Members of the Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria were surprised recently to learn that their church at 313 S. Alfred St., is not the 120-year-old structure that they and local preservationists have always thought it to be.
Instead, sleuthing by Theodore I. Pryor, a restoration architect retained by the church, disclosed that the present building was probably constructed in the 1880s, making it less than 100 years old.
"Mr. Pryor's discovery solves a puzzle I've been mulling over for 13 years," said the Rev. John O. Peterson, pastor of the church. "I've always felt the cornerstone, which is dated 1853, was actually not that old."
The significance of Pryor's discovery is that it removes the building from an Alexandria ordinance that requires the city's board of architectural review to give its approval before any 100-year-old sturture in the city's historic district can be demolished.
The congregation has sought permission in December to demolish the red brick church plus two 19th-century houses located in the 900 block of Duke Street, just around the corner from the church, in order to construct a new sanctuary, an education building and a parking lot.
But the congregation's plans, which are part of the Dip Urban Renewal project, ran into opposition from local preservationists, who said the church and houses should be retained as significant pieces of local history.
Although the congregation may now be able to get a standard permit from the city to demolish the old church, their overall plan was put in jeopardy when the city's review board refused to grant demolition permits for the two structures at 904 and 912 Duke Street. Both are more than 100 years old.
The propoetry at 912 Duke Street, with its Greek revivial facade, in included on a list of seven houses within the Dip urban renewal area which the City Council cited as worth preserving when it orginally approved the project in the late '60s.
The city's coordinator for historic properties. Richard Bierce, called 904 Duke Street "a very good example of the Italianate," "an important artifact" which "could not be reproduced without a great deal of expense."
According to Peterson, the church cannot implement plans for new facilities unless those structures as well as the old church building are torn down.
The review board's decision will be appealed to City Council and the Council will have 30 days to act on the appeal.
Pryor told the board he had concluded the church building to be less 100 years old after carefully comparing the Alexandria city surveys of 1877 and 1891. The earlier survey showed a much smaller building than did the later one.
"Between the city survey of 1877 and that of 1891, the original building was replaced by an entirely new structure," Pryor said. "Apparently there was no attempt to reuse any part of the original structure for the new building completely encompassed the site of the old building."
Pryor also said that the wide tongue and groove flooring and the type of brick used in the church were developments of the 1880s.