Historical Marker #2178 in Bourbon County marks the Centerville Baptist Church, a historic African American congregation established in 1867.
Before the Civil War, if enslaved individuals wished to participate in religious services they most often had to attend white churches with their owners. And although they met in the same buildings, African Americans were likely relegated to separate sections of the church, such as the back pews or a balcony. Sometimes, however, slaves were given permission to form their own congregations and worship in their preferred manner; albeit often with a white official in attendance. Such a situation arose when Reverend Elisha W. Green in Paris, Kentucky, succeeded in convincing the members of the community's white Baptist church to allow them to establish a separate congregation. Approval was granted in 1857 and the African Baptist Church began conducting its own separate worship services in Paris.
When emancipation was achieved after the Civil War, black churches developed as one of the most important institutions in the black community. In the post-war years it was in the churches that important political topics such as voting rights and testifying in court were discussed along with Bible lessons. With Rev. Green as their inspiration, the Centerville Baptist Church was organized in 1867. In 1904, the present brick building replaced the previous wooden frame building.
The town of Centerville is located halfway between Paris and Georgetown, as well as halfway between Lexington and Cynthiana, thus its name. Centerville was a booming small town with a large business from drovers and teamsters before the railroad came through in the 1850s. Drovers herded cattle and hogs to market in Cincinnati and teamsters hauled produce in wagons. After the railroad was constructed and roads were macadamized, the teamsters and drovers were no longer able to compete. During the second half of the nineteenth century Centerville fell into a decline. By the 1880s the little town was merely a village that a white population of 64 and a black population of 100 called home.
Today, Centerville Baptist Church is still an active congregation that has remained faithful to its mission of serving its community throughout its long history.