Demolition underway on old First Baptist Church in Joplin, members reflect

JOPLIN, Mo. – When Melinda Campbell looks at her old church building, she’s flooded with emotions and memories.

“When I was in the youth group, we would play hide-and-seek in the church, all over the church, and that was really a lot of fun memories. Another memory that I have, I was probably five or six-years-old, and 7th street flooded. All of the water from the street got into the basement of the church, and I remember our parents coming down here to help clear out the basement…and I remember swimming in the water.”

Campbell went to First Baptist Church her whole life, like countless generations of others. Saying good-bye now isn’t easy, even since the church moved to its new location on 4128 Connecticut Avenue, in 2017.

“I was married in this church. Both of my children were baptized in this church. My husband was baptized in this church, and probably the saddest part was having to explain to my daughter why she would not be able to walk down the aisle of the same church that her mom and dad did,” expressed Campbell.

Wedding Day

Melinda Campbell celebrates her wedding day at First Baptist Church on 633 S. Pearl Ave.

The tear-down is part of a building project for the new Jasper County Courthouse. The current facility dates back to 1974 when the court system had far fewer cases to accommodate.

“We had about 2,100 cases that were filed with the court back then. Fast forward to last year, we had nearly 17,000. So we’re using buildings that have been good, but are now too small. We’ve seen a lot of infrastructure issues along with some safety concerns in our building and so we proposed to the public that we needed a new courts facility, because of that reason, and voters graciously extended the current sales tax that’s in place to allow this to happen,” explained Erik Theis, Jasper County Court Administrator.

Officials worked with church members to preserve pieces of this building’s history, which dates back to 1889.

“They allowed them to take out some stained glass, the cornerstone of the building was taken out, so all those things were removed before the demolition process because the county wanted to give them that opportunity because it is a historical piece of downtown Joplin,” said Theis.

While the building may be coming down, the heart of the church lives on through the congregation.

“I understand that it’s just a building and that the church are the people, but the building itself still holds memories for me, but I’m also making new memories at our new facility,” said Campbell.

The building is still in the design and development phase, but officials estimate the project’s cost to be somewhere around $36 million.

Pearl Avenue will be closed between 6th and 7th Streets during the demo process which could take a couple months to complete.

Officials expect the new courthouse building to be up and running in the first quarter of 2022.

The old court building will be torn down for parking.

In the meantime, Theis says the public should plan ahead, budgeting extra time to find parking while construction takes place.