Kentucky is a land of churches: big historic churches, built in the style popular at the time; small country churches; and churches in storefronts in small downtowns. All shapes and sizes of historic churches spread out over our 120 counties. Many historic church buildings though, are vacant, demolished, or transformed with a new use. The latter isn’t a new phenomenon, and there are many examples I could cite of churches turned into homes, businesses, or even pizza parlors. It’s also not a conversion limited to recent memory, as I discovered when I drove past the former Carlisle Baptist Church one wintry day two years ago.
The paint colors on the brick building caught my eye first – yellow masonry with red accents – and the front gable orientation and arched openings shouted “church!”
A large dumpster in front of the building forced the angle of my photographs to be a bit…creative.
According to one source, the church was built in 1879, and the first Sanborn Fire Insurance map for Carlise, dated 1886, shows the church in operation. (Sanborn Fire Insurance maps can be a researcher’s best friend.)
But by 1903, the brick church shows up as a dwelling on the Sanborn map, but sadly the map doesn’t tell the story of why.
Had the congregation grown so quickly over two decades that the church proved too small? A new Baptist Church, with a pyramidal roof bustling with spires, does show up on the 1903 Sanborn map on Locust Street.
Did the congregation take the story of their former church building with them? Are its records and handed-down memories stored anywhere?
Other churches are located in close proximity to the new church’s location, so perhaps the Elm Street site was no longer quite as desirable as it had been in 1879.
Whatever the reason, the church became a house, and then a multi-family unit later in the 20th century. It looked forlorn on the day I saw it, with windows boarded up and openings in the fascia.
The building has some intriguing features beyond its changing roles – the trefoil shape seen on the central tower and the buttresses is perched on top of a triangle in a pattern I’ve not seen before. A trefoil combined with an equilateral triangle was a fairly common symbol of the Christian Trinity during the late Middle Ages in some parts of Europe – and the Gothic Revival style in America picked up on that element.
Usually though, the symbols are overlain on one another, like the representation above. I wish I had unearthed a historic photo of this former little church, to see what it looked like before decades of change, but I hope that the dumpster out front boded well for its future.
I like to think that someone was preparing the building for its latest role – a restoration of its sweet blend of Gothic Revival and Romanesque details – preparing it for another century of use.