City of Mt. Pleasant now owns city's oldest standing building
By BROOKS TAYLOR
Mt. Pleasant News
The City of Mt. Pleasant now owns the oldest building in the city.
During Wednesday night’s city council meeting, the council accepted the gift of the Second Avenue Baptist Church.
Not only is the church, located at 407 W. Saunders St., the oldest standing building in Mt. Pleasant but the oldest African American church building in Iowa and likely the oldest standing Methodist church building in Iowa.
“To have this early a structure with such a rich history still a part of this city is a true historical treasure which represents a proud period in Mt. Pleasant history,” said Jeff Thomas in making the presentation.
Construction on the church, which originally was a Methodist church, began in 1842 and was completed in 1843. Originally, the church was located at the northwest corner of East Monroe and North Adams streets (currently the site of the Colonial Apartments, also a former Methodist church).
After serving the Methodist congregation from 1843 to 1863, the building was sold to an African-American community for a place of worship. The church then was moved to its current location and served Mt. Pleasant’s African-American community.
The church’s location on West Saunders also is a significant in Mt. Pleasant history.
As early as the 1850s, Andrew Lee began a settlement known as Lee Town. Lee was an architect who designed Old Main on the Iowa Wesleyan campus. He was sympathetic to former slaves and built a number of small homes and invited the freed men and their families to move to Mt. Pleasant well before the end of the Civil War.
There were also areas of black settlement in Second Lee’s Addition in the west part of town and also in the area around Crane’s pond.
The church’s location was central to all of these settlements. The acceptance of former slaves into the community and the presence of the underground railroad in the county served as a testament to the spirit of racial tolerance present in Mt. Pleasant prior to the Civil War.
Remodeled in 1927, the church still retains much of its original fabric, including flooring, the pulpit, two original pews, windows and other artifacts from the church’s history. A survey of the building by Dr. Robert Welander of Mt. Pleasant, who is familiar with early construction techniques, confirms that the materials and construction techniques in the original part of the building are consistent with those used in Mt. Pleasant in the 1840s.
In addition to the donation of the church, the city receives the 66x134-lot on which it sits.
The building will be turned over to the Mt. Pleasant Historic Commission who plan to work on restoring the building.
Work needed includes a new roof, soffits, removal of vinyl siding and repainting the building to its historic colors. The commission hopes that eventually the building will be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. However, before that happens, the church would have to be deconstructed to its original 1863 floor plan.