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Urbana’s Canaan Baptist Church is designated a local historic landmark.

Canaan Baptist Church was built in 1909 as First Christian Church of Urbana, and designed by local architect Joseph Royer.

Canaan Baptist Church in downtown Urbana is now a local Historic Landmark. The city’s Historic Preservation Commission recently granted the designation at the church’s request.

Local architect Joseph Royer designed the building, which was built in 1909-1910 as the home of Urbana’s First Christian Church. Canaan Baptist Church moved into the building in 1977. Rev. B.J. Tatum has been the church’s lead pastor from 1977 to the present day.

The Historic Preservation Commission’s decision is final, since the designation was requested by the building’s owner, and not by an outside party. Now that landmark status has been approved, Canaan Baptist will need permission to make any major changes to the building in the future. Church member Carlton Bruett told the Urbana Historic Preservation Commission that’s fine with them.

“The congregation realizes the historical and architectural significance of the building,” said Bruett. “We’ve never tried to change it in any way. We recognize it as a landmark.”

In its application to the city, church officials noted Royer’s transition from the historic revival styles used in his earlier buildings, to the introduction of Prairie and Art Deco elements for the church’s exterior.

Commission member David Hays, a professor in the University of Illinois’ Department of Landscape Architecture, said he was especially impressed by Royer’s use of Art Deco elements, several years before they were common.

“When I saw it the first time, I thought, well, there are really interesting notes there. But it’s earlier than what historians would say is Art Deco. This is a really advanced building at its time.”

The application also notes Royer’s use of “innovative construction materials”: pressed concrete blocks faced with marble, which were painted over in later years.

While the church’s Historic Landmark status rests partly on its design, another factor is its role as the home of a prominent African-American congregation.

Canaan Baptist Church is known for its community outreach projects. Those include a grade school, Canaan Academy (housed in a separate building that is not part of the landmark designation) and the Canaan SAFE House program, offering treatment for people battling addictions.

Jim Meadows

Jim Meadows

Jim Meadows has been covering local news for WILL Radio since 2000, with occasional periods as local host for Morning Edition and All Things Considered and a stint hosting WILL's old Focus talk show. He was previously a reporter at public radio station WCBU in Peoria.

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