Rising Star Baptist Church is located at 1823 Lothrop Street in North Omaha. One of the oldest African American churches in Omaha, Rising Star is located in a beautiful historic building that has been home to several congregations. This is a history of the Rising Star and its building.
First Universalist Church
Built as the First Universalist Church in 1894, the building on the southwest corner of North 19th and Lothrop served that congregation until 1906. The sanctuary sat 200 people and the building was said to have “ample school rooms and meeting rooms.” Built for $25,000, it was located on the southern edge of the up and coming Kountze Place neighborhood.
When it was built though, the neighborhood was sparsely populated. There were approximately 5 houses on each block, and even though Herman Kountze paid to place sidewalks and gas-powered lamps on many of the streets, there wasn’t a sense that the neighborhood was “done” building, by any measure. First Universalist was one of the first of more than 20 churches eventually built in the neighborhood. In 1894, the church was described as shining out “across the chilly prairie” in the evening.
That year, in 1894, the church became home to Rev. Augusta Chapin (1836 – 1905). Dr. Chapin had a Doctor of Divinity and came to pastor at the church from Chicago. She was reportedly the first woman in the United States who earned that degree. The Omaha World-Herald said Dr. Chapin, “is a woman in the prime of life, of much geniality of manner, an impressive presence and a reputation which has been recently augmented by her activity and prominence at the parliament of religions.” She was at the church for just two years before having to return to Chicago for personal reasons.
When the Nebraska State Universalist Church convention was held at the church in 1895, the newspaper reported there were leaves painted throughout the inside of the building to give it a natural feeling.
The congregation lasted through the 1898 Trans-Mississippi Expo. Next door to the church was the parsonage, an American Foursquare house that stills stands today.
In 1904, the First Universalist Church decided it needed to move closer to the center of Omaha. The church’s property, originally donated by Herman Kountze more than a decade earlier, was obligated to be a church for 25 years. That year, the North Side Christian Church bought the building and began making plans to occupy it. However, by 1905 it was apparent that deal wouldn’t work out. In 1907, the church building was sold to the Evangelical United Brethren Church for a new congregation to serve the elite neighborhood.
First Evangelical United Brethren Church
The Evangelical United Brethren Church already had a strong foothold in Nebraska by the turn of the 20th century. However, they hadn’t set up shop in Omaha until they bought a vacant church in the Kountze Place neighborhood. In 1908, the a new Evangelical United Brethren Church congregation moved into the building at North 19th and Lothrop Streets. Originally called First EUB Church, in 1909 it was dedicated as the Hartford Memorial EUB Church. According to an article in the newspaper, “The church was made a memorial to Mrs. Lilian Resler Hartford, not for a money consideration, as is so often the case with memorial institutions, but solely because of the beautiful, efficient, and self-sacrificing life she has lived and is now living for Christ and his kingdom.”
In 1943, the church was rededicated after extensive renovations. A new entrance was added along with lecturns, altars, and classrooms.
As white flight swept the Kountze Place neighborhood in the 1950s, the Hartford Memorial congregation sought to flee with its members. After 50 years in the North Omaha location, the congregation was so desperate to get away from their new African American neighbors that they sold their building before they had a new location identified. For a few weeks in March 1957, they co-occupied the original church building with the purchasing congregation before leaving the building.
In 1958, Hartford Memorial EUB merged with Briggs EUB Church and they formed a new congregation for northwest Omaha. They started meeting in the Springfield School, across the street from North 60th and Girard Streets in the former town of DeBolt, where they constructed a new facility. When the Evangelical United Brethren Church merged with the Methodist Episcopal Church nationally, the new Hartford Memorial EUB building became the Olive Crest United Methodist Church, which is still located there today.
Rising Star Baptist Church
Originally called Philadelphia Baptist Church, this congregation was formed as a mission church and became a formal congregation in 1954. Founded as a Black church, Philadelphia Baptist didn’t have much press for several decades since Omaha’s mainstream newspapers didn’t generally cover African American news. It did have several locations though, including 2320 North 28th Street and 2708 Caldwell Street.
In 1957, Rev. C.W. Wilson led Philadelphia Baptist Church to acquire the United Brethren church building. The building was advertised that year as being “For a good-size congregation; church proper seats 200 plus Sunday School room, nursery, classrooms and an apartment with bath.”
In January 1963, Philadelphia Baptist Church rebranded as Rising Star Baptist Church, which its been called since then.
In the 1970s, Rev. G.H. Wilson led the Rising Star choir in an annual music festival for the community. It continued for several years. Rev. Wilson celebrated 66 years as a pastor as he retired from Rising Star in 1992. The celebration of his retirement was covered in the Omaha Star, and many people joined to celebrate his career.
Today, Rev. Johnnie Moore, Sr. is the pastor of the church.
Today, the building has not been recognized for its historic value to the City of Omaha or the Kountze Place neighborhood as a site affected by white flight, a place for religious value, or a place that maintains the historical value of the area. It should be identified on the City of Omaha Landmark Heritage Preservation Commission as an official Omaha Landmark and could be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
More Articles about Historic Black Churches in North Omaha
Main Article: Historic Black Churches in North Omaha
Churches: St. John’s AME Church | Mount Moriah Baptist Church | Hope Lutheran Church| Bethel AME Church | New Bethel COGIC | Zion Baptist Church | Rising Star Baptist Church | Faith Temple COGIC | Mt. Calvary Community Church | St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Parish
Former Churches: Calvin Memorial Presbyterian Church | Hillside Presbyterian Church | St. Philip the Deacon Episcopal Church
More Articles about Kountze Place
General: Kountze Place | Kountze Park | Omaha University | North 16th Street | North 24th Street | Florence Boulevard | Wirt Street | Binney Street | 16th and Locust Historic District
Organizations: First UPC/Faith Temple COGIC | St. Paul Lutheran Church/Clair Memorial UMC | Hartford Memorial UBC/Rising Star Baptist Church | Immanuel Baptist Church | Salvation Army Hospital | Calvin Memorial Presbyterian Church | Omaha Presbyterian Theological Seminary
Houses: Charles Storz House | Anna Wilson’s Mansion | McCreary Mansion | McLain Mansion | Redick Mansion | John E. Reagan House
Events: Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition | Greater America Exposition | 1960s Riots
Businesses: Hash House | 3006 Building | Grand Theater | 2936 North 24th Street | Corby Theater
You Might Like…
- A History of Black Churches in Omaha
- A History of Race and Racism in Omaha
- A History of the Kountze Place Neighborhood
- Rising Star Baptist Church Facebook page
- “Our Story,” Olive Crest UMC official website
- Rev. Augusta Jane Chapin findagrave.com page
- Rising Star Baptist Church Youtube channel