Old Baptist Tabernacle Building in New Albany
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A preservation group in New Albany recently announced their intentions to keep one of America’s best collections of historic fire fighting equipment in New Albany. The Friends of the New Albany Fire Museum have launched a $2 million fundraising campaign to purchase the fire fighting collection and display it in downtown New Albany.

The group is considering three locations for the museum including the Shrader Stables on Main Street, a former Frisch’s Restaurant on Spring Street, and the old Baptist Tabernacle building on Fourth Street. While any of these locations could benefit the museum and New Albany, I believe one choice stands out as a prime contender: the Baptist Tabernacle.

First among my reasons why the Baptist Tabernacle building would make an excellent home to a Fire Museum is its location directly across the street from a major downtown fire station. What could be better than a fire fighting museum with a fire station next door? The building is also historic and in need of repair after Hurricane Ike ripped off the structure’s roof in Windstorm 2008.

Built between 1878 and 1880, the simple brick neoclassical structure once housed the merged congregations of the First Baptist Church and the Bank Street Baptist Church. The City of New Albany purchased the building in March of 2008 and proposals linger to convert the structure into a City Hall. The purchase could very well have saved the structure as the loss of a roof might have otherwise been cause to demolish the Tabernacle, but New Albany plans to preserve the structure. The City had hoped to restore the roof with disaster funds from the storm.

Judging from an interior view, an historic photograph, and details on the exterior, the second floor of the Baptist Tabernacle was likely added later as large vertical windows have been removed and bricked up to leave only small square apertures. Brickwork on the interior also reveals where a balcony could have potentially been located at one time. Before the Windstorm, the interior was in need of work but an ornate ceiling was still visible. I’m not sure what the interior looks like now that the building has been without a roof for a year. (Anyone know the history?)

Imagine, though, if a set of grand, wooden double doors were restored to the central entrance, evoking the doors to an old fire house while still referencing the original architecture. Inside, a massive vaulted space would house historic fire trucks dating to 1756 and artifacts lining the perimeter and potentially an open mezzanine. In a bittersweet stroke of nature, the loss of the roof could assist in converting the building into a museum as it could allow more flexibility with the renovations.

What do you think about the New Albany Fire Museum and its potential location? Your opinions in the comments.

The last two photos of the Baptist Tabernacle before Windstorm 2008 are used under a Creative Commons license granted by Tabitha (^_^) on Flickr. To view a historic photo of the Baptist Tabernacle, check over here at Our History New Albany.

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Branden Klayko

Branden Klayko

Founder and Editor at Broken Sidewalk
Branden founded Broken Sidewalk in 2008 while practicing architecture in Louisville. He continued the site for seven years while living in New York City, returning to Louisville in 2016. Branden is a graduate of the College of Architecture at Washington University in St. Louis, and has covered architecture, design, and urbanism for The Architect's Newspaper, Designers & Books, Inhabitat, and the American Institute of Architects.
Branden Klayko

1 COMMENT

  1. The upstairs plaster is most certainly a complete loss, having been exposed to the elements for so long. The city, with help from Develop New Albany, Inc., commissioned a space use study to see if the building could be used as city offices. The architects decided that without either new construction on a adjacent lot, or acquiring and incorporating the adjacent corner building, space was insufficient for city use. The marvelous structure, originally an open church, had the second flood partition added some time in the last couple decades. Personally, the building only makes sense to me returned to an open, single story with full, top-to-bottom windows restored. Full renovation will run around $1.2-$1.4M, a lot for not much more than 3000 sq. ft. But for the right occupant, the space will be amazing, and within walking distance of downtown restaurants like Toast on Market, Bank St. Brewhouse, and Wick’s Pizza.

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