The Columbus Area Visitors Center has named First Christian Church and North Christian Church its Partners of the Year.

First Christian became the first architecturally significant building in Columbus when it opened in 1942 as the work of noted designer Eliel Saarinen. It remains among the most popular local structures for visitors, according to the center’s staff.

Son Eero Saarinen designed North Christian Church, which opened in 1964. Its 192-foot, needle-like spire is among the most recognized elements of Columbus’ architecture.

“Both of these entities play an integral role in telling Columbus’ story,” said Karen Niverson, the visitors center’s executive director. “The visitors center and the whole community owes First Christian Church and North Christian Church a huge debt of gratitude. This is definitely a past-due recognition.”

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Both structures are undergoing upkeep and renovation. Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County recently launched Friends of First Christian Church Architecture to help fund that building’s upkeep of its original design work.

North Christian Church leaders have been working amid a program linked to the National Fund for Sacred Places, Partners for Sacred Places and the National Trust for Historic Preservation to assist aging churches in need of repair and restoration. The fund will provide up to $250,000 in capital grants, in addition to planning grants and an array of services, for at least 50 individual congregations from a diversity of faiths over four years.

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.