Brick by brick, members of the Elon First Baptist Church collected 68 years of memories on a Saturday morning.
The original Elon First Baptist Church building on Trollinger Avenue was demolished April 18. The demolition company left a bucket of bricks at the site for anyone who wanted one as a keepsake.
The building had not been in use since 1990, when the church moved to its new location on Lynn Street, but thoughts of past Sunday mornings were still there for a few members.
“I went by that morning to see the church and there was this old gentleman just collecting all these bricks from the site,” said Tracy Kennedy, Elon First Baptist’s business administrator. “The construction guys were helping him out, and I asked them, ‘How long has he been out there?’ They said all day.”
After the move to Lynn Street, Elon First Baptist tried to register the original church as a historical site. Talks with the North Carolina Historic Commission fell through because the costs of renovating the church were too much.
“It was just going to be too expensive to try and do a big project like that,” said Lawrence E. Slade, Elon First Baptist Church’s chairman of the deacon board. “So we decided to have it demolished. The church was becoming an eyesore for the city.”
There was limited turnout at the demolition. Kennedy said the current church members were either too old to collect bricks from the site or too young to have any attachment to the church.
“There were about three or four people collecting things from the site when I went,” she said. “I don’t want to say no one cared about it, but I haven’t heard a complaint from anyone about it being torn down. The ones that wanted to be there got what they wanted.”
Slade grew up in the original church. When he collected his bricks, he was thinking about the future instead of the past.
“I got about 25 bricks,” he said. “That’s all I needed. And one day I’ll pass them on to my daughter. She was about six years old when we moved into the new church, so she doesn’t remember much about that old one.”
Elon First Baptist Church was founded by John McMullen in 1922, building the original church on his land with the help of Slade’s grandfather. It was the first African-American church built in the town of Elon.
The church was untreated and unkempt for years. Original plans to tear down the church began about seven years ago, but they stalled until the church’s transition to its new pastor, Rev. Eddie Spencer, in 2011.
“Our old pastor wasn’t quite as hands-on as our new pastor is,” Kennedy said. “He doesn’t like to sit around. He wants to see things happen. Our old pastor wasn’t quite that way about things, so nothing happened to the original church for a while.”
The demolition process sped up with Spencer in the fold and the increasing danger of the old church.
Kennedy said they were afraid of the collapsing structure hurting community members. Elon students occasionally went inside the church to hang out and explore. The condition of the building made it likely that someone would eventually get hurt, according to Kennedy.
“When we looked at the church, it was dilapidated and the roof was compromised,” said Sean Tencer, Elon’s town planner. “It was a liability waiting to happen for anyone that went in there. The church had been in this state for a long time.”
The church also wasn’t practical for accommodation purposes. No heating, ventilation or air conditioning made it difficult to hold any events inside it.
Elon First Baptist occasionally held services outside of it after the move, but that was the only activity, according to Slade.
The Town of Elon signed off on the demolition permit, and Elon First Baptist went to D.H. Griffin, based in Greensboro, to set up the site’s deconstruction.
“D.H. Griffin did a good job,” Slade said. “They cleaned up the site well and added fresh grass, so it looks like nothing has ever been down there.”
The building is gone, with only the cemetery next to it as a sign of what it once was. Elon First Baptist is now entrenched in its current location for the foreseeable future, but the old church had a big role in the community, according to church member Mary McManus.
“It was like a little hut,” McManus, an Elon First Baptist member her entire life, said. “But we had a lot of memories there. It made us into a family.”