West Orange celebrates First Baptist Church’s historical marker recognition

Published 12:20 am Wednesday, August 16, 2023

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WEST ORANGE — Leaders with the city were excited to announce the first historical marker, commemorating the legacy of First Baptist Church of West Orange.

The marker, issued by the Texas Historical Commission, will locate at 608 Dayton St., displaying the significance of the religious establishment, formed from a missionary and a few followers in 1902.

It has evolved into an enduring religious institution that has played a pivotal role in the spiritual and religious development of the community.

“It wasn’t really a city then, rural. That’s what sparked me. This was way before incorporation in 1954,” said Meritta Kennedy, Mayor Pro-Tem, who championed the application process for the historical marker.

According to the Texas Historical Commission, historical markers are a prominent aspect of the organization’s programs, serving to honor and document diverse facets of Texas history.

These markers highlight various subjects, including architectural marvels, religious congregations, pivotal events, military sites and notable individuals whose contributions have left a lasting impact on the state’s cultural tapestry.

“We were very, very fortunate and honored to be able to get this marker,” Kennedy said.

The church’s influence extended beyond its original establishment, with three other churches — Winfree, McDonald and Calvary — branching off from its foundation. Despite enduring challenges such as storms and floods, First Baptist Church stands as a symbol of resilience.

Brother Gerald Brignac, interim pastor, articulated the symbolism of the historical marker, noting it serves as a beacon of hope, representing the unwavering dedication of the congregation across generations.

“A marker encourages me, personally, to look forward,” he said. “The work continues just as the city grows.”

The application process for the historical marker was no small feat, considering the limited number of markers awarded each year.

“This year, only 170 markers were to be awarded out of 254 counties,” says Margaret Toal, current chair of the Orange County Historical Commission.

She commended the dedication of the applicants for their meticulous research and documentation, underscoring the marker’s role in preserving the city’s history for future generations.

“The Texas Historical Commission had to put a hold on the markers for a few years because the foundry that made the markers closed,” Toal said. “Last year was the first year the program was started again and now, competition for the markers is tough.”

Karen Theunissen, a proud church member of 30 years and whose grandparents were among the charter members, shared her excitement for the recognition.

“I’m very proud and excited,” she says. “It just makes me proud this is happening. I’m proud for them and just proud for West Orange in general.”

The marker commemorates the past, celebrates the present and looks toward the future.

Kennedy says now that they are approved, it is just a waiting game. The completion of the marker can take anywhere from a few months to a year.

“When we get word it’s ready to be shipped, we’ll get with the Chamber of Commerce, city leaders and members of church and have a dedication ceremony for it to be erected,” she said.

As historical markers continue to honor significant contributions, they remain symbols of hope and inspiration for communities to cherish their heritage while forging ahead into the unknown.

“They honor the past but celebrate the present. And they look to the future,” Brignac said. “For me, a marker symbolizes hope. There was a time when FBC-West Orange didn’t exist. Someone then, years ago, looked forward. FBC of West Orange began in a tent. The building has changed but the purpose, the hope, the congregation continues.”

— Written by Chrissie Mouton