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Mt. Calvary Baptist Church | Photo © 2019 Bullet, www.abandonedfl.com

Mt. Calvary Baptist Church

Location Class:
Built: 1955 | Abandoned: 1999
Status: Abandoned
Photojournalist: David Bulit

Brooklyn, Duval County

The Mt. Calvary Baptist Church is a church located in the historically black neighborhood of Brooklyn. Originally known as Dell’s Bluff when it was first settled in 1801, the Brooklyn neighborhood in Jacksonville was originally home to a sprawling, 800-acre plantation owned by Phillip Dell. The property changed hands several hands before the American Civil War. Following the war, it was purchased by Miles Price, an ex-Confederate soldier, who sold off the southern portion of the property to be developed as Riverside. The northern portion he developed himself which would later become known as Brooklyn.

While Price was the one to name the neighborhood, it’s unknown why a former Confederate chose a name associated with the New York borough of Brooklyn. The west and east streets though would be named after Confederate generals. The north and south streets are named after trees. The area was developed as a residential suburb and quickly grew after the establishment of a streetcar line. Many former African American soldiers, known as Buffalo Soldiers, settled down in Brooklyn. By Mt. Calvary Baptist Church’s inception, Brooklyn held a population of 1,000 and around 250 houses. In 1887, Brooklyn and several other suburbs were annexed by Jacksonville.

Mt. Calvary Baptist Church

Mt. Calvary Baptist Church held its first services in 1892 under the spiritual guidance of Reverend S. L. Murray at the corner of Stonewall and Park Streets. Among its members were several former United States Colored Troops, who fought against the Confederacy in the Civil War. For half a century, members of Mt. Calvary Baptist Church gathered for worship in a modest white wood-framed structure at the corner of Spruce and Dora Streets which they had purchased in 1895.

The Mt. Calvary Baptist Church had a succession of pastors during its formative years. The first was Reverend E. D. Young, followed by Frank Lancaster, R. Leggett, James M. Royster, D. A. Milligan, Hinton Henry Robinson, and James S. Murray. Reverend H. T. Wimberly became the pastor in 1941 and served the congregation until 1942. Reverend W. H. Holman was the interim pastor until Reverend William H. Hill accepted the pastorate in 1942.

Reverend William Hill guided the congregation until his passing three decades later. Recognizing the need for expansion, Reverend Hill envisioned a new sanctuary to accommodate growth and underscore the church’s significance in the city. Under Reverend Hill’s leadership, the congregation outgrew the old, wooden structure and replaced it with a handsome red, brick edifice. Reverend Hill served as pastor for thirty years until his illness and death in November 1972.

1949 sanborn mt. calvary baptist church
1949 Sanborn Insurance Map for Jacksonville, Florida. Library of Congress
James Edward Hutchins, Architect

James Edward Hutchins was the architect responsible for the design and building of the new Mt. Calvary Baptist Church building. Hutchins was one of Jacksonville’s few black architects, renowned for designing and building at least six other black churches in segregated neighborhoods like College Park and Durkee Gardens. Reverend Hill’s enduring tenure marked by the christening of the new sanctuary, solidified his legacy as Mt. Calvary’s longest-serving pastor, leaving an indelible imprint on the congregation’s history.

James Edward Hutchins was born on November 25, 1890, in Blakeley, Georgia, and moved to Jacksonville after completing his studies at Savannah State College. Hutchins is recognized as one of the few African American contractors in Jacksonville who not only designed buildings but built them as well. As a result, he became a mentor and advisor to many African American builders who sought his counsel and expertise in developing building plans.

Shortly after World War II, his construction company coordinated with the Veteran’s Administration to train black Veterans, American carpenters, masons, and draftsmen who helped build the growing Jacksonville of the 1950s and 1960s. Hutchins became the first President of the United Craftsmen’s and Builders Association and a member of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, the Florida State Business League, and the National Association of Real Estate Brokers. James E. Hutchins died from a sudden illness on May 16, 1970.

j e hutchins
An advertisement for Hutchin’s business in a Jacksonville city directory
Under the Pastorate of John Allen Newman

During the 1950s, Brooklyn had nearly 6,000 residents. In 1983, John Allen Newman became pastor of Mt. Calvary Baptist Church in Jacksonville. In his early years as pastor, a significant portion of the Brooklyn neighborhood continued to be affiliated with Mt. Calvary. However, in early 1988, Newman diverged from traditional black Baptist teachings by urging church members to contribute to Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign.

Justifying his stance to the media, he articulated his belief in “holistic salvation,” emphasizing the importance of not only personal redemption but also the improvement of one’s surroundings. Newman’s departure from traditional black Baptist teaching behind gradually led to a disconnect with many members of the neighborhood, alienating himself from a segment of the community.

Shortly after assuming the role of pastor, Reverend Newman persuaded the congregation of Mt. Calvary Baptist Church that a newer sanctuary was necessary, advocating for its construction diagonally across the street. He rallied the entire community for donations, promising to erect a walkway connecting the two churches. Newman even appealed to longstanding church members to consider mortgaging their homes to contribute to the construction costs. However, the neighboring church remained unfinished and was eventually razed by the city. In 1999, Reverend Newman disbanded Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, leaving it abandoned, and initiated The Sanctuary at Mt. Calvary in a former car dealership.

Brooklyn’s Decline

Brooklyn remained primarily residential for several decades, but it eventually developed into a commercial and industrial area due to the increasing use of the railway. Construction of the Fuller Warren Bridge in 2000 cut off the historically black neighborhood, pushing many of the residents out. This slowly led to the decline of the neighborhood, leaving many of the remaining structures in disrepair such as the Buffalo Soldier’s House. In recent years, gentrification has been affecting the long-term residents of Brooklyn as new rapid redevelopment transforms blighted areas of the neighborhood.

Back in 2017, there were plans by Bedopas LLC to turn the former church into a craft brewery with plans for a second structure to be built near it to house a restaurant. The restaurant would have featured a seating capacity of 224, as well as a 150-seat beer garden, and on-site beer production. Those plans never came to fruition, and so the church remains abandoned to this day.

You can read about the Mt. Calvary Baptist Church and many other abandoned places in my books, Abandoned Jacksonville: Remnants of the River City and Abandoned Jacksonville: Ruins of the First Coast.

mt. calvary baptist church renovation rendering
mt. calvary baptist church renovation rendering

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David Bulit is a photographer, author, and historian from Miami, Florida. He has published a number of books on abandoned and forgotten locales throughout the United States and continues to advocate for preserving these historic landmarks. His work has been featured throughout the world in news outlets such as the Miami New Times, the Florida Times-Union, the Orlando Sentinel, NPR, Yahoo News, MSN, the Daily Mail, UK Sun, and many others. You can find more of his work at davidbulit.com as well as amazon.com/author/davidbulit.

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