Churches always seem eternal…but sometimes the path to eternity leads through the Valley of the Shadow.
For almost 125 years, a church has stood at 10th and V Streets NW. It was on March 14, 1879 that a permit was granted for the Abyssinian Church to move “a frame church one story high situated at the corner of Vermont Avenue and T Street” to the northeast corner of that intersection. The cost was $50.00. Almost exactly 3 years later, the frame church was damaged by a fire, requiring a permit for $130.00 in repairs.
In the first days of 1896, the Secretary of War, whose functions were apparently even more wide-reaching than Donald Rumsfield’s, approved the three District Commissioners’ recommendation that the First African Methodist Church be allowed construct a tower and steps that projected beyond the building line. Two weeks later, the “First African New Church Society” filed the application to build a “two story and base…Sunday School Building” of “hard red” brick with a slate and tin roof. The building was to be surmounted by a tower 68 feet high according to the application, which included the name “Thomas C. Henderson, Jr.” as architect and estimated construction costs at $6500.
Apparently construction did not begin immediately, because the building permit was renewed in October, 1898. By the 1900 Washington City Directory, the building appears as the New Jerusalem Church, a Swedenbourgian congregation. By 1911, it housed “The Peoples’ Seventh Day Adventist Church”, organized in 1903, under the pastorship of Reverend Lewis C. Sheafe of 1633 10th Street NW.
Sometime during the depression years, the building became listed as the “Seventh Day Baptist Church”, and, in 1954, the City Directory listed it as “The Peoples’ Seventh Day Baptist Church (Independent)”. Over the intervening 45 years, it appears to have housed a variety of congregations, including both the Olive Grove and Morning Bright Baptist Churches in 1965.
Today the church tower is a very conspicuous part of the western skyline from the corner of Florida Avenue and 9th Streets. Although the building’s walls look as stalwart as a castle's, it has a large wound in the tower roof slates and has lost much window glass. However, a single perhaps 25 foot high stained glass window which faces the alley on the north side of the building appears intact.
What may either be the seeds of its salvation or destruction are very apparent nearby. The opposite side of 10th Street is being reconstructed with modernistic luxury townhouses, and the church stands only about two blocks from the Bohemian Caverns and other newly-fashionable blocks of U Street NW. (2002)
Update 2006: In 2004, the Historic Preservation Review Board approved a plan to incorporate the church into an upscale residential project, but, other than being more securely boarded up, the church has stood visually unchanged for four years.
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