Waterville’s First Baptist Church celebrates 200 years

by Roland D. Hallee

On the corner of Elm and Park streets, in Waterville, stands one of the more magnificent buildings in the city. An iconic landmark that stands tall in the Waterville skyline. This year, the congregation of the First Baptist Church will celebrates its 200th birthday. The official date of the anniversary is July 15, 1818.

According to Jan Goddard, chairman of the 200th anniversary committee, church secretary, and China resident, “Two hundred is a number. Numbers in themselves are insignificant; it is the events of those years that make it significant.”

The First Baptist Church, circa 1955, which doesn’t look much different than today. (Contributed photos)

Organized by Rev. Jeremiah Chaplin, in 1818, the original meeting house was located in a farmhouse on the site later occupied by the Elmwood Hotel, at the intersection of Main Street and College Avenue. Chaplin was the first president of Colby College, when it was located on College Ave., where the Waterville Police Station, Social Security Office, and the Waterville Homeless Shelter now stand. Recognizing the need for the college to be affiliated with a church, Chaplin gathered a few Baptist families at his home, a building later known as the Elmwood Hotel.

The First Baptist Society, a legal entity to hold property, was formed in 1924, and the society sold pews to help finance the new meeting house. At a cost of $4,000, the new meeting house was completed in 1926, on the corner of Elm and Park streets. The main part of the building still rests on the original foundation. The land was donated by Timothy Boulette, Waterville’s leading attorney and state senator.

“This small group of Baptists did not want to depend on the availability of the town meetinghouse, where most others met to worship,” Goddard added. “They were determined to have their own church.” *

Stephen Chapin served as part-time minister until the election of the first full-time pastor, Harvey Fritz, in 1829.

Between 1836 and 1904, additions were built in four separate stages, resulting in the present vestries, classrooms, parlors and dining facilities.

The bell was hung in the belfry in 1844 and the first small reed organ was put in place in 1850.

In 1855 saw the first major alterations to the sanctuary with the removal of the doors from the pews, the lowering of the pulpit and the installation of carpeting.

In 1866 the congregation accepted into membership Samuel Osborne, a former Negro slave, on his own statement that he had been baptized and accepted into a church in Culpepper, Virginia, where the Civil War had destroyed all records.

In 1877, the first baptism was performed inside. Previously, all baptisms had taken place either in the Kennebec River or Messalonskee Stream.

The church underwent major renovations in 1875, and services were temporarily held at the Unitarian Church. The re-dedication sermon was delivered by Rev. George Dan Boardman Pepper, the only man since Jeremiah Chaplin to be both pastor of the First Baptist Church and President of Colby College.

In the 35 years between 1879 and 1914, only two men served as pastor, William Spencer (1879-1899) and Edwin Whittemore (1899-1914).

Electric lighting was installed in 1889.

The pipe organ that is now used in the church. Contributed photo)

Rev. William Spencer, who had a successful pastorate at the church for more than 20 years, shared his appreciation of music and secured the enrichment of the service of song, most notably with the purchase of a new, hand-pumped organ in 1893 at a cost of $2,200.

In a change in the law in 1901, permitting churches to hold property, the society was incorporated as the First Baptist Church of Waterville, thus ending its run as a “society.

A new Purinton organ was installed in 1924.

On the 100th anniversary of the building, the Philbrick parlors and Morse Baptistry were opened, and new lighting was installed.

The sanctuary underwent another remodeling in 1951 when the central pulpit was changed to a lectern and pulpits were added on either side of the chancel, with the altar in the center. This remodeling cost $60,000 – 17 times the original cost of the entire building back in 1826. In 1960, the Purinton organ was rebuilt and placed in the balcony.

The building was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1976.

Many other occasions were instituted in the more recent years. The steeple was renovated in 1990, and the Purinton organ underwent another reconstruction in 2002. From 2002-2009 the Handoll Mission Church (Kor­ean) used the facilities for their services.

In 2010 the lower level of the building opened to accommodate the overflow of the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter. From 2012-2014 the basement became the the shelter’s primary facility.

