BY Win Dolan
Highlights of Our Story First Baptist Church: 1867-2007
A year long series that originally appeared in the Tidings (article #5)
. . . but it must have seemed like a long 16 years of worshiping in borrowed quarters before our growing church felt able to build its own home in 1883. According to Dr. J.A. Jonasson’s centennial history, that simple wood-framed, unpainted structure measured 35 by 54 feet, accommodated 250 worshipers, had a steeple 65 feet high, and was built at a cost of $2,100. A rare photograph, preserved under lamination in the archives, shows that the building had two matching front doors and looked, to our eyes, more like a schoolhouse than a church.
Whatever its shortcomings, it was a home for the congregation until 1898, when a more substantial undertaking produced pledges of $5,800, said to have been fully subscribed by the time of the dedication a year later. Small as that sum appears now after a century of inflation, it was enough to construct a handsome, tall, white, readily recognized church, which dominated this same corner where we now meet. How did they manage, I wonder, during those two years of demolishing one home and building a new one? Back to borrowed space, no doubt, but this time with the exciting prospect of better times ahead.
It would seem that 27 years was a short life for that church, yet the urge to expand was pressing again in the 1920’s. This was the decade following World War I, the ‘roaring twenties,’ a heady period of national prosperity that seemed ready to last forever. The basic part of our present church was built in 1926, comprising the sanctuary and the Cowls St. education complex, at a cost of $80,000, besides a pipe organ for $6,000. Then came the 1929 stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression. Hard times for many people made it impossible to pay pledges; even the pastor’s salary was in arrears, but eventually the debt was paid. The west wing on First St. was build in 1962-3, besides a remodeling of the sanctuary and renewal of its furnishings.
It hardly seems like ten years since our latest project began to take shape, but indeed it was 1997 when plans were started for a large-scale renewal and additional construction of nearly everything except the sanctuary. The Cowls St. wing was completely gutted and done over, with new wiring, heating and air conditioning, office suite, social hall, kitchen, a much-needed elevator, church school spaces for all ages, and fire sprinklers in all large spaces, even the attics. Then the crowning touch was the beautiful and spacious new Gathering Room, so well adapted to coffee hours and special events of all kinds, a place of great pleasure and utility. An all-round effort of uncommon generosity raised over four million dollars. I believe most of us agree that it was well spent.