History of First Baptist Duluth
Duluth Baptist Church was organized on February 13, 1886. The charter members were Julia Flowers, Henrietta Vaughan, Amanda E. Gorman, Sara McKinney, Agnes Pittard, Lou Scoggins, Sarah Maddox, Julia A. New, J.L. Vaughan, Ansel Morgan, J.M. McKinney, E.M. Pittard, Thomas E. Gorman, Emory Flowers and J.e. New. The council of ministers who participated in the organizational meeting were D.5. McCurry, moderator; B.F. Coolege, clerk; Reverends WJ. Pirkle, J.N. Tribble, Albert Ellis and EJ. McDaniel. The original building was constructed for $500 on land donated by J.e. New. Early worship services were held once a month, which was a common practice in that era. A Sunday school, which was attended mostly by children and young people, was held on Sunday afternoon. Early church records indicate that in 1901 membership totaled 85.
In 1907, a significant revival or “protracted meeting” resulted in a new era for the church as a group of young people – six boys and four girls – were converted. A summary of the year, written by E.G. Ware, listed among the group three young men who would become leaders in the church and denomination for many years to come, including Solomon Dowis, who later served in home missions; Hamilton Ware, who went on to serve in foreign missions for 40 years; and Heard Summerour, who served the church as Sunday school superintendent for more than 40 years.
The original building was destroyed by fire on July 21, 1947. While meeting in local school buildings, the church began to rebuild using $1,500 in insurance proceeds and $3,500 in war bonds that had been purchased in the name of church members who had served in the military. Church members, led by Frank Mattison, began the effort to rebuild, including donating material and labor. The distinctive granite building was completed in 1950. A bell from a Southern Railway steam engine was donated by YJ. Harrington, Jr. In the late 1950s, the church purchased a house and lot to be used for Sunday school and parking across from the church. To distinguish the church in the community, the name “First Baptist Church of Duluth” was adopted in the 1960s.
In 1960, the church built a three-story educational building at the rear of the church building. The first two floors were completed and a third floor was soon finished to provide ample space for the growing congregation. The house across the street was torn down and the lot was paved to provide additional parking.
The church purchased 16.5 acres on Highway 120 just east of Duluth in 1975 at a cost of $110,000 and voted to relocate there in 1978. The existing granite building and parking area across the street were sold to the City of Duluth in 1979. Financed by the sale of bonds, construction of a multipurpose Family Life Center and Educational Building was completed and occupied in October 1980. Growth was rapid in the years following the move with the Family Life Center being used for worship and many other events.
In 1988, a permanent sanctuary seating almost 1,000 was completed at a cost of approximately $2.2 million. Educational and office space was added 10 years later as membership grew to over two thousand. Church programs including Sunday school, music and mission organizations for all ages, preschool and recreation activities attracted large numbers from the rapidly growing community and the surrounding area. An adjoining 5.5-acre tract on the west side of the church property was acquired in 2002, which allowed the church access to another tract of 16.43 acres. The church purchased the second tract in 2003 from church members Bill and Rosalind Adcock.