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MEMORIES IN FOCUS: How history found its pulpit years ago

What’s now Marion Historical Museum, overlooking Central Park, was built in 1887 to serve a Baptist congregation that had formed a year earlier under pastor C.H. Wareham.

Before the small congregation had its own building, it conducted services at an unusual location — the Rink livery barn on the northwest corner of 1st and Main Sts.

The congregation’s dedication and the still-under-construction church building were impressive enough to earn praise from Record editor E.W. Hoch.

“The new Baptist church is now sufficiently advanced to reveal the fact that it is to be an architectural ornamentation to the city,” Hoch wrote in 1887. “The courageous pastor and brave little flock deserve highest commendation for their enterprise in erecting such a building under such seeming adverse circumstances, but we have faith that the generous people of Marion will see them through.”

During construction it was discovered that rock from the hillside adjacent to the church would, if properly burned, make strong cement. There is, however, no indication that stone was quarried from there for that purpose.

The church remained small and often faced financial difficulty. In 1913, when it and Marion Presbyterian Church both found themselves with insufficient money to hire a pastor, the two affiliated as the Federated Church of Marion.

A third fledgling church, Community Church, joined the federation, which maintained separate ties to separate denominations but conducted joint services until 1925, when the Presbyterians and Baptists once again could afford to hire separate pastors.

To distinguish between the church at the park and Emmanuel Baptist Church on Water St., townsfolk commonly referred to the park church as the English Baptist church, while Emmanuel, which still was conducting some services in German, was referred to as the German Baptist church.

The park church building underwent extensive repairs and improvements in 1953, but with declining attendance it closed five years later, donating the property to Marion County for use as a county historical museum.

The museum opened in 1961. The county eventually decided to stop funding the museum, and in 1990 it officially was renamed Marion Historical Museum. It now receives modest financial support from the city.

Ground level around the building has changed over time. This undated photo, made long before Marion voted in 1908 to pave Main St., depicts a much higher retaining wall between the church and the Hill School to the left.

A picket fence to the right was installed in 1886, a year before the church was built, to enclose Central Park, which was not purchased by the city until 1894.

At the time of the purchase, the church also donated a small portion of its land for inclusion in the park.

The fence was replaced in 1909, but by then the park — with the church overlooking it — had become regarded as a civic treasure.

In 1897, the Record proudly reported how police and courts had protected the park.

“Charley Stanford, a man old enough to know better, shot and killed a squirrel Wednesday morning in Central Park,” the paper wrote. “He was fined $5 and costs, amounting to $22.50 in all (the equivalent of $665 today), in the police court yesterday.

“Let this be a warning lesson, and if another squirrel or bird is killed in the park, we hope the police judge will inflict the severest sentence within his power. Central Park is one of the loveliest spots in Kansas, and its precincts should be held sacred against the hand of the cruel marksman, and the happy and innocent birds and squirrels be protected in every possible way.”

Last modified Oct. 17, 2018

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