Zion Baptist Church is the oldest black Baptist church in Dayton. It was founded Nov. 30, 1970. DAYTON DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE / WRIGHT STATE UNIVERSITY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS

Dayton’s oldest black Baptist church celebrates 150 years

The Dayton Unit NAACP was founded at Zion Baptist Church

Dayton’s oldest black Baptist church, site of the founding of the city’s chapter of the NAACP, will mark its 150th anniversary this year.

Zion Baptist Church was founded in Humphrey and Elizabeth Moody’s Mound Street living room on Nov. 30, 1870, according to the church’s historical narrative. The first pastor was Rev. Albert Matthews.

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Zion Baptist Church photographed in 1984 at 40 Sprague St. in Dayton. DAYTON DAILY NEWS / WRIGHT STATE UNIVERSITY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS
Photo: Staff Writer

Worshippers met in buildings around town before purchasing at lot on Sprague Street for $370 and building their own one-story church.

As the congregation grew, a larger building was needed. A black architect, E.J. Mountstephens, was hired in the early 1900s to design an expansion described as western style with a 12th-century Roman influence.

One of the unique characteristics of the church was a wood-raftered interior dome put together with wooden pegs.

Zion’s members pitched in to help build the church. The men swung hammers while the women cleaned brick by lantern light in the evenings. In 1906, the congregation moved into the new structure at 40 Sprague St.

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Members of Zion Baptist Church photographed in 1922 with a “community tree.” DAYTON DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE / WRIGHT STATE UNIVERSITY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS
Photo: Staff Writer

A 1985 Dayton Daily News story quoted 87-year-old Ella Avery Lowry, the daughter of William Avery, who along with Lucious Daugherty, were the church contractors.

As a girl, Avery took lunch in a red wagon to her father at the construction site. On one visit, she noted the architect brought “a group of white men out to watch Papa put up the hip roof on the church,” she said. “It was unusual, and a black man wasn’t supposed to know how to do it.”

The solid brick church, located along the banks of the Great Miami River, was able to withstand the Great Dayton Flood of 1913, and more city history was made when the Dayton Unit NAACP was established at the church on Feb. 9, 1915.

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Zion Baptist Church moved to 1684 Earlham Drive in Dayton in 1984. DAYTON DAILY NEWS / WRIGHT STATE UNIVERSITY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS
Photo: Staff Writer

The chapter started out with 75 members who initially focused on trying to stop an attempt to segregate Dayton Public Schools, according to the NAACP’s website.

“It’s a milestone to still be thriving in our community at 150 years old,” said Derrick Foward, president of the Dayton Unit NAACP. ” Any time you have a church that can be in existence that long and still have the firepower of Jesus rolling through the pews is awesome.”

To make way for highway expansion, the church relocated to Earlham Drive in 1984. The original Sprague Street building is now the Dayton Cultural and RTA Center, 40 S. Edwin C. Moses Blvd.

Zion Baptist Church, 1684 Earlham Drive, will celebrate its anniversary with a special service Sunday, Feb. 9, at 11 a.m. Foward and the Dayton Unit NAACP executive committee will attend the service and speak about the establishment of the organization. The public is invited to attend.

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