The Bethel Park Project: Homage To Fourth Ward's History

A city park will soon take the place of the one of the oldest churches built in the Fourth Ward, the site of the original Freedman's Town neighborhood that was established freed slaves after the Civil War.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker joined other officials inside the remnants of the burned out church, and announced a $4 million dollar Bethel Park project.

"This will be a park that respects the history of what is here, that gives the possibility of educating the future about Freedman's Town, about the history of the Fourth Ward, but it will also be a place where the new residents of this community can come and gather, and picnic, and play, and create the community that will be here for the future."

Founded in the late 1800's by the Reverend Jack Yates, Bethel Missionary Baptist Church has had three sanctuaries on the same site. The most recent church built in 1923, was gutted by fire in 2005, but the walls are still standing. Before the restoration project begins, the integrity of the building needed to be secured.

This is Elaine Rogers with Henderson & Rogers Structural Engineers:

"Some of the new structure is just for visual to recreate the church, but it also at the same time, is bracing providing a permanent brace for the walls."

Hernandez: "To be involved in something that has such a historical significance in the city, that's gotta make you feel like whoa, I mean."

Rogers: "It feels great. We love to be a part of these kind of projects because it's important to us and it's important for the city, and we just love it."

The Bethel Park Project will restore three walls of the church, and convert the interior and the remaining property into a park for the neighborhood.

Joe Turner, director of the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, says amenities will include raised fountains, seat walls, benches, lighting and irrigation.

"It's gonna be just beautiful when you come here. With the new back way we'll come in, which will be the new front entry, and then we'll have it set up to where you could have services. And the goal is at some point, possibly you could have small outdoor weddings here. It would be just simply gorgeous. It's a wonderful piece of history, and it's gonna be a wonderful addition to our park system, and hang in to our history as a city."

Bethel Park is expected to be complete in the spring of 2013.

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