According to church records, the embryo of the church dates back to June 28, 1874. The church was first started in a small house on Lake Street near what is now known as Tangier Street. It was then known as the Baptist Mission. A few years later, they moved to Walnut Street. Through providence guiding, the kindness and sympathy of Mrs. Louise Davis and the New England Baptist Association, along with influential friends, encouraged the members to organize, purchase and build the church. It was in 1882 that the American Baptist Home Mission Society provided the land and building. The church was then known as Mt. Ellen Baptist Church located on Church and Broad Streets. In 1928, Mt. Ellen Baptist became an independent body as a result of a grant from the Baptist Mission Society of the United States. It was incorporated under the name of the First Colored Baptist Church. Due to the relocation of Route 50, in the spring of 1959, the church was moved from Church and Broad Streets and relocated to the corner of Booth Street and Delaware Avenue. On this site, a new church was built and dedicated on December 13, 1959. While the church was being built, services were held in the Clinton F. Stewart Funeral Home located on West Road from March to December 1959.
The pastors of the church from the earliest records until now have been as follows: Rev. George E. Braxton, Rev. Edward J. Henry, Rev. Levin W. Purnell, Rev. Alfred H. Mayo, Rev. James D. Brooks, Jr., Rev. William H. Griffin, Rev. Handy Moore, Rev. J. M. Gibson, Rev. Crockett, Rev. Ethridge, Rev. Archie Franklin, Rev. A. B. Lee, Rev. James F. Walker, Rev. Charles A. Mason, Rev. J. Chappelle Mills, and Rev. Dr. Lewis N. Watson. Under the pastorate of Rev. Mills, many ministries were implemented that contributed to the growth of the church. He led the purchase of many parcels of land in the name of the church (namely, Gordon Street Property, Douglas Street Properties, Booth Street Properties, and Lake Street Properties, respectively, where the site of the Joseph House Village is now located) and the payoff of the mortgage on the historic sanctuary in less than a year after he was called as Pastor in 1962. In the 1970’s, the name of the church was changed to the Church of the Holy Trinity. In 1981, the Lakeview Housing Apartments, a 48-unit complex for Senior Citizens, was erected. In 1983, Rev. Mills started the erection of the present sanctuary. However, in 1985, the project was halted.
On December 5, 1988, the church called our current Pastor, Rev. Dr. Lewis N. Watson. The church name then reverted back to its original name, First Baptist Church. Under Rev. Watson’s anointed and visionary leadership, many projects and ministries have been expanded and/or implemented, namely: Music & Cultural Arts Ministry, Christian Education Ministry (Youth & Adult Sunday School, Bible Study, Women’s Ministry, Men’s Ministry, Marriage Ministry, etc.), Radio Ministry, Lost Sheep Ministry, Prayer Ministry, Missionary Ministry, The Shepherd’s Table Ministry, Brown Bag Ministry (Manna), S.A.G.E. (Security Around God’s Edifice) Ministry, Health Ministry, Pastor’s Relations Ministry, Transportation Ministry, Culinary Ministry, etc. Projects implemented include renovation of the parsonage, renovation of the historic sanctuary, purchase of properties on Booth Street for economic development, housing the homeless, and several outreach community ministries.
In November 1994, we marched into the new sanctuary with a seating capacity of 700. The parking lot will accommodate over 200 vehicles including designated handicap spaces. In October 1996, the second mortgage for the new sanctuary was paid off. In July 2002, the first mortgage was paid off, and Pastor Watson led First Baptist into the building of a $2.5 million, 18,000 square foot Family Life & Cultural Center. The Cultural Center has the Pastor’s Office, administrative offices, the Bread of Heaven Cafe’ & Gift Shop, a conference room, a computer room, seven classrooms, and an auditorium to accommodate recreational and social events. On April 24, 2009, the Family Life and Cultural Center auditorium was named the “Lewis N. Watson Auditorium.” Under Rev. Watson’s pastorate, the church membership has increased from 50 to over 800.