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Picture of Building in 1853

History of Walnut Street Baptist Church
Louisville, Kentucky
By Frank Masters, 1953

      The Walnut Street Baptist Church, Louisville, Kentucky, traces its origin to 1815, when in that year, the First Baptist Church of Louisville was constituted by Elder Hinson Hobbs with fourteen members in the house of Mark Lampton, near where the Marine Hospital then stood, Preston and Chestnut Streets at present. The Minutes of the Long Run Association, September, 1815, says: "A church from Louisville applied for admission and was received." The church reported at that time twenty-two members, thirty-one members in 1816 fifty-one in 1819, and seventy-two in 1820.

      Elder Hinson Hobbs was the first pastor, and was succeeded by Elder Philip S. Fall, who served four years, in which the church grew to 107 members. Elder Fall, became a leader of the movement, headed by Alexander Campbell. During the next five years the pulpit was supplied by Benjamin Allen and John B. Curl, under whose labors the membership increased to 294. In 1831, both of these ministers adopted the views of Alexander Campbell, and took half of the members with them. No report was made to the Long Run Association that year. Under these conditions George Waller, a well known preacher, became pastor, and he continued until 1834, when he was succeeded by J. S. Wilson, pastor at Elkton, Todd County, who was pastor until his death, August 28, 1835. The church had grown to 306 members. The records, state that in 1836 "a man of princely presence, W. C. Buck, who had been an officer in the War of 1812, became pastor, and remained until 1840. In 1841, as a result of a great revival, the membership was increased to 697. In 1842, 559 colored members were dismissed to form the First Colored Baptist Church of Louisville, leaving only 279 members in the First Church.

      In 1838, during the pastorate of Elder W. C. Buck nineteen members withdrew from the First Baptist Church to organize the Second Baptist Church under the pastoral care of Elder Reuben Marcey, who served one year and was succeeded by Elder F. A. Willard. In 1840 the church reported only forty-two members, but in 1842 under the pastorate of Elder Thomas S. Malcom, 96 members were reported. In March 1847, Dr. T. G. Keen, a very distinguished minister became pastor and remained two years. In 1848, the church reported to the Long Run Association that "Elder H. Goodale has been dismissed and set apart as a missionary to China."

      On January 1, 1842, the East Baptist Church, in Louisville, was organized with three males and seven females from the First Church. The records reveal that "They occupy a comfortable brick house on Green Street between Logan and Preston, capable of great enlargement, and situated in what has been heretofore a very destitute part of the city." This church was organized by Dr. W. C. Buck, who was the first pastor, and who led in the construction of the building. Dr. A. D. Sears became pastor of the First Baptist Church in 1843, and was the last pastor. The report showed that the church had, at that time, a Female Missionary Society, which contributed $153.50 to the American Indian Mission Association.

      In 1849, both the First and Second Churches of Louisville were pastor-less; but both churches desired the services of "a rarely gifted" young man, Elder Thomas Smith, Jr. He visited both, and was unanimously called by each church. The History of the Walnut Street Church says: "The First Baptist Church occupied a house jointly with the Free Masons at Fifth and Green (now Liberty) Streets; while the Second Church was just abandoning the old place on the north side of Green Street, between First and Second, and was building on the corner of Third and Guthrie." Elder Thomas Smith, Jr., who had accepted the call to both churches, led in their union in one body.

      On October 12, 1849, the members of the two churches met in a joint meeting in the house of worship of the First Church, and adopted the following resolution: "Resolved, By the First and Second Baptist Churches of the City of Louisville, Kentucky, now in session, that the churches do now unite together and form one church, and that the entire list of members now in full fellowship in both churches, be considered members of the church so formed. And from and after the adoption of this resolution, the First and Second Baptist Churches of Louisville cease to exist as separate organizations."

      The newly formed church purchased from Rev. E. P. Humphrey, 99 by 164 feet of ground on the northwest corner of Fourth and Walnut Streets, and the church took the name of Walnut Street Baptist Church. Under the leadership of their young pastor, Elder Thomas Smith, they began to erect a house of worship, which "was the wonder and pride of the city." The Historian says: "Nothing to compare with it had been known in Kentucky." Dr. W. B. Caldwell, a prominent leader in the building enterprise said: "When the building was begun, the aggregate wealth of the members of the church did not equal the amount that was finally expended on the buildings."

      On March 6, 1851, the young pastor, Elder Thomas Smith, died. A tablet was placed on the wall of the church with the inscription "A good minister of Jesus Christ." While the members mourned their loss, they were faced with the important task of securing a pastor capable of leading in the great building program. Finally on November 21, 1852, Dr. W. W. Everts, "a man of excellent gifts and scholarly attainments" was called "on a salary of $1500 and $100 to bring him." He accepted the call, and began his labors January 23, 1853. The church grew under his ministry "in numbers, wealth and power." Twenty feet were added to the church building under construction running back to the alley. The new building, was finished and dedicated, January 22, 1854. The pastor preached at 11 A. M. on the dedication day, Rev. John Finley at 3 P. M. and Dr. William Vaughan at night. The records state that: "A large concourse of people was assembled at each service, and the hearts of the members were softened with gratitude for the great blessing conferred on them by the Great Head of the church. It will be truly a memorable day in the history of this church."

