First Baptist building was used as hospital during the Civil War
Submitted by Martha Fant
In 1837, the First Baptist Church in Holly Springs was formed by a group of dedicated people who loved the Lord. This was the first church organized in the city. It stood at 425 Market Street in a small frame building. Tradition says lot and church were the gifts of Robert Greer. However, the first recorded deed is from the Board of Police to the First Reformed Baptist Church. The first pastor was Rev. Frazier and the trustees were: William A. Roberts, Ben Fant, Aaron Woodruff and a Mr. Holcomb.
The congregation was small and remained so for many years. This first church was used for over 60 years. It was next door to the stage coach station, two blocks from the square, and right up the street from the cemetery. This building stood until 1948 when it was razed to make way for progress.
The Civil War
No services were held in the church during the Civil War; the building was used as a hospital for soldiers on both sides. After the War, the effort to keep up the church was almost overwhelming. A few faithful members, sometimes less than ten, worked and prayed, having occasional services, making a valiant effort to have Sunday School, believing that into their frail hands God had entrusted a great task. Although the church was unable to pay a salary, Rev. E. D. Miller preached a while without pay.
Yellow Fever Epidemic
In 1878, just as Holly Springs began to emerge from these turbulent times, the dreaded plague, yellow fever, hit the town. Reeling from the hammering blows of catastrophic events in rapid succession, the congregation was virtually crushed. The fever took some of the strongest, leaving only a few men and about eight or ten women. Mrs. E. D. Miller, the pastor's wife and her sister, Mrs. Cassandra Miller, Mr. McCrosky, the church's only deacon and one of the faithful, Mr. A. F. (Fox) Moore, cultured, brilliant, consecrated and true, "passed over the river, taking their stand with the white robed saints around the throne." These times tried the very souls of the faithful, and only seven God loving women took up the burden of holding the church together for the sake of our Lord. The few brethren helped all they could. They met, prayed, and wept, trusting the Lord to keep His promise of "two or three gathered together in His name." They met almost daily, praying and working in every way to make even a little money, writing hundreds of letters to individuals, churches, mission boards. It is because of this band of saintly women, who were so consecrated and worked so valiantly to perpetuate the struggle of holding the church together that our church is here today.
One year, in an effort to rebuild after the war years and the yellow fever epidemic, the church women sent Mrs. Belle Strickland Bates to the Baptist Convention meeting in Memphis. She presented their cause to everyone she met, and there she was introduced to Dr. J. T. Christian, Secretary of State Board, from whom she requested help in obtaining a preacher. As a result, Dr. Gilbert Dobbs, a student at the Seminary, was sent to pastor the church. He did great things, helping, encouraging and attracting attention by his preaching with his spirituality and wonderful voice. He caused the people to know there were Baptists in their midst. The church moved forward after this (Mrs. Bates wrote these few facts of the church about 1924, and we are especially indebted to her as this is the only record of the church of this time of which we know.)
Dr. W. T. Lowery of Blue Mountain, a consecrated man of God, came to help the little church. In 1898, a lot was brought on Spring Street (then Church Street), and a brick edifice was built. Dr. Lowery gave all of his salary to the building of this sanctuary. After this structure was completed the church began to grow and take on new life.
In 1908 the total membership was 46, of which eight died, leaving 38 in 1909. The Sunday School had five teachers and 45 pupils. The church property was valued at $4,000, and the Pastorium was valued at $1,888.00. The Pastorium was then located on Randolph. The finances for 1909 were $451.25.
In 1912, there were 51 members but two were lost by letter, one by death, one by erasure and one by explusion! About this time, when one of the Leavells was pastor, the church shifted gears and began to move forward. The second First Baptist Church was outgrowing the little church building.
By 1923 the church membership had grown to 206 and the Sunday School to 156. And so, in need for additional space, in 1923 a new building was begun on College Street. It had a seating capacity of 800 and contained 25 rooms. $35,000 was the value of church and grounds. The pastorium was located next door to the church and was an existing antebellum structure.
Rev. E. L. Wesson was the pastor at the time of the erection of the third First Baptist Church. Rev. Wesson refused to accept the salary offered him, taking just the amount that he needed to live. Ground was broken for this building on July 30, 1923, and on November 25 the cornerstone was laid.
In May of 1924, Dr. W. T. Lowery preached the last sermon in the little brick church and on the next Sunday, Rev. Wesson preached the first sermon in the new church. The cornerstone read: BUILDING COMMITTEE: Dr. Ira Seale, Chairman; S.C. Lowry, Secretary; C.D. Collins, Treasurer; R. L. Tucker, Dr. W. C. Sandusky, Dr. L.A. Barnett, C.W. Bonds, Rev. E. L. Wesson, Pastor.
Through the years, the church has progressed in deeds and numbers. As the congregation increased, the original building was expanded several times. In 1937, a new brick pastorium was built on the site of the antebellum one. The membership in 1938 was 392 members. The basement of the church was completed and put to use. The Brotherhood was organized at this time. In 1946, the budget was $12,000, of which 25 percent was designated for Missions.
In 1950. when the church was having growing pains again, the Memorial Annex was added at a cost of $40,000. It was dedicated to two of the members, C. D. Collins, Jr. and John Paul Hurdle, war heroes of World War II who were killed in action.
The church through several decades has done much mission work, such as founding Calvary Church in Holly Springs, helping Mt. Moriah in Laws Hill, assisting the Baptist Seminary in Holly Springs, lending a helping hand through financial assistance, prayer, personal services to the Marianna Mission, Chewalla Mission, and Pioneer Mission.
Expanding again in 1962, the church moved into an Educational Annex added to the east side of the existing building. The Educational Annex cost $148,000, and consists of approximately 40 rooms. A new pastorium was built at 420 Chulahoma Street at a cost of $31,000.
In 1974 a Baptist Recreational Center was built with the Lord's help and $100,000 from Sidney Hurdle. The entire building cost $210,000, and is located at the corner of College and Randolph. This building is used to further the advancement of the Kingdom of our Lord by reaching the people of our town. The purpose of the Center is to provide creative and meaningful leisure time activities for its members and guests in a Christian atmosphere and setting with dedicated leadership.
At the present time, July of 1982, the First Baptist Church has approximately 1,000 members, with 528 enrolled in Sunday School and 166 in Training Union.
Excerpted from: "History of the First Baptist Church", compiled by Lois Swanee.
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