The Early History

of the

First Baptist Church

Prepared by Charles P. Barnes for the fiftieth anniversary observed June 30, 1913 and published in the Houlton Times Wednesday February 16, 1921.

When the committee having in charge the Jubilee Celebration of the First Baptist Church in Houlton decided on June 29 as the day to begin the memorial exercise, they were probably not aware that on June 29, 71 years ago, the first duly accredited representative of the Baptist denomination started on his long journey to the Aroostook region.

 

But this is the fact, the Rev. Mr. Kendall leaving home for Houlton the first time on June 29 1842.

At the far distant date of the first visit of Missionary Kendall, Houlton was a tiny settlement on the disputed border land between the territories of this Republic and of his Grace the King.

 

The flag floated daily from its towering staff on the parade grounds at the garrison and the morning and evening were marked by the salute of the military Post.

 

While down at “The In 1842 the Rev. Henry Kendall, an agent of the Maine Missionary Board, who died in China in this State August 15 1864, discovered in Houlton a little foundling, which at the age of twenty-one years, 1863, became the First Baptist Church of Houlton, whose fiftieth anniversary we this day celebrate. a mill, a blacksmith shop, a tavern, and a few scattered buildings comprised the nucleus of or present flourishing village.

 

On one side of “The Creek” was a meeting house, and halfway between The Creek and the settlement and the Garrison another meeting house, the former occupied by the Unitarian society and later by the society then called the “Orthodox”

In 1843 the Baptist Missionary Convention made its first appointment of a settled missionary, by sending the Rev. Royal Crafts Spaulding to stay in the field.

 

In the winter season of 1844 Rev. Mr. Spaulding brought his family to Houlton, over the long road up through Penobscot County to Patten and thence across to Houlton village. 

 

That we may perceive our courage of these daughters' hearts. I can do no better than quote from a letter written by his daughter, Mrs. Ann Judson Bradbury.

 “ The most vivid impression of the long hard journey in winter, from Bangor to Houlton, in the single sleigh, in snow and forest, forest and snow, -interminable, it seems; and the strange wild music of the winter wind in the tree-tops, and the sharp crackling of the frosty limbs added to the dreary ride of days- how many I do not know.

 

Then there was a continued dread of meeting another team, as mother with my baby-brother in her arms and I usually had to get out into the narrow road, while the men held up the sleigh as the horses plunged through the deep snow.

 

My little brother, sixteen months old, must be carefully covered from the intense cold, as he lay in my mother's arms, and carefully watched lest he be smothered”

The rigors of the northern winter had no terrors for Royal Crafts Spaulding and his wife Jerusha, his wife the latter of whom a slight built, rather undersized, vigorous little woman, whose face, furrowed with wrinkles of age and care but whose eyes until the day of her death sparkled with the undimmed energy of youth. I and other citizens of Houton of my age and upwards distinctly remember.

Original Church

Parsonage

The Garrison marched away through the village to the Southland for the campaign against Mexico, and the bitterest years of the history of Aroostook county followed the removal of this market for our surplus products and a period of destitution set in.

 

Through those years with faith unfaltering and courage that never waned these noble souls labored unceasingly, in season and out of season laying the foundations of the earliest Baptist churches in Aroostook County.

 

Their version was a long look into the future; their faith the absolute unwavering trust in Him who they believed had commissioned them; their charge to do the simple duty of each day; their reward, the consciousness of a well-spent life; their monument the well-spent life; their monument prosperous Baptist organizations of eastern Maine.

 

At the time Mr. Spaulding’s coming there was no organized Baptist church in Houlton, but such a body had been established in our neighboring town of Hodgdon, for “The Calvinist Baptist Church of Hodgdon and Number 10” was organized on January 15 1835, at a meeting of those friendly to such a movement of those friendly to such a movement, in the”Yellow Schoolhouse”, so called, the first schoolhouse erected in Hodgdon on the County Road, about three and a half miles from Houlton village.

