Burned Highland Park Baptist Buildings Date To 1920s And 1940s

  • Saturday, June 11, 2022
  • John Shearer

The former Highland Park Baptist Church buildings heavily damaged by fire Friday night and Saturday morning were where noted former pastor Dr. Lee Roberson preached many of his sermons.

 

As fire officials continue their investigation into the cause of the fire, a look at some old newspaper clippings at the Chattanooga Public Library reveals that the older and more ornate church building at the corner of Union and South Orchard Knob avenues was built about 1922.

 

The auditorium on the east side of it dates to 1947, one newspaper article said.

Called the Chauncey-Goode Auditorium, it served as the main worship facility until the larger facility opened on Bailey Avenue in September 1981. 

 

An inspection from a block or so away Saturday afternoon revealed that the auditorium appeared to be virtually destroyed, while the old 1920s church building was heavily damaged but still had some walls standing. Also still intact was its green stained-glass window fronting Union Avenue, although the education building to its rear was gone.

 

The later Bailey Avenue worship facility designed by Harrison Gill and currently used by Redemption to the Nations Church was not damaged.

 

Highland Park Baptist Church had started in 1890 and was originally called Orchard Knob Baptist Church. After it built a church on Beech Street, it called itself Beech Street Baptist Church.

 

By the early 1900s, however, it had become Highland Park Baptist Church. It soon built a wood frame building at the corner of Union and South Orchard Knob avenues, but ground was broken for the current facility at the same site shortly after World War I ended.

 

However, some money problems delayed construction, but it began anew in the spring of 1922 after some work had already been done. The church was evidently completed and opened within a few weeks or months after that.

 

The architect of that building was W.H. Sears, while the contractor was C.D. Haines. The pastor at the time was Dr. J.B. Phillips.

 

While construction on the new church was taking place, the members worshiped at a junior high school located on East Main Street. 

 

The early 1920s building is unique in that it has some clock faces on its bell tower. The design found in the 1922 Chattanooga newspaper apparently shows some windows, but not the plain-like faces against the more ornate architecture.

 

Another Chattanooga building with a clock face is Founders Hall at UTC.

 

Dr. Roberson came to Highland Park Baptist Church in 1942 from First Baptist Church in Fairfield, Al. Prior to that, he had done evangelism preaching in the Birmingham area and had also worked at churches in the Germantown and Greenbriar areas of Tennessee.

 

He started out preaching in the 1922 structure, but worshipers apparently took to his evangelistic style that focused on literal Bible teaching, and a temporary tabernacle type facility was built across Union Avenue.

 

By about 1947, what would become known as the Chauncey-Goode Auditorium opened on the east side of the 1922 building and became the main worship facility. The 1922 building eventually became known as the Phillips Memorial Chapel.

 

The church also opened Tennessee Temple University in 1946, and the campus began expanding in that immediate neighborhood. 

 

Dr. J.R. Faulkner, who was said to be good at logistics and administration, later assisted with the Highland Park/Tennessee Temple ministries before taking over as senior pastor.

 

As a historical footnote during this time, on May 21, 1976, Ronald Reagan came and spoke at Tennessee Temple’s McGilvray Gymnasium near the destroyed structures in his unsuccessful campaign for president before his election four years later.

 

As the late 20th and early 21st centuries arrived, the Highland Park Baptist membership and attendance began declining, and the church in 2013 announced plans to move elsewhere and rename itself Church of the Highlands.

 

Some of the church and school property was sold to Redemption to the Nations Church.

 

But for several decades, hundreds of Highland Park Baptist worshipers flocked every Sunday to this church plant now mostly destroyed.

 

* * *

 

To see a video interview with Dr. Lee Roberson and hear him discuss some of the buildings damaged by fire, go to this site:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FM1sB5OMs0Q&t=304s

 

* * *

 

Jcshearer2@comcast.net

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