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Fredericksburg Walking Tour
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Shiloh Baptist Church (Old Site) is a pillar of the African-American community in Fredericksburg. Built in 1890, it is home to a congregation whose roots date to the early 1800s when the city's first Baptist church was founded in 1804. Shiloh Baptist has played an active role in many facets of African-American life in Fredericksburg, particularly in the areas of education and civil rights. In terms of architecture, the church reflects the changing needs and wants of the congregation. Originally designed with Classical elements, the church was modified to its Gothic appearance and features a pair of bell towers, buttresses, lancet windows, and a triangular parapet. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2015.

Shiloh Baptist Church (Old Site)

Sky, Property, Car, Building

The first Baptist meetinghouse, a wood-frame building, in the city was likely built around 1804. It was located close to where the train station is today. Interestingly, the congregation was composed of enslaved people, free African Americans, and whites. In 1815, some started to attend services in a building where the present church is today. Five years later, the property owners sold the lot to the trustees of the new church. However, the first Shiloh Baptist church, known as the Shiloh Baptist Meeting House, was not built until the late 1830s or early 1840s. By then the congregation had grown to around 800 members, with the majority being African American. There were separate entrances for whites and African Americans, who also had to sit on the balcony. One enslaved member, Noah Davis, became a deacon in 1844 and eventually was allowed to become a preacher. Years later, he wrote a memoir about his life and used the money he earned from it to buy the freedom of his wife and most of his children.

In 1855, white members built a new meetinghouse, Fredericksburg Baptist Church, and the African-American members remained at Shiloh Baptist. They were not totally independent, however, as the law at the time required a white overseer to be at African-American church services. This individual was Rev. George Rowe, who charge a $50 per month salary.

In 1862, the Civil War reached Fredericksburg when Union troops occupied the city for several months (the fierce Battle of Fredericksburg occurred from December 11-15). Many residents left the city, including about half of the Shiloh Baptist congregation (roughly 400 people); some escaped to Union lines while others were force to flee with their owners. Unsurprisingly, services were rarely held at the church in the war years. The sanctuary on the second floor became an army barracks and hospital, and the first floor was used as a stable. The building was severely damaged during the war and would take a long time to repair.

Within a few years, Shiloh Baptist had recovered and its membership grew and would continue to grow. On one afternoon in March 1877, 90 new converts were baptized, most of whom were baptized in the Rappahannock River. The congregation also began involving itself in political activities. It organized Emancipation Day (New Year's Day) marches and in 1876, the church minister, Rev. Dixon, ran unsuccessfully for the Fredericksburg City Council.

On June 11, 1886, disaster struck the church when the rear wall collapsed, forcing the congregation to meet in the courthouse. Apparently the church could not be repaired so plans were developed to build the present one. About half of congregation, however, wanted to move the church to a new location. They began worshipping there (in building known as the Revere Shop) and called the new congregation "Shiloh Baptist Church." This resulted in a legal dispute that was settled in November 1888, when a judge ordered the first Shiloh Baptist to include the words "Old Site" in its name and the new congregation to add "New Site." Construction of Shiloh Baptist Church (Old Site) was completed in 1890.

It appears Shiloh Baptist established a Sunday School in 1866 and by 1891, the number children attending rose to over 200. In 1905, the minister at the time, Rev. James E. Brown, created a committee that established an African-American high school called the Fredericksburg Normal & Industrial Institute. It opened in October. Until then, a school for African-American children, built in 1884, only offered classes from grades 1 to 7. The high school was first located in a farmhouse for many years until it acquired a new building in 1925. It remained there for 13 years then moved into an elementary school building that was expanded to make way for high school students. The new school was called the Walker-Grant School. Shiloh Baptist also provided a night school for adults from 1923-1927.

Shiloh Baptist became an important voice for the African-American community. It shared its views regarding social justice and civil rights issues in a newsletter titled The Shiloh Herald, which was established in 1925. In one example, the March 1927 newsletter was critical of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that invalidated a Texas law that prohibited African Americans from voting in the state's Democratic primary elections. Shiloh Baptist also invited many prominent civil rights leaders of the era including W.E.B. Dubois and Mary McLeod Bethune gave lectures at the church.

The congregation supported and participated in local civil rights activities. For example in 1960, it held a large meeting to encourage the African-American community to conduct sit-in protests at lunch counters. Twenty high school students were trained and the protests began on July 1. The students targeted Woolworth's, W.T. Grant's, and People's Drug Store throughout the month. It worked. Around the end of the month Woolworth's and W.T. Grant's changed desegregated their stores and allowed African Americans to sit and be served.

The church and grounds changed and grew over the course of the 19th century. A central bell tower was added in the early 1900s that was, as alluded to above, removed. The current facade was reconfigured to its present appearance in the 1940s. The educational annex was built in 1976. In 2003, the church roof was raised and rebuilt.

"An illustrated history of the vibrant Fredericksburg congregation now known as Shiloh Baptist Church (Old Site)." History and Archives Committee of Shiloh Baptist Church (Old Site). 2015. Retrieved from Shiloh Baptist Church (Old Site) on July 3, 2023.

Staton, Heather Dollins. "Shiloh Baptist Church (Old Site)." National Park Service - National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form. December 15, 2015.

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