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Tradition

At home in Roanoke’s Downtown West

historyIn 1890, there was only one Baptist church in Roanoke. The “Magic City’s” population was 16,000 with many unidentified Baptists in the “big boom” that occurred when the railroad came to Roanoke.

Mr. E.H. Stewart, furniture dealer and Baptist layman, felt that the time for enlarged opportunity in spreading the gospel had come, and Roanoke needed a second Baptist church. A committee of eight was formed and Calvary church began on a positive note. Nothing in the records indicates any ill feelings toward Roanoke Baptist from the members, or from Roanoke Baptist toward any members of the new church. Mr. Stewart made a gift of $5,000 to relieve the burden of the young church.

There were 34 charter members and they met in the YMCA for a time until a church could be built. A lot was purchased for $6,000 on the north side of West Campbell Avenue midway between 5th and 6th Streets. On April 24, 1891 Charles Lunsford tossed up the first shovel full of dirt to build the first permanent Calvary Baptist Church.

The earliest church records do not specifically indicate how our name was selected. One story has it that the name Calvary was chosen by two charter members, Mrs. Chewning and Mrs. Edkloff, who were members of Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. before moving to Roanoke.

The first building was a small frame tabernacle. Calvary’s second building, a large brick structure costing $25,000 was built on this same lot in 1893. The building had remained in various stages of completion for several years during the Depression. The lower area of the church was occupied in December 1894; the upper portion in May 1896. At that time the windows were covered with paper, resembling stained glass. In 1906 the temporary windows were replaced by stained glass at a cost of $1,743.09.

In 1914 the membership had increased and the building was far too limited to house the throngs. Temporary structures were built beside the brick building, and the house adjoining the church property was bought and used for Sunday School classrooms.

The church began to realize that it must either have a larger building, or divide into two congregations.

It was decided to build, and in 1918 Frank Fallon of the florist family purchased the building for $50,000. This assisted the congregation greatly in raising funds to build the new church. The lot for the present building was purchased for $30,000. The ground-breaking took place in 1924 and the building was completed the next year at a cost of $312,000. It was considered one of the most modern churches in the South.

There have been two fires, one in May, 1950, after which there was an exstensive rebuilding and renovation program. The fire in 1963 did extensive damage to the front, roof and interior of the sanctuary.

The congregation has a rich heritage of ministry in our community, throughout Virginia, and literally “unto all the world.”

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