During the current heat wave, things have been pretty quiet in the library, especially in the NC Room. But yesterday the peace was shattered when a new patron walked in and laid some color copies of an old photograph on the information desk.

“Can you help me figure out what this is?” she asked.

It was obviously a photograph of a church building and its congregation, taken sometime in the early to mid 1920s, so I asked her what she knew about the picture.

“Not much,” she replied. “But it is from my father’s things, so it might have something to do with the early history of Calvary Baptist Church.”

Nowadays, many churches have fairly extensive histories on their websites, so I thought we might find a shortcut, maybe even the same picture, at the Calvary website. So we went there and looked, but drew a blank.

Next, we focused on the sign next to the church entrance.


The first word is partially blocked by a gentleman’s head, but there is only one four letter word in modern English that begins with a “W” and ends with “st” and that is “West”. Part of the second word is blocked by another gentleman’s hat, but it appears to begin with an “E”, so we might jump to the conclusion that the second word is “End”, since there were several churches in Winston-Salem in the 1920s with “West End” as part of their names. But the last letter is obviously a “t”, so that cannot be the case. And the spacing clearly indicates that two letters are blocked.

“The only thing that I could think of was ‘West East’ ,” the patron said. “But that doesn’t make sense.”

Indeed! The second row of words is mostly blocked as well. The second word is obviously “Church” and the first word ends in “t”. The spacing there is too short for “Methodist”, so we combed through the city directories from about 1916 through 1926 looking for Baptist church names that might match our picture. No luck.

I knew from previous research that Chatham Mills of Elkin had established a Winston branch around 1900 in the area near the current Hanes Dye & Finishing plant, and that a sort of mill village had grown up there and that sometime around 1915 the Chatham Heights Baptist Church had been founded there. I even knew the name of the minister, L.B. Murray, originally from Elkin, who later moved to Buxton Street.

When I mentioned that, one of our brilliant genealogy volunteers, Reba Jones, said “Why don’t you look at the street directories in that area to see what might be there.”

So we looked at Chatham Road and Buxton Street. Nothing. Then I decided to try Eighth Street, since the later Calvary Church, one of my all-time favorite local church buildings, unfortunately now demolished, stood at the corner of Buxton and Eighth.

And there it was, in the 1922 city directory, “West Eight Street Baptist Church”. Not “Eighth Street”, but “Eight Street”. But still a problem, because the spacing of the second word on the sign allows for only two letters, so if it is meant to be “Eight ” there is not enough room for the three missing letters.

Then I remembered a dramatic episode in my own life. Fifth grade, Ardmore School annual spelling bee. It comes down to an on stage duel between me and a brilliant seventh grade girl. At some point, the principal, Myrtle Butler, decides that everybody needs to get back to class, so we retire to her office where she dictates 100 words which we write down. The first hundred, we both get all correct. A second hundred is dictated. And I lose, because the seventh grader is again perfect and I misspell one word. What is the word? “Eighth”. I spell it “Eigth”. The sign painter at West Eighth Street church made a similar mistake.

So the picture is of the “West Eighth Street Church”, taken at about the time that it was renamed “Calvary Baptist Church”, around 1925.


Clearly, the building was originally a private residence. The original front porch has been enclosed and a bell tower placed on top of the porch.

Once we have established this, it is easy to trace the history of the building located at 521 West Eighth Street. It was constructed around 1911 and originally occupied by John E. Thompson and his wife, Louise. Thompson worked as a night watchman for an unspecified employer.

By 1915, the occupants were Walter and Della Tesh. Walter Tesh worked as a clerk at J.J. Adams & Son, a grocer located at 411 Trade Street, just a few blocks away, which was the original location of H.D. Poindexter’s general merchandise business, built in 1880 and still standing today.

By 1920, the house was occupied by another grocer, G.M. Childress. That same year, it was converted to become the West Eighth Street Baptist Church, Frank L. Fiddler, pastor.

Our patron was delighted at the outcome of this on the spot research. She knows about a centenarian woman who was probably in this picture and may be able to identify some of the other people therein. Stay tuned for more.

The image below is from the 1917 Sanborn Insurance Maps of Winston-Salem and shows the private residence that became Calvary Baptist Church.