The idea of the First Baptist Church in Petersburg originated with the Portsmouth Association during a meeting in 1810. In 1813, the association appointed a committee to collect subscriptions for the construction of a Baptist meeting-house in Petersburg. The original site was located on the west side of North Market Street and a brick building was erected.
The Rev. Richard Dabbs, an itinerant preacher, who led in the securing of this location, preached occasionally for the congregation, which in 1817 numbered 13.
In 1819, the Portsmouth Association accepted what was then known as the Market Street Baptist Church into its membership. Also in that year, this church as well as several other denominational churches in the city started the first city-wide Sunday School.
The Sunday School was well established by 1824, so much so that the Marquis de Lafayette, a French aristocrat and friend of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, was welcomed by the school's children when he made a visited Petersburg. In this same year, the Market Street Baptist Church received Its first regular pastor, the Rev. Fielding Bell. Reverend Bell remained with the church until 1828 at which time the congregation numbered 15.
In June 1829, the Virginia Baptist General Association convened with the church and appointed the Rev. Gilbert Mason as pastor.
Things changed in 1839 when the city began grading Market Street, causing the front entrance of the church to become lower than the sidewalk in front of it. As a result, a new location for the church was found at the corner of Market and High Streets.
In 1854, a group of members of the Market Street Baptist Church left the congregation and formed the Byrne Street Baptist Church*. During this same time, plans were begun to change the location of the Market Street Baptist Church for a second time. The present site on West Washington Street was selected and construction started in 1856. The new structure was dedicated on Jan. 24, 1858, at which time the church's name was changed to the First Baptist Church.
*(Later, the Byrne Street Baptist Church also changed its name to the Second Baptist Church of Petersburg.)
On July 31, 1865, seven years after the new First Baptist Church of Petersburg was dedicated at its new location, the spire of the church was struck by lightning, resulting in the complete destruction of the building -- except for the four exterior walls. The Rev. Thomas H. Pritchard was pastor and during this period of rebuilding the congregation worshiped in the Old Fellows Hall on Sycamore Street.
Between 1868 and 1875, as the church was rebuilt, the Lord was also building up the church's congregation, which doubled from 209 to 427.
In 1878, the ever-growing First Baptist Church of Petersburg purchased a chapel on West Washington Street and formed a mission Sunday School. Four years later, in March 1882, 42 members of the First Baptist Church were "dismissed" from "Old First" to branch out and form the West End Baptist Church. During this same period, the Sunday School and Bible Board of the Baptist General Association was moved to Petersburg. From 1880 until the board was merged with the Virginia Baptist State Mission Board in 1908, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Petersburg served as president of the board. In 1912, the Baptist General Association of Virginia held its annual state meeting at First Baptist.
Around 1925, plans were projected for building the present structure where our congregation continues to worship today. During the next several years changes took place including the building of a Sunday School Annex and the purchase of a parsonage. Plans for the erection of the present building were formulated during the pastorate of Dr. Robert M. Green, and the groundbreaking ceremonies were held on Easter Sunday in 1928 with the turning of the first spadeful of dirt.
Although the depression of 1929 impeded progress, work continued and the elegant building was dedicated May 31, 1931, at a total cost of $200,000 and with a total membership of 843.
Over the years, the church continued to grow in the community with continuing changes and additions. In 1947, First Baptis Church of Petersburg was instrumental in establishing the Negro Baptist Children's Home in Chesterfield County, and in 1955 the congregation built a parsonage in the Walnut Hill area of Petersburg, on Westover Avenue. The sanctuary was completely remodeled in 1958 and the nurseries were renovated in 1965.
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