Fairmount Congregational ends its more than 100 year history as a community, worship space
Fairmount Congregational Church was one of the first churches to regularly send out a religious message through radio broadcast. It was also one of the first churches in the nation to serve as a polling location.
As development in and around Wichita continues to grow, new projects clash with historic buildings and neighborhoods.
Fairmount Congregational Church, which stood as a beacon in the Fairmount neighborhood for decades, is closing its doors as a church and long-standing cornerstone of the community — and will reopen as an event venue.
But it’s hard to understand the significance of the church without understanding the history of Wichita.
“Once upon a time, Wichita was a smaller community that essentially ended at Washington Street,” said Jay Price with Wichita State’s History Department.
“If you want to understand Wichita, you have to understand the development of neighborhoods and the way real estate functions.”
Wichita began developing along the rail lines in the late 1800s, including the Frisco line near what is now Wichita State on 17th Street.
As that area began to develop, the Wichita Ladies College — which eventually became Fairmount College and now Wichita State — was taking shape.
“Something that's going to happen with a lot of suburban developments will be that there'll be key institutions that will also be along with the neighborhoods,” Price said, “and one is going to be a school, the other is going to be the churches.”
So Fairmount Congregational Church was formed at the corner of 16th and Fairmount, just south of campus, in 1910.
According to documents at Wichita State’s special collections, Fairmount Congregational Church was one of the first churches to regularly send out a religious message through radio broadcast. It was also one of the first churches in the nation to serve as a polling location.
Many congregations have come and gone from the church building, including the Fairmount United Church of Christ, which had to vacate the building for structural repairs in late 2018.
When that happened, the building was put up for sale in 2020, and the new owner made plans to renovate the space into an event venue.
In the meantime, the building was rented out to Incarnation Anglican, which will have to leave by the end of this year, according to its pastor, Father Kyle Fleet.
“It’s been tricky,” Fleet said.
Earlier this year, the rounded pews that were part of the church were torn out and sold.
The new owner also put the church’s historic stained glass windows up for sale — but the listing was quickly taken down after intervention from the city.
In order for the windows to be removed, an architectural plan has to be presented to the city and approved. That isn’t an easy feat because of the building’s historical significance and listing on the National Register.
“We have to draw a line in the sand and say, ‘Wait a minute. This is a historically … registered structure for a number of reasons,’” said Greg Kite, president of the Historic Preservation Alliance.
The stained glass windows on the north and east sides of the building are an ode to Nathan Morrison and William Isely, substantial figures in the creation of the university.
The window to the north is an image of a sower spreading seed in a field, while the window to the east is Jesus Christ as the good shepherd.
But Fleet said the windows are also an ode to the Fairmount community.
“They speak to the beacon of hope, and the light that … the community that was first here was.”
While Incarnation Anglican has been in the historical building for only two years, Fleet said it quickly became a part of the community, making it hard for the church to leave.
“We just wanted … to be good … for the neighborhood, whatever that looked like.”
Once Incarnation Anglican leaves and other parts of the building are altered, Price said that will erase parts of Fairmount’s long-standing history.
“It's a form of amnesia,” Price said. ”If we're not seeing it, if it's not there, we lose that sense of place, that sense of setting that is so important to understand why a place is important.”