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Floyd County

March 16, 2012

New Albany's Second Baptist pushing for better future, restoration of Town Clock Church

NEW ALBANY — Though the church is celebrated for its connection to the past, it’s the future of the congregation that concerns Rev. LeRoy Marshall.

Once a beacon of hope for slaves living in Kentucky, Town Clock Church has stood in New Albany for more than 160 years. It was a station for the Underground Railroad, and initially housed the Second Presbyterian Church which in a rare act for the times, allowed black people to worship with the congregation.

Town Clock Church is now the home of New Albany’s Second Baptist Church, and Marshall is heading an effort to refurbish the building so it can remain in the city for at least another century.

But more than preserving the historical structure is on Marshall’s mind, he’s also looking to grow church attendance, as there are about 25 active members at Second Baptist.

“We are not a museum, we are a functioning every Sunday at 11 a.m. church,” said Marshall, who’s served as pastor of the congregation since 2009.

Second Baptist is celebrating its 145th year as a congregation in 2012, and the body began worshipping at the Town Clock Church in 1889. The upkeep on the building can be an expensive proposition, but the aim of the church is to do more than just simple maintenance.

Though perhaps a lofty goal, Marshall said there’s interest in building a new steeple atop of the Town Clock Church. The original steeple was seen as a sign of hope for slaves living in Kentucky, as historians said they could see the church from a distance.

“To the slaves on the other side, it was a symbol of freedom,” local historian Pam Peters said.

Historians estimate the steeple was destroyed by lightning around 1919, and though the clock is still prevalent, Marshall said nothing beats that original makeup of the building.

The history of the church and its ties to the Underground Railroad are factors that aren’t lost on Marshall, especially when he steps into the pulpit to deliver a sermon.

“It makes you aware of the fact you’re carrying on a legacy, and we’re trying to keep it alive,” he said.

And the church has found partners in its mission.

The Floyd County Historical Society is aiding Second Baptist in its attempt to garner an Indiana Landmarks grant that would fund a structural analysis of the building.

Floyd County Historian David Barksdale said the grant requires a local match, and that Develop New Albany has already committed to fund the parallel portion if the church receives the financial award.

Town Clock Church is a living testimony to the Underground Railroad as well as a link to New Albany’s history, Barksdale said. With the city’s bicentennial approaching next year, he believes there will be a wide community effort to refurbish the church.

“To me, this is probably one of the most important buildings in our whole community,” Barksdale said. “We want this jewel to sparkle in 2013.”

To help Second Baptist raise funds, the historical society has also donated prints of a James Russell painting of the church that was rendered in the 1980s.

The church is asking for a donation of at least $10 per print. The Carnegie Center for Art and History also has plans to aid the church in its restoration efforts, Barksdale said.

The reverend’s wife, Joyce Marshall, said the church will also participate in a meal program during Harvest Homecoming this year to raise funds.

“One of the things we want to do is to be a voice in the community,” she said. “To keep our past alive, work on what we’re doing in the present, and be prepared for the future.”

While Marshall stressed the church is more than just an historical attraction, he added that doesn’t mean the congregation is opposed to allowing tours of the building.

The church would like to have a regular schedule of tours, but the building must be maintained in order to allow regular public access, he continued.

As part of its anniversary celebration, Second Baptist is holding a special service at 4 p.m. March 25 that’s open to the public.

The prints will be available to donors during the special service.


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