Fire heav­ily dam­ages li­brary of his­toric E. Bal­ti­more church

Hun­dreds of books burn at Mount Sinai Bap­tist

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND - By Tim Pru­dente tpru­dente@balt­

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.

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