Carol and Matt Jahn of Dayton have big plans for the old, long-abandoned Second German Baptist Church building, located at 1420 E. 4th St. in the St. Anne’s Hill Historic District.
The married couple purchased the property on Oct. 3, 2019. They are the owners of Existing Footprint Properties, an LLC that started a little over three-and-a-half years ago. Securing the financing needed to acquire the building and grounds via a small business loan presented challenges to the couple which influenced them to take a different approach.
“We started investing in real estate and that eventually evolved into flipping houses in order to have the funds for the church,” the Jahns said. “Each house we flip goes to finance the church renovation, but an unexpected blessing in disguise has been that we are taking abandoned houses, making them beautiful and filling them with wonderful people from the community.”
Their first experience flipping a house was in 2006 while they were working and residing in Cincinnati. Soon after, career changes led them to Dayton.
“We bought a fixer upper and lived in it throughout the renovation. We then sold that one and went through the same process with our second home in Kettering. That’s about the time we started the process of purchasing the church.”
Currently, the Jahns reside in their fourth live-in fixer upper in the Huffman Historic District, a short walk from the church and other houses they have been in the process of flipping.
“We are in the very preliminary planning stage, but the conversion will likely be four condos, each two beds and two baths, including two units on the first floor and two on the second floor,” they said. “We are planning to live in one of the first floor units. The second floor units will have amazing view of the downtown skyline. We haven’t even begun to look at the finish work just yet, but the design style will be quite mixed. A bit modern, a bit industrial, a bit holy and a bit repurposed.”
History of the property
With the completion of the Miami and Erie Canal in 1845, the demand for housing in Dayton and countless other cities and towns close to the canal skyrocketed mainly because of the migration of German immigrants. Platting, the creation of a land map for the neighborhood that would become St. Anne’s Hill, was initiated around this time by T.J. Smith, a prominent teacher, lawyer and businessman.
On Sep. 11, 1870, Dayton’s First English Lutheran Church congregation organized a mission Sunday School with the intention of building a small chapel. The cost of construction was limited to $20,000. Though the search for an adequate site took many months, a lot on the corner of May St. (present day E. 4th St.) and Dutoit St. was selected with construction beginning immediately.
The new Trinity Chapel was dedicated on July 7, 1872. With a total cost of about $25,000, Pastor Stelling had the responsibility of raising money to pay off a $7,000 debt. Sunday School was held at the chapel for the next eight years under superintendent Joseph R. Gebhart.
Even though the original plan had been to start a church at Trinity Chapel, the council made the decision to close the Sunday School and sell the property.
In 1883, the German Baptists purchased the property for $8,000 from the First Lutherans.
During the Great Flood of 1913, the Second German Baptist Church served as a relief station for any sufferers affected by the flood.
Services were held exclusively in the German language until World War I. In 1918, the name of the church was changed to the Fourth Street Baptist Church due to anti-German sentiment during the war. The church started holding its services entirely in English in 1931.
The congregation announced plans to construct a new church building in January 1946 at 508 Shroyer Rd., bounded by Krebs Ave. and Shadowlawn Ave with a name change to become the Shroyer Road Baptist Church. Ground wasn’t broken until Oct. 31, 1949 with the cornerstone being laid on May 7, 1950. Designed in the Colonial architectural style by Rollin E. Gebhart, the building would cost $100,000 to construct.
Even though the E. Fourth St. building was sold to the First Pentecostal Holiness Church in 1945, the plan was for the Fourth Street Baptist Church to hold Sunday morning services there until construction was completed on the new building. On Dec. 31, 1950, the E. Fourth St. building sustained $15,000 worth of extensive damage from a defective chimney. An insurance claim made for $10,000 was paid back to the church.
Huffman Elementary School (now Huffman Place, a senior living facility) became the congregation’s temporary place of worship until the new Shroyer Rd. building was ready for occupancy.
Additional years of transition
On Feb. 13, 1951, the building ownership changed hands yet again, this time being sold to the Calvary Gospel Tabernacle for $2,900. Despite the damage from the fire, services were held two weeks after the sale of the property. Repairs and restoration of the building were performed by members of the congregation, which helped in cutting the cost of the work.
