The Baptist Church in Duluth (Early History)

The Baptist Church Society in Duluth comes into the 1870 records, for on August 27th of that year “a meeting was held to organize a church,” the meeting being held at the residence of Mrs. I. C. Spaulding. Present were: Rev. Amos Gale and Rev. A.

L. Cole, Baptist ministers, and both of Minneapolis; also the following, who presented letters: Mrs. Cynthia Parker, Mrs. Adaline M. Van Brunt (mother of Walter and Henry), Mrs. James S. Campbell, J. S. Campbell, Mrs. Dorla Luce, Miss Alice M. Brown, Joseph Beach, Miss Elizabeth Beach, Mrs. Lucinda B. Spaulding, Robert Clapperton, and W. W. Billson.

The “First Baptist Church of Duluth” was organized at that meeting, J. S. Campbell being elected deacon, and W. W. Billson, church clerk. The “articles of faith and the church covenant were then adopted by separate and unanimous votes,” and “taking hold of hands and standing in a circle those present sang ‘Blest Be the Tie that Binds,’ after which it was voted that the church join the Minnesota Association.” The members were fervent, but not wealthy, and no attempt was at the outset made to incur the liability that would be entailed in the erection of a church building. They were content, for the time being, to worship “in storerooms, or in the residences of members.” On May 4, 1872, however, it was decided that the time had arrived to “proceed with arrangements for the erection of a house of worship.” W. W. Billson was elected a trustee of the society for a term of three years and I. C. Spaulding for a term of two years, and were authorized to appoint a building committee. The committee “acted with promptness,” bought a site, 50×140, at Third ‘Street and Second Avenue West, and “began. the erection of a church edifice,” incurring a liability of between $3,000 and $3,500.

Then, “the members began to look around for a pastor,” and on May 26, 1872, a call was extended to the Rev. J. L. A. Fish, of Hol- 210yoke, Massachusetts. He was instructed, “in case of acceptance of the letter of call, to go to Boston and collect funds that had been promised by friends there toward the cost of the church building.” He arrived on October 20th, with the “promised funds,” and conducted the first services in the new church in November, 1872, although the dedicatory services did not take place until August, 1873, that “being a gala day in the history of the church.” The dedication sermon was preached by Rev. John E. Wood, and a substantial sum was subscribed to the building fund. The Duluth church did not make itself liable for more than $400 of their minister’s salary, the difference being borne by the Home Mission Board of the Baptist Church.

A notable incident in the history of the local Baptist Church was the use of the open waters of the lake as a baptistry. Sisters Clow and Bascombe passed through the baptismal requirement “in the lake at Minnesota Point” on August 2, 1874, the official record of that ceremony reading: The services were impressive and solemn, and were witnessed by a large concourse of people. May this first baptism of the church since its organization be followed by many more.

The general financial depression, of the years following the crash of 1873, had its effect also on the Baptist Church. The Reverend Fish left on May 30, 1875, and a successor was not appointed until 1881, when the Rev. C. H. D. Fisher accepted the call, the American Baptist Home Missionary Society being responsible for part of the salary of $1,000 a year paid him.

Sources:

  • Van Brunt, Walter, ed. Duluth and St. Louis County, Minnesota Vols. 1 – 3. The American Historical Society. Chicago: 1922.