Fire heavily damages library of historic E. Baltimore church
Hundreds of books burn at Mount Sinai Baptist
When retired Rev. William Brown died last year, parishioners at Mount Sinai Baptist Church packed his life’s books and carried them to the church library, its shelves already filled with Scripture, philosophy and poetry: a treasure beside vacant rowhouses in East Baltimore.
Overnight Monday, all the books burned in a fire that consumed the church library.
“It’s gone, man. Every one,” said the Rev. Ray Cotton, Mount Sinai’s pastor.
The blaze destroyed hundreds of books in the Butler-Brown Library that had been willed to Mount Sinai by former pastors. Some tomes were older than the historic stone church itself,.which has stood on East Preston Street since 1911.
Firefighters are investigating the fire, said Sam Johnson, a Baltimore Fire Department spokesman. A cause has not been determined.
Shortly before 4:30 a.m., flames tore through the library and church offices beside the sanctuary. Crews worked an hour to control the fire. One firefighter suffered minor injuries and was evaluated to a hospital.
The church was empty of parishioners. The cost of the damage has not been determined.
Greasy smoke filled the sanctuary and smeared the walls black, but the damage was mostly limited to the library. It was the books that were lost.
“There’s a lot of history in there,” said Lucy Whiters, a parishioner since the 1980s. She helped pack and move Brown’s books last year.
On Tuesday afternoon, she considered the damage and the burned Bible pages that blew in the wind.
She picked up a page and exclaimed: “Oh, gosh. Exodus.”
Parishioners hand out groceries every Tuesday at the church. They returned, despite the fire damage, to set a table down the block and offer jars of Skippy peanut butter.
The Johnston Square neighborhood has seen other recent incidents. According to police, last week an arsonist set fire to a rowhouse, trapping two people upstairs before they were rescued unharmed. And two blocks from the church, gunmen converged on a crowd of people and opened fire two weeks ago. Eight people were shot and wounded, including a 3-year-old girl.
The sanctuary can be cleaned and repaired, Cotton said, but he is unsure where the congregation will worship Sunday.
He has served as pastor at Mount Sinai for 20 years, 10 months and two days. “I almost got it down to the hours,” he said.
Cotton had donated his own books to the library.
The congregation also lost church records and old family Bibles, and books on American history and civil rights. Cotton would often browse the library when writing his sermons.
“I was always amazed at the collection,” he said.
Parishioners would borrow the books, he said, and return them sometimes.
On Tuesday, the library walls were charred and wires dangled from the ceiling. Soggy debris and broken glass covered the floor. Some men shoveled the remains of those treasured books, including the pages of Exodus and the poems of John Milton, into buckets to be thrown away.
The Rev. Ray Cotton of Mount Sinai Baptist Church in East Baltimore shows the damage done early Tuesday to the church library. The library, which held hundreds of books donated by pastors over the years, was consumed in a fire.