“A History of The First Baptist Church of Apalachicola, Florida”
The First Baptist Church of Apalachicola has a rich and interesting history spanning over 150 years. Three missionaries originally established the church in 1848. This was recorded by Licente, George M. Williams of Providence Church of Gadsden County, Florida, in a letter that was published in The Christian Index on March 22, 1849. The following excerpt states:
“On the 18th of December last, brother Thomas J. Bowen of Gadsden County and John R. Jones of Jackson County, of this state, constituted a Church in this city (Apalachicola), consisting of ten members to wit: 3 whites and 7 blacks, and it is to be hoped that the brethren cast bread upon the waters, that will be gathered many day hence. Brother Jones visited us again on Wednesday, the 14th instant, and on Sabbath last baptized three individuals, one a Jewess, the companion of the unworthy writer of these lines. Though the afternoon was unfavorable (a shower commenced falling just as we reached the water’s edge.) yet some five or six hundreds of our most respectable citizens remained, and witnessed an administration enjoined by our Savior, approved by the Father, and sanctified by the Holy Ghost. A more beautiful scene, or prettier baptism I never witnessed. The assemblage was respectful and attentive-the exhortation pointed and impressive-the candidates, with cheerful meekness and radiant smiles, in obedience to the Divine Master, were buried in the watery element and arose to newness of life, with the glorious hope of immortality beyond this vale of tears. In the evening Bro. Jones preached to a large and respectable congregation in the Council Chamber, (we have no church.) The use of which was politely granted by our worthy Mayor, John S. Hutchinson, Esq. The elements of the Lord’s Supper were administered to the church after divine service. The wine used on the occasion was prepared by my wife, after the manner of the wine used by Jews for their Passover, the same kind, as is supposed to be used by Christ on the occasion of the Last Supper. That Sabbath is one long to be remembered. It was a refreshing season to many thirsty souls."
After founding the church in Apalachicola, Rev. Thomas J. Bowen became the first missionary appointed by the Southern Baptist Convention to serve in Nigeria, Africa (1849-1856) and in Brazil (1859-1861). Rev. Dr. John R. Jones was a self-sustained missionary from Mariana, Florida who was also a homeopathic doctor. He served as the first pastor of the newly begun church in Apalachicola until his death in 1852.
The first known trustees of the First Baptist Church were Laviette Fort, A.G. McCardle and E. M. Hayatt. In 1857, the trustees bought two lots for located on 6th Street and the corner of Avenue G (recorded in Court House Records) from Charles Ellis, Receiver for the Apalachicola Land Company $40.00. The church built a Meeting House in 1861 on the corner lot which was directly across the street from the Montgomery House which is still in existence today.
Unfortunately, during the Civil War the newly built Meeting House was damaged. The building was rebuilt in 1885, and the church was renamed Calvary Baptist Church. The second lot of the two original lots remained empty and later was sold in September of 1889. During the repair of the church, services were held in the town’s Methodist Church. The church had 11 members and the pastor’s salary was only $25. The pastors during this time of transition were Rev. S. J. Revel and Rev. R. D. Burrows.
As Calvary Baptist Church grew in membership, the church bought two lots on 9th Street for $400 in 1901. The new structure erected on 9th Street in 1904 is the same sanctuary being used today and has held church services for over 105 years. The original seating was wooden theater seats until new pews were installed in 1908. At first, the church used oil lamps for lighting. Electric lights were installed in 1910 for the cost of $20. The current appearance of church sanctuary is almost identical to the church’s original structure with the exception of the steeple, which was toppled twice in two hurricanes during the 1930’s, never to be replaced. The bell tower was rebuilt in 2006. It houses the original bell from the Meeting House on 6th Street. Children today are allowed to pull the bell rope in the church foyer for Sunday morning services with the help of an usher.
Another major change occurred for the church on September 9, 1934, when the a resolution was ad opted to change the name Calvary Baptist Church back to it’s former name First Baptist Church of Apalachicola. As the First Baptist Church needed more Sunday school classes, the addition of the red brick "L" shaped building next to the sanctuary was constructed in 1956. The Education Building was created in 1977. This structure was a two-story classroom addition to the back of the church, which included a remodeled choir loft and baptistery. When the church was built in 1904, a concrete baptistery was made underneath the original floor of the church behind the pulpit. A trap door concealed it and was opened when used. The new baptistery was built elevated into the wall area behind the pulpit and included access to hot water. Two chimneys originally used to heat the church with coal were concealed with the new addition. The chimney outlines can still be seen today, and the trap door for the old baptistery has been used for several recent Easter dramas held in the church.
Through the years, we began planting new churches throughout Franklin County. In 1957, the church sponsored a mission in Eastpoint, Florida, and in 1980, the church sponsored a mission on St. George Island, Florida. Fellowship Baptist Church currently located on Ellis Van Vleet Street was begun from a part of the church membership in 1998.
The church became an outreach to community children as it started The First Baptist Christian School in 1984. The school was originally a pre-school under the leadership of Mrs. Pat McNiel (wife of former pastor, Rev. Winston McNiel) and Mrs. Jeanne Lee. Over the next 25 years, the school continued to grow and currently provides Christian education to children from grades K3 to 12th grade. In 1997, the house and property at 51 10th Street behind the church was purchased to provide space for the growing school and houses the school’s K3/K4 classes. The Maddox Annex, as it is known today, is the latest addition to the church. First Baptist Church originally started as a missionary church in 1848 Apalachicola is continuing to be an integral part of the community today.