San Marcos City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to designate the Historic First Baptist Church, referred to in the ordinance as the Old African American Baptist Church, a local historic landmark.
According to the San Marcos Main Street Program, the Historic First Baptist Church was the first African-American church in San Marcos and was burned to the ground by the Ku Klux Klan in 1873. In 1908 its congregants rebuilt the church. However, it has been vacant since 1986 as its condition deteriorated with time.
The church recently won a $150,000 restoration grant through the Partners of Preservation campaign funded by the National Trust, American Express and Main Street America. The campaign awarded grant money to the 10 historic landmark entries that got the most votes from the public.
Kurt Waldhauser, unaware of its history, bought the church with his wife Kate in 2017.
“I have to be really honest, at the time my intention was to tear down the building and repurpose the materials,” Waldhauser said.
Before tearing down the building, he reached out to then-Place 4 City Council Member Jane Hughson—now mayor-elect—and Place 3 City Council Member Ed Mihalkanin to ask what they thought of his plans.
“They all told me the history, and at that point I realized that it would be an absolute abomination to consider even tearing this building down,” Waldhauser said. “And I also feel so much gratitude for the city and the city’s support of saving this historic structure that honors a community that has been underserved and under-recognized. I think that we’re well on our way to preserving the structure and turning it into something that the entire city can enjoy and celebrate.”
Hughson and Mihalkanin thanked Waldhauser for reaching out to them about his original plans for the church and being open to reconsidering them once he learned the history.
“This is kind of a gift to the community,” said Place 5 City Council Member Melissa Derrick.