W. A. Rayfield: Mt. Gilead Baptist Church

Back in February 2011, Malvaney ran a post about Wallace Augustus Rayfield, one of the first African American architects:

Rayfield, a native of Georgia, was educated at Howard, Columbia and the Pratt Institute, and taught architecture and drafting at Tuskegee before beginning his own practice in Birmingham, Alabama in 1908. He designed a number of churches for the A.M.E. denomination and schools (most for the Freedman’s Aid Society) in his large regional practice.

He is credited with some 359 “known” buildings in 19 states, including 15 in Mississippi.  Rayfield also designed the Trinity Building in South Africa. JRGordon took a look at the still-mysterious Herodon Baptist Church in Vicksburg also back in 2011.

One of those sort-of-south states in which he designed a church was Texas.  (I mistakenly thought I was from the “south” until I moved to Mississippi, where I was promptly–and for the most part, politely–corrected).  Rayfield is the architect of the Mount Gilead Baptist Church in downtown Fort Worth, Texas.  Fort Worth is a little off the Mississippi beaten path of Suzassippi’s Mississippi road trips for the summer, but since it is a Rayfield building and he is well-connected with Mississippi, I hoped you would not mind the several hundred miles out of your way to get here.

Mount Gilead holds claim to being the “Mother” of all African American churches in Tarrant County, having been founded in 1875 as the first church of any denomination (fortworthtexas.gov/library).  The congregation met in two other locations prior to erection of the building at the current site, just on the eastern edge of downtown Fort Worth.  While at one time, it was about the first thing one saw driving into downtown from I-30, it actually took some effort to find it now.

The addition of the Amtrak station, and significant gentrification of the area, coupled with re-routing of roads, required several trial and error attempts to locate the building, although I still remembered where it was.  The good news is that Fort Worth embarked on a plan to save historic downtown buildings several years ago, and many of their beautiful Art Deco styles from the 1920s boom, and earlier buildings from the 1800s, are alive and well.  The bad news is that like most places, gentrification takes the housing of low income folks who were left in the inner city during the suburban flight, and poor and working class people are displaced out of the new loft and condo style living so favored in historic downtowns.

[Mount Gilead Baptist Church under Construction], Photograph, n.d.; digital image, (http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth38208/ : accessed July 29, 2012), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, http://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting University of Texas at Arlington Library, Arlington, Texas.

This NeoClassical style church was completed in 1912.

…front portico with six non-fluted columns, pedimented gables, simple exterior moldings, all characteristic of Greek Revival architecture…semi-circular arched windows suggest Romanesque influence…(http://fortworthtexas.gov/library/info/default.aspx?id=5620)

A rear addition was added at some point, and protective coverings were placed in front of the stained glass windows, but otherwise, the church appears similar to the original design.

Hinsdale & Bryant. [Mount Gilead Baptist Church], Photograph, n.d.; digital image, (http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth38218/ : accessed July 30, 2012), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, http://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting University of Texas at Arlington Library, Arlington, Texas.

The most apparent changes are the addition of stucco in the recessed areas of the windows and the addition of the masonry screen across the front area below the portico.  An addition has been constructed on the rear of the building as well. Comparison of photographs also indicates the stained glass in the windows was also a post-construction addition.

Wallace Augustus Rayfield left his mark from Texas to South Africa, and points in between.  Echoing Malvaney’s call in 2011, keep an eye out for previously undocumented Rayfield buildings in your state or country–wherever you are.

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Categories: African American History, Churches, Historic Preservation

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3 replies

  1. Wow! Love the photo “under construction.” The finished result – well done!


  2. I love then/now shots! I was at a company meeting tonight, one of the guests was from FW and we were discussing all the historical places – imagine my surprise to see this post! Now I want to go. And, since I have dual citizenship (Mississippi and Texas) it is true that Missississippi is part of the south. But Texas is, well, it is just Texas all by its Lone Star self (love them both, too)! Great post!


    • I had long admired this building before I ever got interested in historic preservation, or even thought about architects, let alone Mississippi. It was an amazing coincidence to me to discover that the building was a Rayfield building after reading the post about him in 2011.


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