First Friends Church
1501 South Adams Street, Marion
For nearly 20 years, trailblazing African American architect Samuel Plato lived and worked in Marion, designing houses, schools, stores, an apartment complex, and churches. Today, only a few of his designs remain in the city, and another one—First Friends Church on Adams Street—is in serious jeopardy.
In the nineteenth century, the Quaker congregation that established First Friends Church championed efforts to treat the local Black community equitably, supporting Abolitionist efforts and aiding residents of Weaver, a nearby African American settlement.
When the congregation outgrew its first church, members hired Plato in 1914 to design a new house of worship, paying $13,824.94 for the Gothic Revival-style building that stands today. The church is simple, but elegant—a tabernacle-style sanctuary with semi-circular seating facing a large proscenium, with artful stained-glass windows to illuminate the interior.
The Friends’ forward-thinking approach to race relations harmonized with Plato’s own practices. He promoted social progress in a white-dominated field by hiring integrated crews for his projects, creating training and jobs for African Americans and insisting that Black contractors on his projects be allowed to join the same local workers’ unions as their white counterparts.
Today, however, vacancy and neglect are slowly destroying the church’s graceful features. Plywood covers one of the large windows, and water infiltration from a rotten roof precipitated crumbling plaster, buckled flooring, peeling paint, and mold.
After adding the church to our 10 Most Endangered list last year, Indiana Landmarks commissioned an engineering assessment that determined the building is structurally sound, and our Black Heritage Preservation Program secured grant funding for a new roof to halt further water damage. However, until the building is in the hands of an owner with adequate resources to tackle complete restoration, Marion could lose yet another significant landmark designed by one of the early twentieth century’s most prominent African American architects.
Saving threatened buildings takes teamwork. You can be a part of that team. Reach out to local leaders. Let them know these buildings are important to you. And support state and local preservation groups.