 

The next nearest was in Patten, just across the Penobscot County line, and there were twelve citizens of Houlton who were by profession, of the Baptist faith: A newcomer to the town, a man from the city of Portland, in the summer of 1862, introduced himself to the Rev. Mr Spaulding; and to the good missionary and his wife it seemed that the child discovered by the Missionary Kendall and nurtured by their loving ministration and reached his maturity and should step forth to be acknowledged as a factor and force in the town and county.

 

So on March 25, 1863, at Mr Spaulding’s home which some of us remember on Main Street in the village, the council met and our First Baptist Church was organized. It’s charter roll numbered thirteen:

 

 

Rev. Royal C. Spaulding

Mrs. Jerusha Spaulding

Elisha Pray

Samuel Laskey

Mrs. Catherine Bradbury

Mrs Hanning

Mrs Ann Niles

Miss Niles

John N. Foster

Daniel Bray 

Francis Barnes 

Elizabeth Harding 

Mrs Jemima Kinney

Francis Barnes was chosen deacon and clerk. May 1st three more joined the church and addition from time to time increased the membership slowly but surely. The spirit of prophecy found voice in Mrs Spaulding who in 1865 writes:

“Our little church is gradually increasing. We have a conference once in four week here in our house and a prayer meeting every Friday in the Congregational vestry and a female prayer meeting Wednesday afternoons. We have not commenced the work of building our meeting house yet but hope to be able to make a beginning next spring”

In a pamphlet that renders permanent the story of the missionary labors of the Rev. Mr Spaulding and his devoted wife, Mr. Barnes, the first deacon of the church, tells us the story of the buildings of the meeting house, as follows:

“ As soon as the church organization became a fact in Houlton the need of a house of worship was most apparent and Mr. and Mrs. Spaulding set about devising the adequate method to meet that need.

They took counsel together, but chose to say nothing in public about it. After much deliberation and prayer they formed their plans and went down to the meetings of the Penobscot Association in September, 1863, to make a beginning in the way of soliciting funds.

After the meeting they went to Bangor and visited Mr. Giddings for a few days. While there Mrs. Spaulding opened up to him the subject which lay so close to their hearts, and plead for help. He heard the story with attention, thought carefully upon it, consulted with a few of the brethren who had a personal knowledge of the situation and as a result, before they left Bangor, the sum of $450 was paid by the four men, Arad Thompson, J. C. White, Chapin Humphrey, and Moses Giddings toward the building of the church.

 

As soon as they reached home they came to see me, and with delight, yet the most serious purpose, told the story of their success. "Now we can have a meeting house. Now we must get about the work just as soon as possible."

 

I was surprised at what they had accomplished, but the more so at the unfolding of their absolute unquestioning faith in the speedy accomplishment of what they longed for, the hour had come, the instruments had been raised up, and there was enough money to begin with. In the month of February following (1864) the lot of land was bought for $250 and the balance deposited in Bangor. Despite the earnest faith of the good man and his wife, the prospect to ordinary persons, for immediate success in the enterprise was not very promising. The church was not very promising. The church was small in numbers, weak in a money point of view, and had no large body of sympathizers in the community. 

A whole year went by without further opportunity for progress, their only encouragement rested in their unwavering confidence of ultimate success.  In March, 1865, a small brow of choice lumber, at No. 11, was bought with the balance of the money at hand.

 

The door to further advancement did not open. It did not seem expedient to seek further aid until the word had come to go forward at Houlton.

 

Brother Spaulding and his wife were narrowed up to prayer and waiting for month after month.

In the winter of 1865-66 an effectual door for advancement was opened and to the inexpressible satisfaction of those watchmen on the walls we all felt that the word had come.

 

After the meeting they went to Bangor and visited Mr. Giddings for a few days. While there Mrs. Spaulding opened up to him the subject which was so close to their hearts and pleaded for help. He heard the story with attention, thought carefully upon it, consulted with a few of the brethren who had a personal knowledge of the situation and as a result, before they left Bangor, the sum of $ 450 was paid from the four men, Arad Thompson,  J. C. White, Chapin Humphrey, and Moses Giddings toward the building of the church.

As soon as they reached home they came to see me, and with delight, yet the most ad come “Go forward”.

