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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, September 24, 2019 1:00 am

Church designated as historic

Turner Chapel clears hurdle

DAVE GONG | The Journal Gazette

A round of applause broke out in the Omni Room of Citizens Square on Monday as Fort Wayne's Historic Preservation Commission approved a local historic designation for an iconic church on East Jefferson Boulevard. 

In a unanimous decision, the commission approved the historic designation for Turner Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, 836 E. Jefferson Blvd. The church's application will go before the City Council for final approval. 

“We feel very much that we are Fort Wayne. Fort Wayne is no one faction, but it's all of us together,” said the Rev. Kenneth Christmon, senior pastor at Turner Chapel. “And 170 years ago, African-Americans and Caucasians came together, and that's how this church got started. We believe we're part of the history, and we just love this community.”

The process began about a year ago as the congregation began looking for options for maintaining Turner Chapel, said Gwendolyn Morgan, a parishioner who helped lead the process. 

“It is a great feeling. I feel like we've made some progress,” Morgan said after Monday's vote. “It's very significant because it gives us hope.”

According to a staff report, Turner Chapel is significant for its contributions to history and for its Gothic revival architecture. The building's historical name is the Calvary United Brethren – Turner Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Turner Chapel was built in 1927 for $125,000. Turner Chapel AME bought the building in 1963 and began using it for church services and other events in 1965. 

Turner Chapel AME was founded in 1849 and is the oldest black congregation in the city. 

The application process, Christmon said, has helped the congregation understand what it means to be civically engaged. 

“We've had to complete applications, and the city has been friendly, the administration has been helpful,” he said. “They have walked with us this entire road and the city administration, the folks of Fort Wayne who run the city, they want us to be successful.”

Christmon said church leaders “worked hard to bring people” to Monday's meeting and that the goal of the church and its congregation throughout the process has been to “continue to make a significant, positive and collaborative investment” in Fort Wayne. 

Once the designation is granted final approval, next steps for Turner Chapel involve a capital campaign to raise more than $2 million for improvements.

Christmon said the congregation is working with a Lilly Endowment-backed organization called National Fund for Sacred Places. The goal, Christmon said, is to make Turner Chapel “a star on a hill of our community.”

Specifically, Christmon said, improvements include updating outdated systems, reinforcing some walls and performing  cosmetic touch-ups.

“The building has been very well taken care of, but at the end of the day there are some things we need to upgrade,” he said. “The other thing is to make it, again, a light on a hill so that when people drive by, before they get to Indiana Tech or if they come through our great city and its improvements, that we're on par with what the city is trying to do to make our city as brilliant and beautiful as it can be.”

dgong@jg.net