Rumblings Around the Fourth Ward’s Bethel Missionary Baptist Church

Some sort of work has begun on the remains of the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church on the corner of Andrews St. and Crosby in the Fourth Ward, a reader reports: “About a week ago someone put up new fencing around it, and in the past few days construction crews have started doing something to it (not sure what). . . . It used to be that the church itself was fenced off and the grassy area behind it (where the trucks are now) was open (lots of people . . . used it as an impromptu dog park). Then they pushed the fence back to cover the whole block and the trucks came in. Most mornings this week workers are dumping a bunch of stone into a waste bin that’s hauled off. I can only assume the stone is coming from the church (I don’t see where else its coming from), but I couldn’t swear to it.”


The church’s brick facade has been propped up since the building was consumed by fire in 2005. Four years later, the city of Houston purchased the property and announced plans to turn it into a park. “Anyway, not sure what’s going on,” writes Swamplot’s tipster, “but it might be of interest since there is a great deal of potential for conflict between the two souls of midtown (Freedmanstown/Bros).”

Photo: Swamplot inbox

24 Comment

  • Most likely the city flipped it to the Southern Baptists who are going to build “Bethel Towers” for the displaced former residents of Freedman’s Town if they can afford the “affordable housing” it will offer. Probably around $1,000 a month for a one-bedroom. With a little “park” of course. For the residents.

  • @ Matt Mystery:

    Doesn’t appear to be the case per HCAD:

    Still owned by the City of Houston. As for the conflicting souls of Midtown, I’d say the Freedmanstown soul won out when we dropped over $500k into propping up this relic. Should’ve been torn down years ago.

  • I hope they preserve the remnants of the church, I ride my bike past it almost everyday. I know all the fuppies who live in those terrible sheet metal clad pieces of junk want it torn down.

  • I agree that it should have been torn down after the fire. Spending anything after that time was just pouring money down the rathole. Oh – Geeze – I can now hear Queen Jackson-Lee calling me a racist.

  • I found an interesting case doing research today from 1854 on warranties for goods today from 1854. The rule announced by the Texas Supreme Court in that case was that in order to recover for the death of a slave shortly after purchase, the buyer must show that the slave had a condition at the time of sale that was known to the seller and was the cause of the slave’s death. It was completely by accident that I stumbled across this case by using an online electronic research website. I fear that whiping out Freedmans Town will mean that Houstonians will only be confronted by the evil deeds of slavery and its legacy by only the odd remote and random circumstances. We are not better off if that is the case.

  • Hard to know what they city intends to do and the only “public information” is on the Fourth Ward website but of course that hasn’t been updated since 2009. One thing is for sure. The AG’s Office probably needs to take another “look see” around the hood…

  • Well, Old School certainly wins the WTF Post Award for not only today, but likely for 2012 to date.

    Seriously, WTF was that? Trying to impress us that you did research today, perhaps? Or was this the only way to work slavery into an article about a church built 90 years after slavery ended?

  • anyone who knows Texas history knows slavery wasn’t a dominate labor force since most settlers were rather new pioneers with little funds to own another person much less build massive plantations in need of a slavery workforce……. It is time for the public to get past the Gone With the Wind idea and realize not every white person was a rich slave owner, not every Indian killed settlers, not every person of color wants or needs to be given anything other than the same respect we expect for ourselves……. The church along with many buildings in the city deserve to be honored with restoration and protection to remember the hard work the people who built these buildings had to go through to build this once great city

  • Actually, the church was founded by an ex-slave, John Henry (Jack) Yates. It was the second church he founded. He served as the first pastor of the first black church in Houston, Antioch Missionary Baptist Church organized in 1866. Bethel Missionary Baptist Church was founded in 1891. His house, now in Sam Houston Park, was also on Andrews Street. The remains are the third church on this site since its founding.

  • I was looking at property prices in Freedmanstown and decided to go check the neighborhood out. I was also curious to see the Victor Street rowhouses for myself. I did not expect to find myself in hood territory so close to the ritzy stuff; The looks I got from the residents as I drove through were beyond unwelcoming. Good thing I didn’t park my car and walk around. I guess it’s no different from what you’ll find just one block away from some parts of Washington Ave.

    If that’s the “soul” of Freedmanstown, it should stop dumping its trash and old furniture on empty lots and not display swag at visitors. I’m left wondering if it would be worth it to pick up said lots on the cheap and sell to developers looking to build the inevitable townhomes/luxapartments many years down the line. I don’t want to fear for my life every time I go check on my land.

  • Damn thats gonna be a nice park. Great that the structure was salvaged.

