As our urban landscape changes in Northern Kentucky, so does the use of some of the community’s significant buildings. Churches played a key role in the development of neighborhoods and often built iconic structures that define our community. As populations have shifted and church attendance has declined, many congregations have been faced with serious challenges in maintaining their aging buildings. Some churches have been sold to other denominations and continue to function as houses of worship. Others have been demolished. A growing number of churches have undergone adaptive reuse in Northern Kentucky. Although not used for their original purposes, these buildings have been saved and continue to add to the vibrancy of their neighborhoods.

One of the earliest was the First Presbyterian Church in Newport. The congregation built their first church in 1848 and membership grew slowly but steadily. In 1894 the current stone structure was dedicated on Overton Street. For over a century, the church served the community well. By 1985, membership had declined to such an extent that the decision to dissolve was made. The unoccupied building was empty for more than five years. David Hosea purchased the structure and redesigned the building into two condominiums. The stained glass windows and the large pipe organ were maintained and incorporated into the design. As a result, Newport First Presbyterian remains a significant structure in the city’s eastside and escaped the wrecking ball.

St. Anthony Roman Catholic Church was established in 1889 to serve the Irish residents of Bellevue and nearby Dayton. The current Gothic Revival structure was completed in 1894 and featured beautiful stained glass windows and a stylized wooden truss ceiling. In 2003, St. Anthony Church was closed and merged with nearby Sacred Heart Parish. The building sat empty for a number of years before Ashley Commercial Group decided the building could be reused as condominiums. The new units feature many of the original architectural details of the structure, including the stained glass.

Main Street United Methodist Church in the MainStrasse neighborhood of Covington has also undergone adapted reuse. Established in 1857, the congregation built its last church in 1888 with the generous financial assistance of Covington philanthropist Amos Shinkle. The two-story Gothic Revival building contained classrooms and offices on the first floor with a beautiful sanctuary on the second. Main Street Methodist was a fixture in the west end for generations. Urban flight took a toll and by 2004, the congregation was struggling. That year, the church closed. The building was sold and become the Leapin Lizard Lounge, an event center and arts venue.

The first religious congregation to be established in the city of Ludlow was the Frist Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The congregation was organized in 1840. In 1896 the new Gothic Revival Church was constructed on the site of the original building. By 2005, the congregation had dwindled to a dozen active members. At this time, Ludlow was looking for new quarters to house city government and the police department. The city purchased the building and converted it into a new city hall. The exterior of the church was left completely intact, as was the sanctuary, which became the council chambers. The former classrooms and fellowship hall were remodeled into city offices, police headquarters and a generous-sized community meeting space.

Significant historic buildings have been saved in the urban core and those neighborhood streetscapes have been kept intact thanks to adaptive reuse. It’s important to note that many of these projects were completed as public-private partnerships using historic tax credits and grants. Without this assistance, a number of these buildings would now be empty lots.

Dave Schroeder is the executive director of the Kenton County Public Library. He serves on many regional and state boards including Friends of the Kentucky Public Archives and the Northern Kentucky Education Council Action Team IV.

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