First Baptist Church
The American Baptist Memorial, 1856.
In the year 1684, the Rev. Thomas Dungan immigrating, with others, from Rhode Island, founded the first Baptist community in Pennsylvania. This body of baptized believers existed until 1702, when it was absorbed by the church at Pennepek -- the first distinguished and permanent Baptist Church in the province. On the second Sabbath in December, 1698, five males and four females were organized into a regular Baptist Church, in the store-house on the Barbadoes lot, at the N. W. corner of Second and Chesnut streets, Philadelphia. From this time to the year 1746, the membership of this church was augmented both by immigration and the preaching of the word; duing which period the church enjoyed the transient labors of the following named ministers: Elias Keach, Thos. Killingsworth, John Watts, Samuel Jones, Wm. Davis, Evan Morgan, John Hart, John Swift, Jos. Wood, Nathaniel Jenkins, Thomas Griffiths, Daniel White, Thomas Sanford, Timothy Brooks, Elisha Thomas, Enoch Morgan, Thomas Simmons, Benj. Griffith, Joseph Eaton, Isaac Steele, George Weed, John Burrows, Thos. Selby, Abel Morgan, George Eaglefield and Wm. Kinnersley.
During this time, however, the Philadelphia church was regarded as a branch of the church at Pennepek, and it was not until 1746 that the Philadelphia brethren were separated from the Pennepek Church, by regular letters of dismission, dated April 5, 1746. On the 15th day of May, 1746, the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia was constituted, with a membership of fifty-six, and Rev. Jenkin Jones was the first pastor.
The house in which these people originally worshiped was the store-house of the Barbadoes Company, which the Baptists and Presbyterians occupied con-jointly, until the arrival of a pastor for the latter people, when the Baptists were exchanged from the premises. Failing to secure a satisfactory adjustment of the difficulty with the Presbyterians, the Baptists secured a building known as Morris' Brewery, near the draw-bridge, where they worshiped until March 15, 1707, when they were invited to occupy the meeting house in Second street, between High and Mulberry streets, erected by the Keithians, in 1692. Accordingly, the church removed its worship to the Keithian building, which affording insufficient accommodations for the increaing church, was torn down in 1731, to give place to one of larger dimensions. This also was demolished in 1762, for the erection of a more spacious edifice, which was built at a cost of L2200. In 1734, legal measures were employed by the Episcopalians for the purpose of obtaining possession of the house and lot improved by the Baptists in 1731. These measures the Baptists resisted, ultimately compromised with the Episcopalian by paying them the sum of L50, by which the latter left the Baptists in full possession, which they have maintained to this day.
The following have been the pastors of this church since its organization, viz:Elected. Served. Rev. Jenkin Jones, 1746 14 years. Rev. Ebenezer Kinnersley, contemporary with Jenkin Jones. (1) Rev. Morgan Edwards, 1760 11 " Rev. Wm. Rogers, D. D., 1772 3 " Rev. Thomas Ustick, 1782 21 " Rev. Wm. Stanghton, D.D., 1805 6 " Rev. Henry Holcombe, D.D., 1811 13 " Rev. Wm. T. Brantly, D.D., 1826 11 " Rev. Geo. B. Ide, D.D., 1838 15 "
At a regular meeting of the church, held September 27th, 1852, the following resolution, presented by Rev. Geo. R. Ide, our pastor, was unanimously adopted:
Resolved, That the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia, believing that the indications of Providence and the wants of the population of this city, require them to erect a new and more eligible house of worship for their own occupancy, do now resolve, that, relying on the divine blessing, they will at once take measures to carry this design into execution.
Consequent on the above resolution, the following persons were appointed a committee to secure a suitable lot, viz: Thos. Wattson, J. C. Davis, Washington Butcher, John A. Gendell, W. S. Hansell, Thos. S. Foster, Sam'l M. Ropper, and of the congregation, John M. Ford, Wm. B. Potts.
At a church meeting, held October 25th, 1852, the above named committee reported that they had purchased a lot on the N. W. corner of Broad and Arch streets; 1471/2 feet on Arch street, and 188 feet on Broad street, for the sum of $55,000, which action received the approval of the church.
At a church meeting, held April 11th, 1853, the plan of a church edifice, submitted by the committee on location, was adopted as the basis, and a building committee on location with the following additional members, viz: S. F. Hansell, J. H. O'Harra, Thos. M. Davis, Charles H. Auner, Jas. M. Bird, H. B. Fairman, R. A. Caldwell and A. R. Lane.
At a meeting, July 11th, 1853, it was resolved to appoint a committee to make the necessary arrangements for laying the corner stone of our new building, when Rev. B. R. Loxley, Edwin Hall and Samuel H. Clarke were appointed. In accordance with the foregoing action, the corner stone of the new church edifice for the First Baptist Church was laid by Rev. George B. Ide, D.D., of Springfield, assisted by the ministry of our city -- Rev. J. H. Kennard, Rev. John Dowling, Rev. J. W. Smith, Rev. J. L. Burrows, Rev. B. R. Loxley.
The house was dedicated the first Sabbath in May, 1856, by appropriate exercises, Dr. Fuller and the pastor, Rev. J. H. Cuthbert, participating.