Some facts about the church:

  • The First Baptist Church is the tallest building in Waterville, and its oldest public building.
  • While many of the ministers who have served at the First Baptist Church have a notable history, perhaps none would exceed that of Samuel Francis Smith, composer of America (My Country ‘Tis of Thee), who served as pastor from 1834-1841. The first time the song was sung indoors was in this church.
  • Rev. B. F. Shaw, who became pastor in 1867, was said to have been the most popular pastor the church has ever had.
  • Every Colby College annual commencement and baccalaureate sermon were held there from 1827-1917.
  • Four former members of the church have streets named after them in Waterville: Jeremiah Chaplin, Nathaniel Gilman, international merchant and the town’s wealthiest man, Asa Redington, the most prominent local Revolutionary War veteran who served in George Washington’s honor guard, who also built the Ticonic Dam, and buried at Pine Grove Cemetery, in Waterville, John Burleigh, publisher of the town newspaper.

When the First Baptist Society was formed in 1818, Maine was still part of Massachusetts (becoming a state two years later in 1820).

Jeremiah Chaplin was president of the Maine Literary and Theological Institution (now Colby College) when he organized his friends to convince them to organize the church.

James Monroe was president of the United States, and William King was Maine’s governor.

Goddard once reflected on a sense of what had filled the past 200 years.

“I came into the sanctuary one morning, and had a compelling feeling to sit in silence for a bit to enjoy the peace, the beauty, the tranquility of this room. Sitting in silence is not entirely true; I may have been silent, but the building was not. I do believe that this building ‘talks.’”

Local and foreign missions were a prime consideration for members of the First Baptist Church.

Rev. Jonathan Forbush started what was known as the “French Mission,” serving French Canadian immigrants. Later, Rev. Isaac LaFleur presided over morning worship in French. The French mission eventually grew to the point where they moved on to what is now the Second Baptist Church, on Water St., in Waterville.

Since 1990, the church has held weekly organ concerts during the Lenten season, featuring many local organists, including China resident Don Pauley.

In an anniversary presentation, Goddard once commented, “Only during the organ concerts held each Sunday afternoon during the Lenten season, does it [ the organ] come out of the corner and is placed in the middle of the sanctuary for all to see and hear the various area professional organists. Then, the congregation and audience can truly appreciate the art of the organist, for not only can we see the hands on the keyboard, but also the feet dancing on the foot pedals.”

Current pastor Russell D. Laflamme.

Current pastor, Russell D. Laflamme, assists in providing a time of worship to residents living in area nursing homes.

“The First Baptist Church, which we in the community use and enjoy, represents our inheritance from hundreds of devoted and generous forefathers,” Goddard concluded. “Proudly, we say, ‘Happy 200th birthday, First Baptist Church!”

The celebration will continue throughout the year with Adoniran Judson, by Rev. Foster and Mary Jane Williams, in July; Tea and Tour, in August, which is open to the community; Dean Ernest Marriner’s Little Talks on Common Things,” by David Brown, in September; Earle Shettleworth: ˆWho was Rev. Henry S. Burrage?, in October; The Mt. View Chamber Singers, in November; and December will see the Christmas Cantata, the combined choirs of Getchell Street and First Baptist churches.

* From an article written by Jan Goddard in Discover Maine magazine, Vol. 27, Issue 2, 2018.

Oliveira earns dean’s list at Roger Williams

Michael Oliveira, of Waterville, Maine, has been named to the Spring 2018 Dean’s List at Roger Williams University, in Bristol, Rhode Island.

Andreozzi and Veilleux on dean’s list at Dean College

Dean College, in Franklin, Massachusetts, has announced that Kiara Andreozzi, of Waterville, and Joshua Veilleux, of Winslow, have earned a place on the dean’s list for the Spring 2018 semester.

New ranks earned; first place winner

Front, left to right, Madison Field, Logan Levesque, Elijah Ker, Mikayla Pooley, Emily Daigneault, Isabel Citro and Caden Pelotte. Back, Joshua True, Syrus Washburn, Coltrane McRae, Madisyn Hines, Jackson Hineman and Moses McRae (Photo by Mark Huard)

Young students from Huard’s Martial Arts, in Winslow, earned new green and brown belt ranks on May 25.

