Community History – Covington – Madison Avenue Baptist Church

Community History - Covington - Madison Avenue Baptist Church

The Baptist community of Covington living in the neighborhoods south of the business district began agitating for a church in the 1850s. In June 1857, forty members of the First Baptist Church were given letters of dismissal to establish such a congregation. This group met on the lawn of the Western Baptist Theological Institute on July 19, 1857 and agreed to organize a new Baptist congregation under the name John’s Baptist Church. The church was named after John S. Bush, a longtime leader in Covington’s Baptist community.

Initially, the congregation met in the Western Baptist Theological Institute building. Within a few months, the group began using a small frame structure on Madison Avenue near 9th Street. Asa Drury of Dry Creek Baptist Church and J.A. Kirtley from Bullittsburg Baptist Church filled the pulpit for many months. In September 1858, Reverend Samuel Smith became the first resident pastor of John’s Baptist Church. Reverend Smith, however, remained for only two months.

The congregation experienced extreme difficulty in finding a replacement minister. Eventually, R.L. Jeffries accepted the call. The congregation soon discovered that Jeffrey was not an ordained minister. Jeffrey however, was an excellent preacher. On April 29, 1860, He was baptized in the Ohio River by Reverend Asa Drury and accepted as the regular pastor of the parish. Rumors about Jeffries past induced the church board to conduct an investigation. This investigation resulted in Jeffries’ resignation.

When the Western Baptist Theological Institute was sold to the Sisters of the Poor of St. Francis, the congregation was forced to seek new quarters. Services were then held at the Welsh Church on Lynn Street. In 1866 a piece of property on Robbins Street was purchased. At this time the name of the congregation was changed to the Robbins Street Baptist Church.

The difficulties caused by R.L. Jeffries pastorate resulted in a lack of enthusiasm at John’s Baptist. The Civil War only added to this malaise. As a result, the congregation was without a permanent pastor from 1860 until 1867. In November 1867, the Reverend A.B. Woodfin was named pastor. Woodfin, however, only remained in this position for four months. The parish had declined to a membership of 36. During this period, the congregation purchased a lot at the northeast corner of Madison and Robbins Streets as a site for a new church. The new frame Gothic Style structure was ready for use in January 1870. At this time, the name of the congregation was again changed to the Madison Street Baptist Church.

In 1891, a portion of the congregation left to establish the Third Baptist Church (later Immanuel Baptist Church). This reduction in the size of the congregation, however, did not dampen their spirits. Around 1906, the congregation purchased a site for a new modern church at the northeast corner of 10th and Scott Streets. The name of the congregation was changed to Calvary Baptist Church. A new church, however, was never built on this site. Instead, a decision was made to remodel the 1870 building on Madison Avenue. The name of the congregation was then changed to Madison Avenue Baptist in 1907.

On March 1, 1910, the Reverend T.H. Plemmons became the pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist. It was under Plemmons leadership that the current church was constructed. The old 1870’s church was demolished to make way for the new structure. In the interim, services were held in the Y.M.C.A. and Odd Fellows Hall. The cornerstone of the new church was set into place on July 17, 1912. The Gothic Revival edifice was dedicated on June 15th of that same year. The new church was built of brick with stone and terracotta trimmings. The first floor housed meeting rooms and Sunday school classrooms and the second floor housed the main auditorium seating 400.

In 1919 the Reverend Dr. Henry D. Allen assumed the pastorate of Madison Avenue Baptist. He remained in this position until his retirement on June 30, 1938. During this era, the congregation flourished. Membership in both the congregation and the Sunday school taxed the new church building. The congregation financed the construction of a balcony in the church auditorium to accommodate the increasing crowds in 1921. In 1925, architect C.L. Hildreth designed an addition to the rear of the structure which housed expanded Sunday school classrooms. This addition was dedicated on October 25, 1925. By 1938, church membership stood at 921.

In October 1924, Madison Avenue Baptist Church participated in the creation of a new Baptist congregation in the suburban City of Fort Mitchell. At that time, letters of dismissal were given to forty members. These forty were among the founding members of the new Fort Mitchell Baptist Church.

The congregation continued to prosper and in 1948 purchased a residence for the pastor at 1049 Montague in suburban Park Hills. This home was sold within a year’s time and replaced by a home at 3901 Locke Street in the Latonia neighborhood of Covington. At about this same time a building at 16 E. Robbins was purchased to serve as an annex to the growing Sunday school program. Membership reached a peak at Madison Avenue Baptist in 1958 with a total of 1165.

Membership at Madison Avenue Baptist began to decline in the 1960s. This decline continues to this day. By 1982, membership had dropped to 675 with about 225 attending regularly. The minister at the time, the Reverend Ernest A. Carpenter, said: “It’s primarily an older congregation and they’re dying off. And we don’t seem to be able to pick up the young couples and young people.” Madison Avenue Baptist was not alone in this situation. Most congregations in Covington’s urban core were also experiencing aging populations due to the continued flight to the suburbs. By the year 2002, membership had declined to such and extent that the congregation was unable to finance the salary of a pastor. Despite these difficulties, the congregation continued to persevere and carry out their mission in the urban core of Covington.
Early Pastors: Samuel Smith 1858-1859; R.L. Jeffries 1860-1861; A.B. Woodfin 1867-1868; Henry McDonald 1870; T.J. Stevenson 1871-1872; J.M. Frost Sr. 1872-1875; J.M. Bent 18756-1881; A.M. Vardeman 1881-1884; E.N. Dicken 1884-1886; J.H. Butler 1886-1891; B.F. Swindler 1891-1904; J.D. Gwaltney 1904-1906; T.C. Ecton 1907-1909; W.A. Burns 1909; T.H. Plemmons 1910-1915; Logan B. English 1915-1917; J.T. Arnold 1918; A.L. Crawley 1918-1919; Henry D. Allen 1919-1938; F.H. Malone 1938-1948; P. Ennis Taylor 1948-

Eighteenth Anniversary of the Madison Avenue Baptist Church, Covington, Kentucky 1857-1937; Madison Avenue Baptist Church, Covington, Kentucky, A Century for Christ, 1857-1957; Kentucky Post, June 7, 1982, September 10, 2002, p. 1K.

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