however, the structure being demolished was slowly collapsing, with walls bowing outward and bricks starting to fall. Miers said that portion of the property violated the city’s Substandard Structure Ordinance.

Miers said he began contacting Buttross Properties approximately a year ago, sending them notification of violation by certified mail. After significant correspondence and no response, Miers was forced to file the volition with Palestine Municipal Court.

“That’s when the city prosecutor got involved and that’s what made them start moving on it,” Miers said.

According to Miers, this was not the first time for the owner to receive a citation. They also been cited by code enforcement high grass and weeds.

The demolition began on Tuesday, Jan. 4 with no estimated completion date. On Wednesday, Jan. 12 work came to a standstill when workers said they did not have the right equipment to do the job.

“I hope they don’t stop cold here,” Miers said. “We’ve been very patient with them. It is currently in a state that they cannot leave it. We will take them back to municipal court very quickly.”

This property is for lease or sale and totals five acres.

“While I hate that the old First Baptist Church ever fell into such disrepair, and I am grateful for the work by staff and council that has ultimately and finally resulted in the demolition of the back part of the building which had been caving in since 2018,” said Mayor Dana Goolsby. “Not allowing the old church to turn into the next old Memorial Hospital at the expense of the tax payers was a win.”

The church building was once the home of Palestine's First Baptist Church, which can trace its history to 1851, five years after Palestine was founded as the Anderson County seat.

They first met for worship in Bascom Chapel, which they shared with members of other early Palestine churches. When the Baptists acquired land and built a sanctuary in 1852-53. They became known as Old Town Baptist Church and hosted the Baptist State Convention in 1854. In 1887, the Congregation completed a new building and became knows as Avenue A Baptist Church, the building is now known as Nickle Manor.

The third name change came about when the members outgrew their 1887 building and completed a new sanctuary in 1912 at the Sycamore/Kolstad location. Since then, the congregation has been called First Baptist Church of Palestine.

After 90 years at the Sycamore location, the congregation relocated to new facilities on Loop 256 in 2003.

Attorney Martin Lawrence said his family moved to Palestine and became members of the church when he was a one-year-old and fondly remembers spending time at old church building.

“I spent over 60 years in that building,” Martin said. “I’m sad that it’s gone.”

“For generations of people, the First Baptist Church of Palestine building on Sycamore street holds incredible memories,” said Tony Watson, pastor of congregation. “Baptisms, weddings, revivals, worship services, Sunday School classes, choir programs, children’s ministries, youth ministries, and incredible times of fellowship and spiritual growth.

“Though the history of First Baptist Church of Palestine spans over 170 years, the building on Sycamore street is the most identifiable location for hundreds and hundreds of people, as it was the place where the church met for over 50 years. There is a sadness to watch it decay and to now be torn down, even though the condition made it extremely difficult to continue in that location.

“As this century began, the church saw a vision to continue the wonderful ministry begun in 1851 in a new location, where more growth could take place and in a facility that will be identified with First Baptist Church of Palestine for the foreseeable future.

“The church is the people, wherever they meet. Buildings are temporary, all of them are. Still, it’s difficult to see the building identified with so many memories complete its life span. I’m so thankful that there are pictures and drawings and documents as well as the scores of memories in the hearts of the people of Palestine and those who have been here and taken what they have learned here to other places.”

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