Eli Ker, 10, of Waterville, captured first place in fighting at the 2018 Spirit of the Phoenix Karate Tournament, in Auburn. (Photo by Mark Huard)

Young martial arts students from Huard’s Martial Arts earned new rank levels on May 25. Emilee Feyler, blue belt, Mikayla Achorn, blue, Lucia LaCroix, blue, and Walker Johnson, yellow. (Photo by Mark Huard)

Fallen law enforcement officers remembered

Maine Gov. Paul LePage, left, a former Waterville mayor, and Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Morris, former Waterville Police Chief, at the Law Enforcement Officers Memorial ceremony on May 17. (Photo by Mark Huard, owner Central Maine Photography)

Local fire chiefs cited

David LaFountain, retiring chief of both Waterville and Winslow fire departments (left), Andrew Clark, chief of Albion Fire and Rescue (right), and Senator Scott Cyrway (center). (Contributed photo)

David LaFountain, retiring chief of both Waterville and Winslow fire departments, and Andrew Clark, chief of Albion Fire and Rescue, were both recipients of EMS Excellence Awards at a ceremony put on by Maine Emergency Medical Services, in Augusta, on May 23. EMS Excellence Awards recognize individuals for their contributions to the EMS system, either in their area or to the state as a whole. Senator Scott Cyrway (R-Kennebec) attended the awards ceremony, presenting both recipients with legislative sentiments recognizing their accomplishments. Timothy Beals, of Waterville, executive director of Delta Ambulance, was also an EMS Excellence Award recipient, but he was unable to attend the ceremony.

New flag flies over First Baptist Church

Sam Goddard puts up the new flag. (Contributed photo)

A few months ago, the flag in front of the First Baptist Church, in Waterville, was stolen and the pole damaged. Today, the flag pole has been repaired and a new flag waves. Church moderator Sam Goddard, of China, raises the new flag.

Mid-Maine Tech Center announces top seniors

From left to right, Nicholas Veilleux, electrical technology, Messalonskee High School; Brandon Davis, criminal justice, Winslow High School; Jacob Deraps, information technology, Winslow; William Bean, construction technology, Messalonskee; Lawrence Lawler, emergency services, Lawrence High School; Gabe Derbyshire, culinary arts, Messalonskee; Kassandra Gregory, medical careers, Winslow; Marissa Carpenter, early childhood education, Winslow; Jacob Kershner, precision machining, Winslow; James Lauzon, mass media communications, Waterville High School. Absent from photo, Jacob Dow, automotive technology, home schooled; Jacob Bickford, collision repair & refinishing, Lawrence. (Contributed photo)

The Mid-Maine Technical Center, in Waterville, recently recognized the outstanding seniors as MMTC students of the year. Representing each program, students of the year demonstrated extraordinary professionalism, skill development, leadership and contributions to the school and their respective communities.

Waterville to host U12 baseball World Series in 2020

Photo by Tawni Lively, Central Maine Photography staff

Cal Ripken Commissioners Barry Jordan and Reg Hatfield have announced that Maine will host the first U12 baseball World Series at Purnell Wrigley Field, in Waterville, in 2020.

Photo by Tawni Lively, Central Maine Photography staff

New Dimension, Taconnet credit unions merge

WATERVILLE/WINSLOW — On April 1, 2018, New Dimensions Federal Credit Union welcomed the members of Taconnet Federal Credit Union. With the merger complete, they will continue to grow living by the “People Helping People” mentality that their members have come to know over the years.

Though there is always a transition period when merging two great financial institutions, they have always been committed to exceptional member service. NDFCU has been working tirelessly to ensure as seamless a transition as possible for their members because they want member’s complete trust in knowing their financial environment will not be disrupted. The NDFCU promise and commitment is that members will experience an even stronger financial partnership with the expansion of products and services, access to four branch locations located in Waterville, Winslow, Augusta, and Skowhegan, additional free ATM’s, and knowledgeable, caring staff who put their members first. Additionally, they are now able to offer more competitive rates and fees; which over time will allow operational efficiencies. A great accomplishment that they have worked hard to gain for their members.

Ryan Poulin, CEO of New Dimensions Federal Credit Union states, “The merger will enable us to offer the most innovative technology through the products and services we provide. Our focus is to keep up with the always increasing demand our members continually state is a necessity in today’s online financial environment. By providing what they have asked for we are also ensuring convenience, stability, and reliability—while maintaining that courteous customer service standard they have come to know and expect from us.”

The mission statement of New Dimensions Federal Credit Union is “Educate. Empower. Evolve.” These three simple words sum up what they provide to their members and the communities in which they live. Over the past year, they were able to expand their financial literacy program by providing their members with free financial tools and resources by offering seminars and one-on-one consultations.

In response to that growth, they have purchased a piece of land on Silver Street, in Waterville, on which they will begin constructing a new facility for their members that will provide better visibility and access to the community. The new bilding will be slightly smaller than their current Grove Street location as it will house the teller line and loan departments. Their current location will remain as an operation center for back office functions.