Shroyer Road Baptist Church’s first service by the former Fourth Street Baptist Church congregation was held on Easter Sunday, Mar. 25, 1951 even though construction wouldn’t be fully completed until November of that year.
Calvary Gospel Tabernacle rededicated the newly renovated interior of its sanctuary at 1420 E. 4th St. on Sunday, Nov. 11 and Monday, Nov. 12, 1951. In April 1953, the Calvary Gospel Tabernacle changed its name to the East Dayton Assembly of God Church. The church was renamed a second time in the same month to Central Assembly of God Church.
The St. Paul Tabernacle Church moved from 1554 Richard St. (close to the Davis-Linden Building and former Hewitt Soap Factory buildings) in May 1961 after purchasing the building from the Central Assembly of God Church. Their first service was on Sunday, May 21, 1961. The church was regularly featured in advertisements printed in the Dayton Daily News as “The friendly church - where Jesus is real.”
The church became Grace Temple beginning on Mar. 15, 1965 with 7:30 nightly services after the building was purchased from the St. Paul Tabernacle Church. Shortly before Christmas 1965, a car belonging to a visiting friend of Grace Temple’s Rev. Martin Baxter was stolen from the church parking lot. The car contained 60 pounds of candy that Baxter had ordered for the children of the church. Unfortunately, an order refill for the candy couldn’t be filled on such short notice.
Rev. Baxter went on to visit American servicemen fighting in the Vietnam War in late February 1967 as part of a group of 15 clergymen and businessmen of the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship International.
In 1970, the United Christian Center took ownership of the building and held services until July 1988, when the church moved to 433 Oak St. (now the City Movement Church) in the South Park Historic District. The Horizon of Hope Ministry purchased the building close to the same time frame for $93,000 to use as its permanent sanctuary, a place to provide meals (breakfast and dinner) plus clothing to those in need seven days a week and a daycare. A Dayton Daily News article from Dec. 14, 1989 detailed one of the historic building’s shortcomings.
Those attending 11:30 a.m. Sunday worship services had to climb 34 steps to the 450-seat sanctuary. On average, the congregations were no larger than 60. Horizon of Hope’s Rev. Ed Saunders said at the time, “There are no three easy steps to finding Christ here.”
In April 1992, the Horizon of Hope Ministry moved to Third and St. Clair Streets. In August 1992, Jesus Church Ministries started holding services in the building. The same ministry held their 1998 CampMeeting convention at the now demolished Hara Arena’s Ballarena featuring MC Hammer. By the time the last service was held in 2003, Jesus Church Ministries had become Christ Worldwide Church which moved to Huber Heights at 6121 Brandt Pike in the Marian Meadows Shopping Center.
In 2004, the church building was sold to a buyer who planned to convert the space into a single family home. The space was lived-in for a short amount of time and renovation plans never materialized leaving the building vacant for approximately 17 years. In June 2020, the roof of the church was replaced to help keep the building dry and stable from further deterioration.
A new outlook toward the future
Unfortunately, the requirements for historic tax credits are not feasible for this project. Since the Jahns are not applying for tax credits, they’re pivoting their plans to obtain funding.
“We plan on flipping houses and using the profit to slowly finance the renovation. We just don’t have the resources that the big developers have. It’s been very disheartening. Being a small business, we have a number of challenges that a larger developer may not face. We have limited funds. We don’t have all the connections with contractors, and the pace at which we will work is much slower than a typical project of this scope.”
The Jahns are hoping to live in the church in less than five years.
“We are just two average people with a dream to live in a converted church. However, along our journey, we discovered we are inspired by the community and the amazing things Dayton and the residents have to offer. We are inspired by taking old, discarded, vacant houses and making affordable homes for other average families. Also, we are inspired to acquire houses in disrepair and left to crumble from irresponsible slum lords and make our neighborhood safe, clean, walkable and connected.”
Check out Existing Footprint Properties on Instagram at @existingfootprintproperties and on Facebook at facebook.com/existingfootprintproperties.
Contact contributing writer and photographer Tom Gilliam at email@example.com.