Blizzard Damages South Side Landmark

Officials blame wind, lightning for damage to First Baptist Congregational Church

A historical church that's among the few that survived the Great Chicago Fire sustained extensive damage from this week's blizzard.

The roof of First Baptist Congregational Church, at 1613 W. Washington, collapsed from the weight of the snow, damaging the church's exterior and interior.

The church's giant Kimball organ, the largest in America, also suffered damage.  It was last appraised at more than $1 million.

"We don't know exactly [what happened], but we do feel it was a combination of wind and lightning," said the church's senior pastor, George W. Daniels.  "I don't think the snow had any impact because the tower actually fell.  The tower is a spire.  It didn't have no snow accumulation on it."

There was no one in the church when the damage was caused.

"We closed down for Tuesday based on the forecast of the blizzard and so there was no one here," said Daniels.

He said custodians reported stones on the street on Wednesday but didn't realize their significance.  It wasn't until Thursday morning that church officials noticed that there was damage to the place of worship's interior.

Church officials said in a press release that "failure to maintain this property will result in irretrievable [loss] of the client that utilizes the facility, tourists who visit the church and a loss of an important part of our nation's history."

Officials are currently assessing the damage to determine the estimated costs. The church is accepting donations for its restoration.

The church was built between 1869 and 1871 and designed by architect Gurdon P. Randall. It appears in numerous books about church architecture as Chicago's only pioneer edifice with complete auditorium seating, a plan that has been copied in other churches and religious buildings.

The grand old church at the corner of Ashland and Washington has seen it all.  Thousands of souls have been baptized, married and buried there.  It survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and temporarily served as City Hall in the fire's aftermath.  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once spoke from the pulpit.

The church gained its National Landmark status in 2006. It has been a Chicago Landmark since 1982.

A repair fund has been established at the PNC Bank at 2154 W. Madison St., in Chicago.

Full Coverage: Blizzard 2011
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