THE ARCHITECTURAL CHARACTER OF THE HOUSE.
This magnificent structure occupies the site at the N. W. corner of Broad and Arch streets -- the two broadest avenues of the city. It has a front on Arch street of seventy-two feet, and extends back along Broad street, one hundred, and fourteen feet. It is of the Byzantine style of architecture, which, while it sustains all the ecclesiastical appearance of the gothic, is more cheerful and far more convenient in its interior, for public worship, having no obstruction to the view of speaker and hearers. The exterior surface is of brown stone, including the towers three in number; the main one of which is directly on the corner of the two streets, and is surm,ounted by a lofty spire, built entirely of stone, which looms up to an altitude of 226 feet to the top of the fineal -- the vane and lightning rod extending some fifteen or twenty feet higher. For those who take a special fancy to lofty stand points, a grand scene presents itself to the view, viz: all the rural districts and villages, with the romantic Schuylkill, and the Delaware with its steamboats, ships, tugs and craft of all sizes, moving to and fro, like things of life, showing, at one glance, commerce, manufactures, agriculture, city, country, village, &c., &c.
The interior is composed of the basement, (which is sufficiently elevated above the pavement to prevent dampness,) and above it is the main audience room. The basement communicates with the street by four doors, and with a side yard by two doors. It is divided into lecture room, Sunday school room, trustees' room, &c There are no less than six flights of stairs leading to the main floor, being, perhaps, the best arranged outlet for a congregation in this city. The audience room, is neat, chaste and plain: there appears to be but little unnecessary ornament wasted about the interior, or even the exterior. The ceiling which is arched in the form of a segment, is very considerably ornamented, as is also the pulpit, but so chaste and well ordered has this work been that one would be at a loss to say in what particular it is superabundant or lacking. The galleries are narrow, according to the taste of the present day, and in the entire length, there is, not a column placed to support them, the strength being gained by heavy iron trusses buried within the wood work. The organ gallery is directly over the back part of the pulpit, being somewhat of an innovation upon the ideas of many. The main objection we have heard is, that the space for the pulpit appears too low. The objection, however, is not a good one, as the space, in this instance, is over ten feet, and even at that, the speaker stands, in advance of the organ gallery, thereby giving every thing a spacious appearance; it is also a large saving of room. The space at the south gallery is large enough for the Sunday school, and then, the audience, in this case, can "face the music," instead of the very inconvenient way of turning about, or keeping your back towards it; one good plan of examining ourselves in this respect is, to suppose we had been accustomed to the organ in front all our lives, and then to suppose some of the congregation wanted to change the order, and put the music behind us, would we be satisfied with such a change? We presume not. West of the organ gallery is a fine large room, used for the infant school, and also intended for a sewing society.
The baptistery is so constructed that in the event of baptism occurring, no moving of chairs, no changing of the desk, or taking up of carpets will be required; it is only necessary for "Wilson," the sexton, to will it, and the lid of the baptistry, the carpet and desk, gradually move back, and the baptistery is ready for the ordinance. Behind the pulpit are two dressing rooms, and to the west of these is the pastor's study, all which are conveniently fitted up for the purposes intended. The windows are all of stained glass, and while they admit a soft mellow light, are so "obscured" as to keep out the unpleasant rays of the sun, thus entirely doing away with the former mode of using blinds, which, in consequence of their size and weight, are always getting out of order. The pews have been arranged more with regard to convenience in size, than to crowding in a greater number of them. The regular pews will contain some 1200 adult; but as the aisles are capacious, the church has provided a 1arge number of extra seats, by which means some 1800 or 2000 persons can be accommodated. A good plan has been adopted in all the vestibules, which is, to have them covered with German flags, instead of wooden floors, and carpeted, and the pavement, all around the outside, is also of North River flags; and as shade wil1 be necessary a portion of the year, a row of ornamental trees has been planted. We understand also that a beautiful railing will surround the church, to protect the walls from being defaced.
The steeple, we learn, has the gas pipes extended to the top, on the inside, and will occasionally be lighted up; this will be quite a novelty, and must form quite an imposing appearance at night.
S.B. Button, Esq., is the architect, and has acquitted himself to the entire satisfaction of all concerned.
Speaking of the steeple -- it is a matter of great gratification that such an immense weight of masonry should have settled as has been found, upon examination, but a single eight of an inch. This is regarded as almost unprecedented in the annals of architecture, and is accounted for from the fact, that extraordinary care was taken in laying the foundations, which are twelve feet thick, and based upon solid substance, some twenty-five feet below the surface of the sidewalks. After the fineal had been placed on the top, a few defective stones which had "shelled" on the tower facing were removed, and it now stands firm and perpendicular; and far away in the distance, and miles down the Delaware, may be seen the exact location of the First Baptist church of Philadelphia. -- Christian Chronicle.
1. The Rev. E. Kinnersley, above referred to, was a contemporary and friend of Dr. Benjamin Franklin, and assisted him in most of his philosophical discoveries on the subject of Electricity.
[Taken from the American Baptist Memorial, 1856, pp. 199-202. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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