      In 1854, the Walnut Street Church sent out members to form the Portland Avenue, and Chestnut Street Churches. On November 11, 1855, during a revival at the Walnut Street Church, Mrs. Everts, the pastor's wife, and other ladies were distributing tracts and giving invitations to individuals to attend the meeting. They visited a boarding house and gave tracts and invitations to some young actors. Two of the young actors were impressed and came to the meetings, abandoned their theatrical profession and united with the church, one of whom was George C. Lorimer, who became a mighty power among Baptists of America.

      In 1857 the Southern Baptist Convention met in Kentucky the first time, and the sessions were held in the Walnut Street Baptist Church. It was then and there, that a young man, Dr. James P. Boyce, offered a proposition to raise $100,000 in South Carolina to establish a Theological Seminary at Greenville, in that State, provided the sum of $100,000 could be raised elsewhere. The proposition was accepted, and action was taken by the Convention to carry it out.

      On July 10, 1859, Dr. Everts resigned his pastorate at Walnut Street to become pastor of the First Baptist Church, Chicago. In September, 1860, the church reported 487 members, and "the finances in a deplorable condition." In October, 1861, Rev. George C. Lorimer, who had become a prominent minister, was invited to occupy the pulpit to January 1, 1862 at a salary of seventy-five dollars a month. He responded to the invitation, and on December 6, he received a call to become permanent pastor, which he accepted, and entered upon his duties in January, 1862, In February, 1863, the amount of $300 was added to the pastor's salary, making the amount $1500.

      Dr. Lorimer closed his pastoral relation with the church, April 1, 1868, to accept a call of the First Baptist Church, Albany, New York. Dr. A. T. Spalding, Mobile, Alabama, was called to succeed Dr. Lorimer and served until October, 1871, when the pulpit was supplied by Dr. W. M. Pratt, until Dr. M. B. Wharton, who was called January 23, 1872, entered upon his labors the following April.

      In 1869, a Baptist church was organized on Cable Street, which was later moved to Franklin Street and named accordingly. The Broadway Baptist Church was constituted, May 19, 1870, in the lecture room of the Walnut Street Baptist Church, and soon occupied a house of worship on Broadway. During the pastorate of J. L. Burrows, the Broadway building burned in December, 1875, and the pastor lost his valuable library, sermons and rare manuscripts. Dr. J. W. Warder became pastor of the Walnut Street Church, July, 1875, and continued until July 4, 1880, when he resigned to accept the work of Secretary of State Missions in Kentucky.

      The church called Dr. T. T. Eaton to the pastorate, who entered upon his duties May 1, 1881. In 1888, the church numbered 1549 members, and contributed $34,040.00 to the various objects. At a business meeting, November, 1899, a resolution was adopted to sell the church property at Fourth and Walnut Streets for a consideration of $120,000 and move to a new location. The final services were conducted in the old building, April 1, 1900. The congregation moved to a building on the northwest corner of Second and College Streets, and there remained while a commodious house of worship was being built at Third and St. Catherine Streets "on a beautiful lot in the heart of the residential part of the city." The new building was first occupied March 9, 1902, and was completed and dedicated November 16, the same year. In 1901, the church numbered 1663 members with $41,154.62 contributed to all purposes.

      Dr. T. T. Eaton died suddenly with a heart attack on June 29, 1907, at Grand Junction, Tennessee as he was changing trains on the way from the General Association at Mayfield, Ky., to Blue Mountain, Miss. On October 2, following Dr. Eaton's death in June, Dr. Henry Alford Porter was called as his successor, and preached his first sermon on Sunday, November 17, 1907. Dr. Porter came to Walnut Street from the First Baptist Church, Oklahoma City, and remained five years and eight months, when he accepted a call to the Gaston Avenue Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas, and entered upon his duties January 1, 1913. Dr. H. L. Winburn, pastor at Arkadelphia, Arkansas, was called to succeed Dr. Porter, and began his pastorate, January, 1914, and after four years, returned to the First Baptist Church, Arkadelphia.

      Dr. Finley F. Gibson was called to the Walnut Street Church, from the Grace Street Church, Richmond, Virginia, in 1919, and continued until 1941, a period of twenty-three years. At the beginning of Dr. Gibson's pas-torate, the church numbered 1,116 members, and contributed $28,992.58 for all purposes; but in 1936, the report showed 3661 members, 2769 enrolled in Sunday school, and $57,126.28 contributed to all causes. In 1941, the membership had increased to 3924, the enrollment in the Sunday school to 3279, and $25,516.83 contributed to missions and benevolences.

      Dr. Kyle M. Yates, Professor of Old Testament Interpretation in Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, since 1926, was called to the pastorate of the Walnut Street Church, in early 1942, and continued until 1946, when he accepted the pastorate of the Second Baptist Church in Houston, Texas.

      Dr. William R. Pettigrew, after ten and one-half years as pastor of the Citadel Square Baptist Church, Charleston, South Carolina, began his pastorate with the Walnut Street Church, on September 1, 1946. Since that date, there have been a total of 1285 additions. The Sunday school averaged in attendance 1236 pupils for the first six months of 1946, but averaged 1688 for the same period in 1949. The church reported to the Long Run Association in 1948, 157 baptisms, a total of 4696 members, 3209 enrolled in the Sunday school, $118.788.00 for local current expenses, and $100,072.00 for all missions and benevolent causes. The physical equipment has been greatly expanded and beautified. *
* Kimbrough, B. T., The History of the Walnut Street Baptist Church, Louisville, KY.


[From Frank Masters, A History of Baptists in Kentucky, 1953, pp. 110-13. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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