The Hamilton County Artists’ Association Birdie Gallery in downtown Noblesville will change the wording of an historical marker after a visitor questioned the word “colored” used to describe the former Baptist church building’s black congregation.
The HCAA’s gallery is the former home of the oldest black Baptist church in Hamilton County, established in 1853.
The first line of the wording on the historical marker -- currently displayed on the front of the HCAA gallery building at 195 S. Fifth St. -- reads “First Colored Missionary Baptist Church.”
In 2021, the word “colored” is an outdated term.
But at one time, the word was used in local Noblesville newspapers to differentiate the black Baptist church from the white Baptist church in town.
In fact, there was a misunderstanding, and it was thought that the word “colored” was part of the official name of the church, and was therefore included on HCAA’s historical marker, said Sue Payne, HCAA’s current president, who was juried into HCAA as a member years after the building marker was installed.
Upon recent recommendations from the Noblesville Diversity Coalition (NDC) and Hamilton County historian David Heighway, the HCAA building’s historical marker will be revised, with the removal of the word, “colored,” to represent the historically accurate name, First Baptist Church.
The current marker, which is still displayed on the building, will be stored away as an historical artifact, Payne said.
“Actually, storing the old markers and having them as a discussion point can be very useful. Marker language is important,” said Heighway, a Noblesville resident who is currently working on a new state historical marker for downtown Noblesville. “There have been several discussions with the state on how to phrase things.”
In his research of the Baptist church, Heighway found a newspaper article about a 1930s court case that ruled that the congregation was the “First Baptist Church” and that “colored” was not a part of the official name of the church.
Updating the historical marker was the topic of discussion at last Wednesday’s HCAA board meeting.
The topic is timely for Black History Month, celebrated each February, with 2021 marking its 45th year.
The HCAA gallery visitor who had noticed the use of the word “colored” on the building’s historical marker contacted the Noblesville Diversity Coalition about replacing the marker. Upon receiving the message, NDC member Bryan Glover contacted the HCAA president Sue Payne, county historian David Heighway and former church member Constance Jones and her daughter, Regina A. (Jones) Mack. Research found several documents that show the original, official name of the church was First Baptist Church.
As a result, the NDC recommended that HCAA correct the marker to show the original, historically accurate name, First Baptist Church.
Regina A. (Jones) Mack, 61, a 1978 graduate of Noblesville High School and who now lives in Navarre, Fla., is a fourth-generation member of the former First Baptist Church. She said, “I am happy that the misunderstanding about the original name of the First Baptist Church has been resolved. After historical research, it was determined that the name ‘Colored Baptist Church’ was a nickname given by the white people of Noblesville. It was always First Baptist Church and was made legally so after winning a court case to keep that name. I am proud that I was a product of the First Baptist Church, where I not only learned about Jesus but how to conduct myself in this world.”
HCAA member artist Rodney Reveal of Noblesville has offered to perform the labor to correct the wording on the marker.
Dana Randall, Noblesville Diversity Coalition board president, said, “This is an excellent example of our community coming together to reflect part of Noblesville's authentic history and heritage. We were glad to help the Hamilton County Artists’ Association efforts. We believe as our community continues to listen and learn from one another, we can build a more welcoming and inclusive Noblesville.”
Glover, a 1975 Noblesville High School graduate, who was the liaison between the HCAA and the NDC, grew up in Noblesville, his family living in Hamilton County since the 1830s. His parents attended school here in the 1930s and 1940s. Glover is a descendant of the Roberts Settlement, an African-American pioneer farm settlement in Atlanta, Ind.
He remembers the old notices in The Ledger, which would print the word, “colored” in parentheses after Baptist Church. “Given that I saw it done often enough, it looked to me like they were trying to make sure the readers of the newspaper knew which Baptist church we were talking about,” Glover said.
One of the ministers mentioned on the historical marker is the Rev. Barney Stone, an ex-slave, Civil War veteran, “highly respected citizen of Noblesville” and a preacher in the former Baptist Church. There is an historical picture of the Rev. Stone displayed inside the Birdie Gallery.
Besides the Rev. Stone, another famous minister at the church was Ernest Butler, a Hamilton County civil rights leader who was instrumental in desegregating the city’s swimming pool, a Ledger article said. At the time of the article, the Rev. N.C. Foster had been the church’s pastor for more than 27 years.
Glover said while the word ‘colored” will be removed from the historical marker, “I think it’s important for people to know that it’s an African-American congregation” and to denote that on the historical marker. He is working as the intermediary with Heighway to get the marker corrected and expects that the marker will include Stone and other ministers of the church on the marker.
Glover suggested that NDC make an historical presentation ceremony when the new marker is installed.
Heighway said, “I've been helping Bryan Glover to research this and he discovered some factual errors (including the 1827 date on the marker). So, aside from the questionable phrasing, the sign needed to be changed anyway. This isn't an unusual thing.”
Heighway wrote in his Hamilton East Public Library blog about the early African-American church buildings in Noblesville. While the oldest church in the county is at Roberts Settlement (of which Glover is a descendant), there were two congregations in Noblesville, the Baptist and the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) churches.
The Baptist church for African Americans was organized in 1853, Heighway said. At different times, it was referred to as the “African Baptist” or the “Second Baptist,” being that a white Baptist church had been organized in 1827. (The white church was defunct long before 1853.) It was also called the “Colored Baptist” which, Heighway said, “was and still is regarded as offensive.” A lawsuit in 1938 established the church name as First Baptist. The AME church was organized in 1862 and first met northwest of Noblesville in an old log schoolhouse, Heighway wrote. The congregation moved into town in 1868. The church still exists, at 17777 Little Chicago Road.
A 1872 pole raising and political rally for President Ulysses Grant was organized by African Americans in Noblesville and brought people from all over central Indiana. The money raised for that event was the seed money to build the First Baptist Church in Noblesville, meeting in school houses and the county courthouse since 1853.
The Baptist Church was built at Fifth and Cherry Streets, the current location of the Birdie Gallery. Heighway said, according to history, the building construction began in 1873, was finished in 1875 and cost $653.
The single-story 20-by-30-foot frame church is believed to be the oldest black Baptist church in Hamilton County, according to a newspaper article in The Noblesville Ledger in 2003. Except for a change in the entrance, the building “has remained the same since the antebellum.”
According to The Ledger, the single-story frame church, believed to be the oldest black Baptist church in Hamilton County, dissolved in 2005 and the building was acquired by the City of Noblesville on May 18, 2006, according to the Hamilton County property reports. The gallery was named after the late Roberta “Birdie” Bloomhorst thanks to a trust fund set up by her husband, Ken Bloomhorst. The deed was transferred to the HCAA on Jan. 8, 2018.
Payne is very proud of HCAA’s building and its heritage. She said, “All agreed, we can continue to tell the story of its history and those who worshipped here.”

-Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com. Today is this columnist’s first day back from a nice, long vacation.