When the design of the house had been settled upon, the estimated cost of the structure exceeded the value of unencumbered property which was in the possession of the members of the church.

 

Pledges of aid had been obtained in Bangor, Portland and other places. The shingles were contributed by friends in the Niles neighborhood and vicinity. As work neared completion the pressure for means followed hard after us. We had enough to go on with, but nothing in advance. The women bought the furniture for the pulpit. The pulpit Bible was a gift from a sister of Mrs. Spaulding, the communion set was given by her Bangor friends.

 

The bell was the gift of Mr. Churchill of New York.

The last payment on the church debt was on Oct. 13 1869. With a pulpit prepared who should occupy it was prepared who should occupy it was a question not lost sight of, Mr. Spaulding had said, it is not my place. His was the work of the forerunner and his prayer was day by day. “Send us a man of Thine own choosing, Lord”.

 

Rev. Charles G. Porter had been the beloved pastor of the Second Baptist Church, Bangor, for more than twenty years when his health began to fail and it seemed that his days of actual labour were over. He resigned his charge and it was very uncertain whether he would take up the work again.

 

The Penobscot Association met in 1866 in Old Town where Brother Porter was present and entered into the discussions, and learned of the prospects in Houlton. The next day I met him in the store B. F. Bradbury in Bangor, and grasping my hand with earnestness, he said “Barnes, when you get that Meeting House ready, I am coming up to preach the dedication sermon for you”.

With the hour came the man, to renew his health in a measure, and to do great and lasting work in his Master’s vineyard.

The meeting house was dedicated January 21, 1867. Mr. Porter stayed five years doing missionary service and laying the foundations for a strong and prosperous church.

 

Rev. C. M. Hering, and Rev. B. F. Shaw had short pastorates. Rev. Isaiah Record was with us seven years and built the parsonage on Leonard street for the church. He died in Houlton, March 14, 1883.

 

Mr. Newell T. Dutton worked with us ten years. He finished our parsonage, enlarged our vesty, had general oversight of the building of Wording Hall, and prepared things for the building of the meeting house which was accomplished by. Rev. Chas. E. Owen.

 

His pastorate lasted seven years, when he was called from us to be financial secretary of the Colby College. Rev. John A. Ford was here eight years. Rev. Franklin W. Irving tow years. Rev. Howard G. Kennedy.

 

The present pastor is Rev. Henry C. Speed.

The deacons of the church have been: Francis Barnes, Edwin Bradstreet, Moses Kinney, Hiram Smith, Arthur N. Thomas, George Cottle, Llewellyn M. Felch, Lyman B. Merritt.

The present board of deacons is: Alex Cummings, S. D. Hamilton, T. C. S. Berry, Charles E. Dunn, Kendall Jackins, John E. Hamilton.

Superintendents of the Sunday School have been: Francis Barnes, R. G. Rollins, Frank H. Lunt, William Estabrook, A. S. Knowlton, Dr. C. E. Williams, Arthur M. Thomas, Lyman B. Merritt, L. M. Felch, Anna Barnes, Herman B. Betts, Leonard B. Berry, Charles E. Atherton.

Our Church has entertained the Maine Baptist Convention twice, in 1884 and again in 1898.

 

A photo of the 1898 Convention below.

Her role of membership has numbered Houlton citizens by the hundreds.

Her members have gone to be a light and a help to cities and towns in all parts of the United States and throughout the Dominion of Canada.

Her constituent members have all passed over the border in the fifty years since they established her.

Her influence has been gracious and wholly benigan.

Her members have been among the foremost in the advancement of the best interests of the town and country.

How many thousands have been uplifted by the teachings alike of her pulpit, and her pew, as

“Conquering and to conquer moves the King in his might.”

Works Cited:

History of the First Baptist Church: by Charles P. Barnes, Houlton Times, February 16, 1921. Print.

Putnam, Cora M. Carpenter. The Story of Houlton. Portland, Me.: House of Falmouth, 1958. Print.

​​​​© 2015 Aroostook County Historic & Art Museum

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