Saturday, November 7, 2015

The history of the First Baptist Church of Junction City

This past Thursday marked the Sesquicentennial, 150th anniversary, of the first meeting of the First Baptist church of Junction City. One of the first churches in Junction City, the church has had a tremendous impact on the citizens of Junction City.  The growth and challenges of the church almost mirror the ones that faced the town of Junction City throughout the time of its establishment in 1865.

In January of 1894, a reader who identified himself only as “Old Settler” remembered a time where different church denominations would worship together during at time of uncertainty and worry in the days during the Civil War. “The newcomer [to Junction City] will scarcely believe that all the church-going people in town met together for worship In the upper room of the building knowns as the old jail, just north of the Central Hotel on Jefferson street (this building is now part of the municipal building.) This did change after the war when families started to come home and the population, and perhaps animosity between the religions, grew.

With the demand on the rise for their own place of worship, eleven local Baptist took it upon themselves to organize and start their own location for worship. So on November 5th, 1865, the first organized Baptist sermon took place at the Streeter-Strickler building, which was located on the corner of Seventh and Washington. The Streeter-Strickler was converted to a makeshift church. It was originally donated by James Streeter, who also happened to be one of the charter members of the church. The establishment of the Baptist church at the Streeter-Strickler building is said to have been the first regular place of worship established in Junction City.

The first assembly of the Baptist church was big news in town, as it made the Junction City Republican newspaper. “The first meeting preparatory to the organization of the First Baptist church of Junction City, Kansas was held November 5, 1865 and at a subsequent meeting held February 25, 1866.” The first leader of the church was Elder Blood and was assisted by Reverend Jacobus and Reverend McClure.

After a few years at the Streeter-Strickler building, James Streeter donated money again to have a permanent church built for those of the Baptist faith. This new church was located between Sixth and Seventh Streets and was on the west side of Jefferson Street and was dedicated on January 27, 1867. A year later, the church received its official charter and it was awarded to them on February 29, 1868.

An interesting account of the church’s early history is that for three years, 1867-1870, the church did not have a rooftop. It was blown away in the middle of a storm. Because of this “Reverend Balcom, who was a Baptist Evangelist, was called upon to help “pray the roof back on.” Only a year after the help from Rev. Balcom, and the Junction City community, the roof was back on the church and the sermons were back to normal. After the roof was back on the church, there was a strong growth in the church and by 1872 the church membership had grown to 97. By 1882, the church had grown to 150. Because of the exponential growth of the church, in 1917 the second reincarnation of the church was constructed right down the street, and the first regular place or worship was sold to a Durland-Sawtell Undertaking company. 

During WWII, the First Baptist Church of Junction City helped the war effort by purchasing $4,000 worth of war bonds. $4000 in 1941 is estimated to be $64,746 with today’s inflation. The church donated something much more valuable than money to the war. 106 members of the church joined the war effort and fought for their country during WWII.

After the war, the Baptist church saw a growth in members and the church itself. In order to get to as many people as possible, the Baptist church started to broadcast their morning worship services over the then-new local radio station, KJCK.  During continued growth after WWII, the church suffered a major setback as the building caught fire on the night of December 15, 1955. The fire caused approximately $40,000 worth of damages. Among some of the repairs were a new roof and sheathing, repair of roof trusses, a new ceiling and hardwood floor in the sanctuary Friendship hall had some of the worse damage as it needed a new ceiling in Friendship hall and redecorating in the sanctuary and Friendship hall. The pews were completely refinished and the organ was rebuilt. This did not stop the church as it continued to grow and become one of the major institutions in Junction City.

Join the church this weekend in celebrating its Sesquicentennial by perhaps visiting and taking a look at one of the oldest churches in the area. 

This picture of the 1st Baptist church was taken circa 1880s-1890s and was located at 6th and Washington.