First Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, is home to the oldest Baptist congregation in Lynchburg. The pious beginnings of this church reflect the city’s morals and values, and it is honored around the city for spawning many separate Baptist congregations.
But, these same morals created sordid intentions—ones that led to the death of 14 people and created one of the most haunted churches in Lynchburg.
The Court Street Baptist Church was created by former slaves and members of the First Baptist Church who were exiled due to the color of their skin.
This African-American congregation was formed in 1843 and became the mother congregation for all other black Baptist churches across the city.
They are remembered, however, for something far more terrible. On October 16th, 1878, the decrepit building, a former theater that this African-American community gathered in collapsed.
Fourteen people died in what was described as a “mass of writhing humanity” that fateful night. Because of this, there are various reports of spiritual activity in the old church, now the tallest building in Lynchburg.
Journey into the unknown with US Ghost Adventures as we take a look into Lynchburg’s most haunted church!
While the original settlers of Lynchburg were largely Quakers, many Baptists began to gather in the prosperous city during the early 1800s. The First Baptist congregation was formed in July of 1815 and served the white and black communities in Lynchburg. The Gothic building we see today was not built until 1886.
Due to the strong Quaker influence in the city, with eight of the eleven original trustees of Lynchburg being Quakers, slavery was opposed by many. The Quakers emancipated many African slaves, starting with the city’s foundation in 1757.
They even went so far as to ban any members of their congregation who owned slaves from gathering at their meeting house. The Baptists, however, did not share these sentiments.
While they allowed slaves to worship under the Christian faith, they did so more to control them rather than for their spiritual well-being.
African slaves often gathered at “invisible churches” on their master’s plantations and practiced a mixture of their fading African religions and their newly adopted Christian faith. These were more than just religious centers, they became centers for change.
The 1831 Nat Turner Rebellion was formed at one of these invisible churches. After it was quelled, white plantation owners became much more wary of their slaves’ religious practices.
The Quakers, over the generations, freed many African members of the First Baptist Church. Although this allowed them certain freedoms that others were denied, they were still watched closely by the white members of the congregation.
Fears of another rebellion were always on the minds of white society, so when Black members of the congregation decided to create their own church in 1843, they were closely watched.
The African Baptist Church was consecrated only under the guidance of white ministers, and one was always present during sermons. And as time went along, racial prejudices of the time made it more and more difficult for these believers to worship.
When the Court Street Baptist Church was founded, only a few blocks down from The First Baptist Church, there was a strong movement by whites to expel the new church from the all-white neighborhood.
While this once allowed the white population to monitor the activity of their slaves, it now posed a threat. The newly freed people were unwelcome in the neighborhood.
The congregation had moved into different buildings for various reasons and had been in this location since 1867. But, on October 16th, 1878, after years of worshipping under pressure from the white community, disaster struck at Court Street Baptist Church.
Two thousand people, some say more, had gathered between Fifth and Sixth Street on Court Street for a wedding. Sometime during the evening, a piece of plaster began to fall from the roof. Some say the disruption was caused purposely, while others claim it was due to the building’s poor structure.
Word that the church was collapsing quickly spread across the congregation, and a large group of people rushed to the exit. Some jumped out the windows in a panic, and others were trampled to death.
Fourteen people were dead at the end of the night in what was referred to in newspapers around the country as “The Lynchburg Calamity.” It is hard to say what would have happened if the racist tendencies of the time did not exist. There is no proof that this terrible event was created purposefully by the fearful white community, but it does not seem too hard to fathom.
The following year, the church was rebuilt and is the structure we see today, the tallest church in all of Lynchburg. All of it was created by African-American brick layers and architects as a signal to the world around them.
Some say they hear scratching sounds from the floorboards late at night in Court Street Baptist Church. Along with the unusually loud cracks, such as a ceiling falling, and various reports of people falling out of the windows in the middle of the night, it comes as no surprise that this building is now haunted.
Lynchburg is full of tragic stories such as this. While sad and unjust, they teach us about the world around us and how we got here. The spirits of Lynchburg are alive as ever and waiting to tell us about their stories so we may not repeat the past.
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