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First Baptist Church

Baptist Church at Colonel Allensworth SHP

Archaeology with Everyone's Blessing
Testing the First Baptist Church Site at Colonel Allensworth SHP
Betty Rivers
Associate State Archaeologist


Allensworth, California's only planned black community, was established in the San Joaquin Valley in 1908. The town, named for the best known of its founders, Col. Allen Allensworth, flourished for only a few years. Col. Allensworth's accidental death, relocation of the rail shipping center which had provided a strong economic base for the town, and drying wells brought the colony's agrarian dream to a close in the 1920s. Allensworth continued as a settlement, however, and its core area, now designated a State Historic Park, commemorates the pioneer community.

The First Baptist Church

The First Baptist Church at Allensworth,  ca. 1960.

Interpretation of Allensworth as it stood from ca. 1910 to 1918, at the height of the town's activity, required the restoration or reconstruction of salient buildings in the core area. Currently, work is underway on the planned construction of the First Baptist Church. Built in 1916 as a denominational house of worship, the church served the entire community as a meeting place for rituals of celebration or sorrow. It was in use until the late 1950's; in 1967, the abandoned building, although structurally sound, was torn down for salvage.

Information on the church and its history was generously provide by residents, past and present, of Allensworth; the Director of Missionary Extension for the Northern California Baptist Convention from 1945-1959; and staff both the American Baptist Churches of the West and the American Baptist Historical Society's Archives.

The architect of the church reconstruction asked what three features be clarified by archaeological testing: a cross wall behind the main steps, on the northeast corner of the church; a small porch or steps at the west wall; and the baptismal pool, long since silted over.

We were fortunate in being able to schedule the dig for the weekend of Col. Allensworth State Historic Park's Rededication Day, on October 8, 1994. The crew arrived on the previous day to prepare the site, lay out units, and set up interpretive displays on the church and on previous archaeological projects at the park. On Rededication Day, over three hundred persons visited the site and asked questions about the church, its history, and archaeology in general. About fifty visitors enthusiastically shoveled, trowelled, measured, and screened. It seemed particularly appropriate that two local ministers, Reverend Benjamin Beavers and Reverend Lawrence Booker, skillfully excavated much of the silted-in baptistry.

Reverend Beavers excavating the baptistry     Reverend Booker excavating the baptistry     The excavated baptistry

The dig established dimensions and materials used for the baptistry, the location and dimensions of the cross wall, and the location of the west wall porch. And we were repeatedly assured that the work contributed significantly to the understanding and appreciation of archaeology for many visitors to Col. Allensworth State Historic Park.

The excavated cross wall     The exavated porch     Visitors at the excavation site