Knoxville, Tenn. (WATE) – A historic Chattanooga church is heavily damaged after a fire Friday, June 10. The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Once known as Highland Park Baptist Church, it was one of the first mega-churches of the late 20th century. It was also home to Tennessee Temple University, founded in 1946 by then-pastor Dr. Lee Roberson. The church and school were once considered the center of the Independent Baptist movement, with 4,000 students enrolled in the early 1980s. The university disbanded in 2015 after a declining congregation moved to a location smaller.
The buildings on the corner of Bailey Avenue are approximately 20,000 square feet and have been owned by Redemption to the Nations since 2013, according to property records. Its value is listed as $540,100.
Martin Luther King Jr. also allegedly preached at the church, records show.
The Chattanooga Fire Department said Phillips Chapel and Chauncey-Goode Auditorium were badly damaged and parts of the structures were torn down so firefighters could douse the flames.
The fire was discovered around 7 p.m. Friday by a passerby who spotted smoke and called for help.
Firefighters reported thick black smoke coming from all four sides of the building as well as the roof when they arrived at the church. A fire was discovered between the first and third floors, the department said.
The fire department said “greater measures” needed to be taken in order to contain the blaze. More than 100 city firefighters took more than 10 hours to extinguish the blaze.
We mourn the irreparable damage to structures that held history and great meaning to many people in this city, including alumni of Tennessee Temple University and Highland Park Baptist Church.
Pastor Kevin Wallace
No injuries were reported.
The Chattanooga Fire Investigation Team, agents from the ATF and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation are working to uncover the cause of the fire.
A “shelter in place” was briefly issued to anyone living within five blocks of the church due to smoke hazards from the fire. By 2 a.m. the fire was under control and the order was lifted.
The cause of the fire is still unknown.
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