The History of Park Avenue Baptist Church

The Beginning

It was in 1870, just a few years after the Civil War and Atlanta was on the move upwards. Many homes were being built in the neighborhood of Bell and Decatur Streets and Edgewood Avenue.

Several Christian men and women were concerned that there was no Sunday School for the children. They decided to start a Sunday afternoon Sunday School for the children. The only place they could find in which to meet was a large commercial wood shed, which was not used in the summer. Soon, not only children but adults and young people were attracted and it was suggested that a preaching service be added to the Sunday School. A young preacher, Rev. J. F. Edens, who was active in this work, was asked to preach the first sermon and it continued to be a part of the afternoon program through the summer and fall.

When the cold weather came, they moved into a vacant building at Bell and Decatur Streets. (Some say it was an old saloon.) Since the work now seemed permanent, they began looking forward to organizing a church.

The Church

On December 24, 1871, the mission was organized into Fifth Baptist Church of Atlanta with sixteen charter members. The Second Baptist Church and the First Baptist Church had been interested and helpful during those days and were a part of the Presbytery in the organization. The Rev. James F. Edens was called to be the first pastor and served from 1871 - 1874.

The church met in the lecture room of the Atlanta Medical College. In 1872, Mr. John H. James of Second Baptist Church donated a lot on the corner of Bell and Gilmer Streets and a building was erected.

In 1875-1895, during the pastorate of Rev. Virgil Norcross, the Sunday School grew to be one of the largest in the city. Sunday School rooms were developed under the auditorium. In 1895, under the leadership of Mr. George Andrews, a Teacher Training Class was held, which was one of the first in the Southern Baptist Convention. These continued through the years.

By 1900, many changes were taking place in the neighborhood, so a new location was selected and a new church with provisions for a departmental Sunday School was built on the corner of Woodward and Cherokee Avenues and was renamed Woodward Avenue Baptist Church. The church moved into its new building in 1901, during the pastorate of Rev. T.P. Solomon.

In 1913, Rev. T.T. Davis was called to the church from a country church near Pine Mountain. He brought with him the love and fellowship of country people, which has continued to be reflected in the church to this day. Much emphasis was placed on evangelism. One revival resulted in 99 additions!

By 1923, the church building had deteriorated beyond repair. There was no room on the lot for expansion or parking. In 1926, the pastor Rev. Henry T. Brookshire, led the church in buying the lot on which the church now stands on Park Avenue at Sydney Street.

In February, 1927, Rev. L. E. Smith began his 39-year pastorate. In 1928, their first pastorium was built of brick at 564 Sydney Street, with three bedrooms and one and a half baths.

In 1929, the church adopted a unified percentage basis budget. All departments, missions, and even the pastor's salary, shared in the division of these funds, by percentage. This proved a blessing during the Depression as the church could not go in debt and the pastor suffered with his people; if they didn't have money, neither did the pastor.

In October, 1932, with the debt paid off and the grounds cleared, ground was broken for the Sunday School building at 486 Park Avenue. The outside structure of three stories was completed in 1933. Since it was Depression days and it was a "pay as you go" plan, work was halted until more building funds were raised. The building was completed in the spring of 1934. The ground floor was used as the auditorium. The old property was sold and the church moved to the new location in September, 1934. The name of the church was changed to Park Avenue Baptist Church.

In 1938, construction was started early in the year and the first service was held in the new auditorium on October 2, 1938.

In 1952-53 the new Sunday School Annex Building was built.

Excerpted from "History: Park Avenue Baptist Church 1870 - 1985," by Mrs. L. E. [Leone M.] Smith. Used with the kind permission of Rev. Dwight Adams.