The little white building that was the first home of The Alabama Baptist made a 71-mile trip to its new location in Wilcox County’s town of Furman overnight on Jan. 26.
Since 1997, the nearly 200-year-old building has rested on the campus of Judson College in Marion, just blocks from the place it was first constructed in the early 1830s. For years students passed it on the way to class, and guests toured it on special occasions like TAB’s 175th anniversary in 2018.
But this year, as the historic Baptist women’s college prepares to sell the campus, TAB’s first home needed a place to go.
Jennifer Rash, TAB editor-in-chief, said originally the leadership of both TAB and Judson hoped to keep the house in Marion but weren’t able to find a way to work that out. The grounds of the current TAB headquarters in Homewood also aren’t large enough to accommodate the building.
So when a conversation with a friend connected Rash with members of Bethsaida Baptist Church in Furman at the exact time a decision needed to be made, she said she “knew it was a God thing.”
The church voted to take ownership of the TAB building from Judson on TAB’s recommendation, let it rest on land owned by the church and take over any restoration and maintenance in the future. Judson’s board of trustees also saw the move as a good solution and affirmed the move.
Answer to prayers
“Our friends from Bethsaida Baptist Church are such a blessing and answer to prayers,” Rash said. “We wanted to find a way for the building to be preserved, and God definitely made it all happen.”
The building will be part of the Furman National Historic District and featured on their tours, including an annual lighted spring pilgrimage tour. That event — the Wilcox Historical Society’s Tour of Homes — is expected to draw more than 1,000 on March 26, according to Don Donald, deacon chairman at Bethsaida Baptist.
“We feel very honored to get this done and that we were considered to do it,” he said. “We have a great home for it, and we’re excited to have it as part of our downtown restoration effort.”
Pastor Don Bell said it’s a natural fit to bring in to the community. It’s a “unique little place,” and Bethsaida Baptist — which has been fully restored — is the centerpiece. Almost all 21 members of the church have a business background of some kind and are “go-getters” who are dedicated to keeping the history of the area alive. Bell himself has restored eight antebellum dwellings.
The TAB building “is coming to a very good home,” he said, noting there frequently are visitors from “all over the place.” There are bus tours as well as a new restaurant, an antique shop and other places of interest.
Bell said they plan to restore the TAB building to its original state and find a printing press that represents the era in which The Alabama Baptist was printed there.
“The building is coming to an area where it will be well taken care of and restored,” he stated. “People will hear the story, and it will have a life and will be open for people to come and visit.”
History of the building
The building was built more than a decade before the official state Baptist paper existed. General Edwin D. King, one of the founders of Judson, constructed it right across the street from Siloam Baptist Church in Marion for use as his business office.
At that point, Marion — though it had fewer than 1,500 residents — was the central place for Baptist goings-on in the state. The first issue of The Alabama Baptist was published in 1843, and later that same year messengers to the annual convention decided it would be their official way to stay connected.
King was a member of the Association of Brethren — the editors and proprietors of The Alabama Baptist — ironically one of whom was a woman, Julia Tarrant Barron. They printed the newspaper in King’s office building until 1852. After that, TAB had a variety of homes around the state before its current building in Homewood was constructed in 1976. Roughly 175 years later, Rash is its second female leader.
Sometime after the newspaper moved out of King’s office, the building was purchased and used as a dental office, eventually housing a variety of other businesses. A third room was added onto the back at some point, but a storm destroyed it.
In 1997 the building was deeded to Judson by the family of Dr. O.L. Shivers, the second dentist who practiced there. It was moved to the campus by Cullman House Movers and restored as a museum of early Alabama Baptist history.
“We are in deep gratitude to the Judson College family for their love and care of the original building where The Alabama Baptist was born and faithfully shared the news of the day during the mid-1800s,” Rash said. “Judson has been extremely kind to care for the building on the corner of campus at the intersection of Bibb and Dekalb streets since it was placed there in 1997.”
The move to Furman — funded by TAB Media Group — was done by Hussey Structural Movers, and Rash is once again grateful for a gracious host for TAB’s first home.
“We are so very thankful for the interest shown by the members of Bethsaida and their willingness to take ownership of the building to restore it, preserve it and allow the legacy of both The Alabama Baptist and Judson College to be shared from the building as it sits among the historical district in Furman,” she said.
For more information about the spring tour of homes, visit the Wilcox Historical Society website at wilcoxhistoricalsociety.org. For more information about scheduling a tour, visit the Furman Historical Society Facebook page or call Don Bell at 251-362-5169.