September 8, 2009

Zion Hill First Baptist Church

zion hill baptist
After building a number of residences in Nacogdoches in the Prairie or Bungalow style (showing the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright), Diedrich Rulfs returned to his Gothic and Victorian roots on what must be of one of the finest churches built at that time in Texas for a black congregation. The Zion Hill congregation dates back to 1879. In 1914, the congregation moved to the Lanana Street building designed by Rulfs. According to information included in the National Register listing's narrative for the Judge Stephen Blount House, the church's Gothic Revival tower closely resembles the tower of the church where Rulfs was married at Atenserfeld, Germany:

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zion hill baptist
The view from Oak Grove Cemetery, where Rulfs and a few family members are buried.
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7 comments:

S R Management said...

I spent many hours walking Oak Grove during my days at SFA. Since I lived on King St, just behind Roy's Gro, the cemetery was in asy walking distance. The church appears to be in better shape today than it was 30 years ago. Thanks again for bringing back good memories.

Chris said...

I'm glad I was able to provide you with those memories! Yes, a major renovation of the church has just been completed, so it's looking the best it has in decades. I wonder about when the congregation stopped using it as a church, because they only started using it 1914. It seems to me they let it go down really quickly.

Leigh said...

The congregation moved out to the new church house on the loop in 1990. My memory is that the upkeep of the historic building was so expensive that it was beyond the reach of a middle-class congregation; all the money was being sucked into the building, with little left over for church programming. We have these arguments all the time with historic churches; I was a member at First Methodist when I was in Nac, and just recently a dear friend of mine from there shared how much was spent on refurbishing the sanctuary. He and I both felt that money would have been used more appropriately for programs for people instead of furnishings for a building.

It is a great shame that Zion Hill was left in disrepair, but I blame the city more than the church body. An historic building of that significance should be viewed as a cultural treasure and taken care of by the community as a whole, in my opinion.

Leigh said...

I went to see if I could find the church in Germany that inspired Zion Hill's tower. While Rulfs' home village of Atenserfeld doesn't appear to have its own church, I think I've found one at St.-Gallus-Kirche in the village of Altenesch.
http://www.kirche-wesermarsch.de/index.php?site=1/9/507
If this is indeed the prototype, we can only be glad that Rulfs' surer taste guided Zion Hill. Another church in Seefeld has a somewhat similar tower, more felicitously executed: http://www.kirche-schwei.de/seefeld/unserekirche/index.html.

Chris said...

I made a perfunctory attempt to find that church, Leigh. Thanks for going a little further. I think that first one's tower looks more similar. I guess there's a chance the church where Rulfs was wed (if it's not one of the two you found) has either been torn down, burned, or was renovated. Either way, I love that little bit of Rulfs trivia (the romance of it!).

Lucan Watkins said...

While attended SFA in the late 1960's and early 1970's I wore a black arm band and marched with other students to stop the city from cutting a road thru the the property belonging to the church. Zion Hill Baptist was in the way of the road and the church was to be leveled. Glad the the city listened. Do you know any of the other details about the march and the road?

Lucan Watkins said...

Looking at a map of Nacogdoches, it must have been Park Street the city wanted to cut thru the Zion Hill First Baptist Church and cemetery. Do you know if Park Street ended by the creek and cemetery and was cut thru in the 1970's?