First Baptist Penn Memorial Church was named in honor of William Penn, who was a Texas Baptist Evangelist and well known minister who preached widely in America and Europe. He established a law practice in his early adult life and helped lead a very successful Sunday School in his Baptist Church. Though he had no training as a preacher, he was asked to speak where he shared his heart from the pulpit and a revival broke out in the community such that the meetings continued daily for five weeks. He later came to understand God’s calling on his life and began his travels. Penn settled in Eureka Springs and conducted revival services at his home church that came to be known as the Great Revival of 1893. For more than three months, he preached daily to large congregations filled to overflowing adding 346 new conversions.
The church is located in the heart of Eureka Springs and was started with six charter members. First Baptist Penn Memorial Church was named in honor of William Penn. The original construction of the church began in the latter half of 1912 and was completed in October of 1913 which consisted of just the sanctuary and downstairs fellowship hall. The cost was almost $15,000. They soon found the need to expand and added the educational space and pastoral living quarters in 1952 and 1953. After its original construction, the church soon grew and became a very central and vital part of the Eureka Springs community.
The stained glass windows in the sanctuary were an early addition to the church and are a vital part of the beauty of the church. Throughout the thousand year history of stained glass, the term has been applied almost exclusively to the windows of churches. It is an art and a craft and requires the artistic skill to conceive an appropriate and workable design, and the engineering skills to assemble the pieces. In context, the purpose of a stained glass window is not to allow those within a building to see the world outside or even primarily to admit light but rather to control it. These windows today are irreplaceable works of art.
The church reflects the influence of Byzantine architecture. Byzantine architects were eclectic in their designs, at first drawing heavily on Roman temple features. Their combination of the basilica and symmetrical central plan religious structures resulted in the characteristic Byzantine Greek-cross-plan church, with a square central mass and the domed roof. Byzantine architecture has a lot in common with early Christian architecture because most early Christian buildings were built at the command of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine. Most of the Byzantine distinct elements of their art and architecture were central-plan and domes.
As the church stands today, it has the unique distinction of being a church built on four levels with a street entrance on each of the levels. It sits on the corner of three streets; Owen, Spring and Mountain. Because of that, the church actually has three different addresses plus a fourth address for the parsonage on the fourth floor. It is such an unusual fact that Ripley’s Believe It Or Not published it in one of their publications.
One of the many historical artifacts from the church is the silver communion service which was a gift to the church from Mrs. William Penn after the present church was completed. This had been the service set that William Penn carried with him as he conducted revival meetings across the country. After his health started failing, he decided to not travel as often and stayed in Eureka Springs with his home church.