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History of the Churches of the Pittsburgh Baptist Association

by William Pankey

FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH, PITTSBURGH, ORGANIZED 1812

The First Baptist Church of Pittsburgh was organized in 1812 with twelve constituent members. A ministerial delegation from the Redstone Baptist Association, consisting of David Phillips, Henry Spears and James Fry, assisted in its organization.

For the first eight years of its existence the First Church met "from house to house." A Sunday school was started in 1819. The first meeting-house was a wooden chapel, erected in 1820, and located on the corner of Third Avenue and Grant Street. Services were conducted in the home of Deacon John P. Skelton, on the south side of the Monongahela, while the edifice was in process of construction.

The First Church was chartered in 1822, with the following charter members: Sidney Rigdon, James Morford, Benjamin Pyatt, William H. Hart, Zebeon Packard, John Robinson, John P. Skelton, A. Sinclair, John Morford, Thomas Parel, Francis Johnson, William Trimble, John White, Robert Douglass, John Curry, M. Evans, Mark Stackhouse, Robert Warnock, Alfred Lloyd, Washington McEwen, James J. Carpenter, Caleb Lee, Eliot S. Neal, Thomas C. Lee, Robert Shepard, Silas Wickes, Richard James, John Hurrell, John Alexander, Jesse Dewees and Frederick Wendt.

In 1833 the original wooden chapel was replaced by a two-story brick edifice costing four thousand dollars. This building was destroyed by fire in 1845. The third edifice was erected on the same site in 1846, at a cost of eight thousand dollars.

From 1812 to 1858 the Monongahela River was the place of baptism. In his letter of reminiscences, written in 1886, the Rev. Samuel Williams says:

"Between the glass factory and the bridge was our Jordan. I think in nearly every rod from one to the other I have buried candidates in the likeness of my Saviour's burial and resurrection"

The first baptistry was installed in the church in 1858.

In 1865 the church building and lot were sold for ten thousand dollars. A new lot was purchased on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Grant Street, on which a chapel was erected (in 1867), at a cost of forty thousand dollars. In 1876 the main church edifice, fronting on Ross Street, was dedicated.

On March 3, 1873, the Fourth Avenue Baptist Church was constituted by the merger of the First and the Union Baptist Church. The spiritual and numerical strength of the congregation increased rapidly. Among some of the outstanding features of the life of the Fourth Avenue Church were an industrial school; outdoor meetings on the street corners; a city missionary and visiting nurse; a fresh air vacation camp for children; a school of housekeeping; the toy mission, begun in 1894; a Chinese Bible school; a Vacation Bible school, and the department for the deaf.

On September 25, 1909, the Fourth Avenue Baptist Church became by charter the First Baptist Church of Pittsburgh. During the same year the church property was sold to the Commissioners of Allegheny County, for five hundred and sixty thousand dollars. Farewell services were held in the church March 6, 1910. A temporary meeting-place was rented on Neville Street until the new edifice was constructed at the corner of Bellefield Avenue and Bayard Street. The new Gothic edifice was dedicated April 28, 1912, one hnndred years after the organization of the church.

On April 1, 1929, the Oakland Baptist Church merged with the First, and its pastor, the Rev. Lester W. Bumpus, became the associate pastor of the enlarged First. The Oakland church had been organized in 1890. The present membership is 1,136.

The following ministers have served the church: Rev. Edmon Jones (1812-1814), Rev. Obadiah Newcomb (1818-1820), Rev. John Davis (1820-1822), Rev. Sidney Rigdon (1822-1823), Rev. John Winter (1823-1824), Rev. Lawrence Greatrake (1824-1825), Rev. Joshua Bradley (1826-1827), Rev. Samuel Williams (1827-1856), Rev. David J. Yerkes (1856-1860), Rev. George S. Chaise (1861-1864), Rev. James S. Dickerson (1865-1870), Rev. Adoniram J. Rowland (1870-1872), Rev. Robert W. Pearson (1873-1879), Rev. John H. Hartman (1879- 1881), Rev. Lemuel Call Barnes (1882-1887), Rev. Howard B. Grose (1888-1890), Rev. Henry C. Applegarth (1890-1893), Rev. Lemuel Call Barnes (1893-1902), Rev. Warren G. Partridge (1903-1911), Rev. Frederic Tower Galpin (1912-1921), Rev. Carl Wallace Petty (1922-1932), Rev. Bernard C. Clausen (1933 ).

The following ministers have been associate pastors: Rev. W. W. West, Rev. David Boswell, Rev. Theodore Miller and Rev. Lester W. Bumpus.

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