  • Joe so far the poor folks seem to get along just fine with the rich folks in Fourth Ward. It’s the “tourists” they don’t particlarly like. And a lot of the trash in the lots is from the trash that drives into Fourth Ward beleiving it to be some sort of city dump. The rich folks are also waiting for all the revitalization and historic preservation promised by the city for almost 20 yeasr. Most of which seems so far to have come via a bulldozer.Which is not exasctly what the city promised. But then the only promises the city made that it seems to be keeping is to the developers.

  • Despite some fleeting efforts in Anti-gentrification-alism, that area will be demolished and rebuilt quite soon. It just makes too much sense… city is happy with higher tax base, builders are happy with continued business, construction jobs are created, and everyone’s property values in the immediate area go up. After all, that’s the natural life cycle in a city.

  • I own one of the aforementioned townhomes across from the church and do not feel the church should have been torn down. I am incredibly excited to have a small community park that celebrates the rich history of the area. I spoke with the contractor in charge of the project last week and he described a very nice outdoor space for the neighborhood to enjoy. The project is slated to be completed in March with the stabilizing beams coming down at the first if the year.

  • It may make sense but the taxpayers have been ripped off since they financed all this “redevelopment” with funds that were supposed to be to “revitalization.” Apparently you share the view that it’s okay to spend taxpayer money to allow developers to enrich themselves. Others disagree with you. The AG’s Office among them.Houston Renaissance entered into an agreement with the AG’s OFfice regarding provision of $6.5 million in land, which they spent $24+ million in public funding to purchase, for the provision of affordable housing. Last time I checked, upscale $250,000 and up townhomes and Camden apartment complexes do not constitute “affordable housing.”

  • Matt, I’m of the school of thought that the government should not spend a penny towards private enterprise but as long as they continue to throw money around without paying attention, I’t be dumb not to take it.

    A fool and his money (in the case elected government) are soon parted.

  • @commonsense:

    However, the “government’s” money isn’t the government’s at all. It’s OUR money, the taxpaying citizen’s. That’s the point. The millions being spent to prop up that church and now turn it into a park would have been much better spent on rehabbing the horrendous streets in the 4th ward (to name one suggestion).

    It’s true that a fool and his money are soon parted. Only problem is that the “fool” in this case is all of us because it’s our tax dollars that are being squandered.

  • TMTexas, I totally agree, it’s abhorrent that the government is wasting everyone’s money, even mine, I’ve paid enough in property taxes over the years to buy city hall.

    However, since I can’t change the system and can only wait for next election cycle, I will take advantage of it. I can’t afford to take some moral stand and refuse the incentives, and if I don’t take them, someone else will.

  • Commonsense, that’s right, rail against services, but be first in line at the trough. Oink oink!

  • Charles: In 1860, one quarter of all Texans were slaves. So yes, the majority of whites weren’t slave-owners, and we all learned in school how many of the new German immigrants in the Hill Country were opposed to slavery and the Confederacy and were persecuted for it. But a LOT of whites owned slaves.And in Texas at the time, cotton was king, and slaves picked the cotton. The men who ran Texas were slave-owners and Confederates. And after the Civil War, Jim Crow was the law of the land in Texas for another hundred years. Perhaps to help us remember these struggles (indeed, to help us remember that there was a reason folks named their communities things like Freedman’s Town and Independence Heights) at least a few important structures should be preserved. But it doesn’t look like Bethel Missionary Baptist Church will be one of them.

  • Mel, I see it more as utilizing resources that would have been wasted anyway, much like recycling. If they’re going to throw that money away, might as well throw it my way, maybe I’ll get some of my “fair share” back.

  • No need to justify, commonsense, oink oink!

  • That Houston would use any funds to preserve anything of historical value is a miracle. Let me tell you doubters something. Houston had, HAD a lot of buildings in the last century considered prestigious, gems of the South, remarkablenin their grandueur, and most if kot all have been leveled with no sense of appreciation. I pay taxes and to few of MY tax dollars have been used for preservation as far as I personally am concerned. I find thisbstucture lovely even jn its decay. I am amazed that it stands. If you have seen what is around it, the cookie cutter and rather bland homes, the nature of the property is all the more valuable. People travel around the world to see items that only exist due to efforts at preservation. Your inability to see beauty in something that others value does not negate that items importance. As of this articles posting, I have been at Bethel church 4 times in 3 weeks and I think its beauty should stand as a monument to the past and as a model for future appreciation.

  • So now it’s finished and it’s beautiful. Except that it’s not always “open”. It can be enjoyed from afar but not from inside.

    What’s up with that? A friend of mine was there recently during “open” hours but it wasn’t.