Editor's note: This is the 179th in a series of articles recalling vanished Huntington scenes.
HUNTINGTON - First Baptist Church was organized early in 1872 in a log cabin on Norway Avenue near Spring Hill Cemetery by the Rev. Nelson Barnett, Betty Barnett, Caroline King, Walker Fry, Murray Jasper, Henry Hunt and W.O. James. The Rev. William "Uncle Billy" Bryant of Proctorville, Ohio, aided the founding members in starting their new church.
At first the young congregation rented space to worship. In 1879-80, it was in a small church building in the 800 block of 8th Avenue. In 1896, it constructed a larger building on the southeast corner of 6th Avenue and 8th Street.
Nelson Barnett was the church's first pastor, serving about 10 years. He was followed by William E. Simpson and then I.V. Bryant (shown in the accompanying photograph). Rev. Bryant served at the church's pastor twice, first from 1888 to 1891 and then again from 1906 until 1923.
In 1965, the congregation decided to undertake a major renovation of their old building. But before work could begin, the church suffered a damaging fire. So, instead of renovating the building, the congregation built a new structure. Until it could be completed, worship services were conducted at Ohev Sholom Temple, five blocks away. The new 15,756-square-foot building cost $250,000 to construct. It houses a 350-seat sanctuary, a fellowship banquet hall, classrooms, a choir room, meditation chapel and administrative office space.
Over the years, members of First Baptist have played important roles in Huntington's African-American community.
Footnote: In October of 1872, another Huntington congregation was organized and named First Baptist Church. At a business meeting on June 29, 1897, the other congregation changed its name to Fifth Avenue Baptist Church. It did so in deference to the African-American Baptists whose First Baptist Church was organized earlier than that of the white Baptists.
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