published Monday, July 5th, 2010

Celebrating history

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    Staff Photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Tonya Rooks, 45, daughter of Pastor Noah Frank Ball, has been instrumental in getting First Baptist Church of Bozentown, the former Ridgedale Methodist Episcopal Church, added to the National Register of Historic Places.
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Tonya Rooks

The more Tonya Rooks read, the more she wanted to honor the history of the people who originally inhabited the church she attends.

Two years after she first read the congregation's history, the building occupied by Ridgedale Methodist Episcopal Church for nearly 70 years -- and now First Baptist Church of Bozentown -- is one of two locally being listed on the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

"It just amazed me that people in those days -- it was hard then -- took the church from a little building to what it is now," Ms. Rooks said.

The other church added to the national list is First Congregational Church, which was occupied by historically black congregations for about 96 years. The building, owned by developer Ken Crisp and his son, Ken Crisp Jr., now is a performance venue known as Lindsay Street Hall.

Nominations for the register are submitted to the Tennessee Historical Commission, where they are examined and refined by a state review board, then sent to the National Register office in Washington, D.C.

Both buildings, according to their National Register of Historic Places registration forms, are examples of late Gothic Revival architecture.

The brick and stone First Congregational Church was built in 1904, but a black religious body had worshiped at the Lindsay and Ninth streets site -- now Martin Luther King Boulevard -- since 1867.

The younger Mr. Crisp said the large, leaded stained-glass windows on the north, south and east walls are the building's "predominant features." The windows "and the (antique pressed tin) ceiling fight each other for attention," he said.

CELEBRATION SERVICE

First Baptist Church of Bozentown, 1518 Dodds Ave., will host a service marking the listing of its building on the National Historic Register at 7 p.m. on Aug. 6. The speaker will be Paul Archambault of the Southeast Tennessee Development District. In addition to members of the present church, former members of Ridgedale Methodist Episcopal Church, local civic leaders and Ridgedale community members are expected to attend. A reception will follow the service.

The former bowl-shaped pine floor that sloped slightly toward the front of the church was replaced by new wood flooring by the Crisps after they bought the building from Fisk University in 2006. The stained-glass windows were removed, the windows repaired and the stained-glass cleaned and refitted by the Lyndhurst Foundation, RiverCity Co. and Cornerstones in 2007-08.

Mr. Crisp said the building was not included in three adjacent historical districts designated some years ago. However, he said getting individual buildings on the lists is harder.

"We felt it deserved to be on there," he said, "and the African-American community would like to have the space on the National Register."

"It feels like a great honor," said Wallace Roberson, the final moderator of First Congregational. "The church always tried to serve people. Even though the church has died, it is still doing the work of God."

In addition to its historic presence, the former church was honored recently for its renovation by Cornerstones, a nonprofit historic preservation organization, at its Sophie Long Historic Preservation Awards with the Cornerstones Award of Excellence, according to organization Executive Director Ann Gray.

Mr. Crisp said a bronze plaque emblematic of the award will join a plaque marking the National Register listing on the Lindsay Street Hall's walls.

The two-story brick and stone Ridgedale Methodist Episcopal Church was erected in 1925, and a three-story education annex building was added in 1953. Among its prominent features are its original arched stained-glass window units, beamed ceiling and a working pipe organ.

The Ridgedale church was founded in 1888 and built its first structure a year later across the street from the present building. When the community continued to grow in the 1910s and 1920s, congregation officials bought the present lot and built the original building for $85,000.

In 1994, the congregation merged with St. James United Methodist Church to form East Ridge United Methodist Church, and its former building was used as a temporary home for an American Pentecostal Church for two years.

First Baptist of Bozentown, which began around 1930 and was located on Latta Street, bought the building from the United Methodist denomination's Holston Conference in 1996. The Rev. N.F. Ball, Ms. Rooks' father, has been pastor of the church for 47 years.

Ms. Rooks said a woman gave her some history information when she was preparing for a church program more than two years ago. The more she learned about the former Ridgedale Methodist inhabitants, the more she wanted to know.

"I got emotional," she said. "They did it all by faith. I wish I could get some of that faith. The more I researched them, the more I (read), the more I wanted to meet some of these people. The more I talked to them, it was like I was addicted. I just couldn't stop."

Her drive to honor the people she read about drove her to Ms. Gray of Cornerstones, then to Paul Archambault of the Southeast Tennessee Development District, who helped both Mr. Crisp and Ms. Rooks with the National Register nominations.

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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