At First Baptist, we believe that part of what we are today, we have inherited from those who have labored here before. Although we always want our vision to be forward-looking, it is good to occasionally look back on the people and events that have brought us here today. It is good to see how God has worked through our congregation in years past; it is good to see how God is working through our congregation today.
The roots of First Baptist go all the way back to the 1890's. A small group of Christians from the Massillon area were meeting weekly at various locations around the City. In early 1899 they decided to formally organize into a Church. On February 9, 1899, a meeting was held at Loeffler Hall, located on the southwest corner of Tremont Avenue and Erie Street (there's a drive-thru there now). At that meeting the group officially organized the Massillon Baptist Church, adopted a constitution, and called Rev. J. C. Ford to be the first pastor. Church Letters were received from 16 people, and these folks became the first members of the church.
Our First Building
In May 1899, the newly-formed Massillon Baptist Church bought its first building, located at the corner of First and South Streets -- south of downtown Massillon. It was purchased from the United Brethren Church for $5,100, which was not a small sum in those days. A Service recognizing the new congregation and dedicating the new Church Building was held in June, 1899. Because of the committment of our Church's first members, the mortgage to this building was cancelled after less than 14 years.
A New Name
In November of 1920, the members of Welsh Baptist Church, a small church in East Greenville, decided to unite with the Massillon Baptist Church. When these new members joined, the name of the church was changed to the First Baptist Church of Massillon. And so it remains to this day.
The Second Baptist Church
There was a time when there really was a Second Baptist Church of Massillon. The years following World War I were particularly tumultuous. During this time, inflation was completely out of control. As an example: the Church Parsonage that was purchased in 1923 for $9,000, was appraised at $75,000 in 1929. This high inflation caused financial problems for most churches -- including First Baptist. To make matters doubly difficult, many members left the church during the mid-1920's. Some, under the leadership of Rev. T. J. Edwards, formed the Second Baptist Church of Massillon, which met at a rented building on North Avenue. This arrangement was short-lived, however. And in November of 1928, through the efforts of First Baptist's Rev. A. A. Nellis, the congregations were reunited and the Second Baptist Church was dissolved.
Buying the Fox Mansion
Throughout World War II, First Baptist continued to grow and prosper. In 1945, in anticipation of the end of the War and the return of many of its members, the Church purchased the Fox Mansion, located at our present site at the corner of 6th Street and Lincoln Way East. Although the purchase price was just $22,500, everyone knew a lot more money was going to be needed to convert this old house into a place of worship.
Renovating the Fox Mansion
Much time and effort was spent in converting a Family Home into a building suitable for the needs of a church. In addition to remodeling the inside of the house, a large Sanctuary needed to be added onto the back of the home.
Worship in the Carriage House
Like many of the large houses in Massillon at the time, the Fox Mansion included a Carriage House behind the family home. It was used to house carriages and coaches, the horses to pull them, hay, and perhaps lodging for the stable boys. Today we'd call this kind of a building -- a garage. During the renovation of the main property, First Baptist held its worship services in the Carriage House. This remained the case until the new Sanctuary was completed in 1952. Over the years, this building has served our Church in a number of ways. Today, in addition to its other uses, on Friday evenings the old Carriage House becomes ourHope House Youth Center, providing a place where young people in the community can meet, have fun, and learn of Jesus Christ.
The period following World War II saw a time of prosperity and growth for First Baptist. As part of the Outreach Program, many revival services and special programs were held to draw in people from the community. In the days before TV, events like these were always well attended. The services described in the two fliers shown here are typical of the events held at First Baptist at the time. The first is for a 2-week series of services by Evangelist Carl Bassett, who, according to the handbill, had Colored Chalk Pictures, Masterpieces of Art, and Revival Messages. The second flier describes Chief White Feather -- "former operatic singer, organist, lecturer and evangelist, and descendant of the famed Indian leader, Sitting Bull." He held one week of evangelistic services in 1947.
The New Sanctuary
By the Spring of 1952, work on the Fox Mansion and the Sanctuary was in its final stages. The cornerstone for the new Sanctuary was laid on June 7, 1952. And on December 21, 1952, a Dedication Service was held. Above is how our Sanctuary looked at its dedication.
Building the Education Wing
By the late-1960's, growth in the Children's Department had increased such that there were problems finding a place for Children's Sunday School and other events. In response to this need, a project was begun to build an Educational Wing onto the Church. This was completed in 1969. Part of this project also included the building of a much-needed parking lot. Prior to this time, only on-street parking was available for members attending services. This picture shows part of the demolition to create the parking lot.
Cable T.V. Ministry
During the early 1970's, First Baptist began broadcasting its Sunday Morning Service live on Massillon Cable TV. At that time, cable TV was in its infancy. But the leadership of First Baptist felt that it could be a powerful outreach to the community. And it was. We continued to broadcast on Massillon Cable TV for almost 15 years.
First Baptist was one of the first churches in the area to hold outdoor services. In the mid 1970's, Evening Worship Services during the Summer were held in the parking lot. A platform was built for those participating in the service, and speakers were placed on the poles that held the parking lot lights. Usually these services had special music; shown here is the First Baptist Band.
The Renovated Sanctuary
During the Winter of 1978, First Baptist's congregation was challenged to provide funds to remodel the Sanctuary, and a Renovation Fund was set up. This program was very successful, and at the Morning Worship Service of March 5, 1978, Pastor Dunn was presented with a check for $35,500 to renovate the Sanctuary. The work was quickly done, and by late Fall of 1978 our Sanctuary looked like this.
Through the years, First Baptist has not only provided spiritual leadership and guidance to its members and the community; it has also taken a stand on issues that were deemed important. The picture above, taken in the mid-1980's, shows an example of this. Each cross in the yard represents an aborted baby. All the crosses in the entire front yard represent the number of babies aborted each day. The Church received much publicity from this display. By taking a stand on current issues, First Baptist shows that the teachings of Christ are relevant and vital in today's world.
Today's Events are Tomorrow's History.
Over the years, many people have worked hard and struggled and sacrificed to bring First Baptist to where it is today. As our Church proceeds into its second century, we pray that we can continue the tradition of service and outreach that we have inherited from those who have labored for our Lord at First Baptist in years past. May Christ look down on our work and say, "It is good."