In 1843 a religious-minded woman named Mary Craven traveled from New Jersey to New Castle, Pennsylvania, to visit and baptize her son Richard Craven – and apparently stayed to help establish a Baptist Church. By this time several other religions were firmly entrenched in New Castle, but no Baptist congregation had so far been established. Craven helped formally organize a Baptist congregation in late November 1843 during a meeting in a log cabin house on North Street. One of the six founding members was a prominent oil-industry businessman named Giles O. Griswold. Services were held at various locations, including the old Methodist Church on Jefferson Street, until a small church was built on North Street in 1848.
In 1890 a large church was built at the same general location, at the southwest corner of the intersection of North and East Streets. The building had main entrances on both North and East Streets and was adorned with an array of intricate stained glass windows. A year later the congregation was chartered as the “First Baptist Church of New Castle.”
In July 1903 the Reverend John Snape arrived from Wilmington, Delaware, to take over as the helm of the growing church. Snape proved to an extremely proficient and popular pastor and during his reign the church was greatly improved. A major expansion and remodeling effort was undertaken beginning in the fall of 1904. Services were held for a time in the YMCA building until the church was reopened in about April 1905. The new additions included a full basement and a Sunday school annex.
When the Reverend Snape abruptly resigned in late 1907 to take a new position in Utica, New York, the congregation was saddened. An article in the New Castle News of December 18, 1907, reads, “Rev. Snape arose to read his decision, and it was seen at once from his emotion that his resignation was to follow. He was so affected at the thought of leaving his congregation that he was unable to speak for several minutes, during which time a deep silence prevailed in the room. When at last he was able to speak, he proceeded to read his resignation in a voice choked with emotion. As it became clear that he was presenting his resignation, many in the audience sobbed audibly, unable to control their emotion…” The article further stated, “With his untiring efforts during his pastorate Rev. Snape has built up the church in every particular. Every organization under its care has been put on a solid basis, and the church is now as well organized as any church in the state.”
A disastrous fire struck the church in early January 1913. The building was fortunately saved by the efforts of the New Castle Fire Department, but was closed for a few months to allow repairs to take place. An article in the New Castle News of March 4, 1913, mentions the repair work by remarking, “The auditorium, which was damaged the most seriously, has been fitted with new flooring, and a hardwood floor is to be laid. The walls have been beautifully redecorated, the upper part in light green, with a base in a deeper shade of green, and a design in conventional roses, done in rose color. The effect is beautiful, and the auditorium presents a most attractive appearance. The organ, which was damaged to the extent of several hundred dollars is being repaired, and will be placed in the best of condition before the re-opening of the church.”
Another blaze, which started in the basement, threatened the church on the afternoon of Monday, November 6, 1933. An article in the New Castle News of November 7, 1933, reads in part, “…firemen had a hard battle under difficult circumstances in extinguishing the blaze before it could spread through the building. Various estimates have been made of the loss, which is difficult to determine because of the heavy damage by smoke… It did not break through the floor of the main auditorium but considerable damage was done to the auditorium by smoke. The joists underneath the floor were badly charred by the flames… Firemen were unable to determine how the blaze had started but it seemed to originate in a pile of discarded decorations and such material, which had been placed in a sort of cubby hole under the floor.” The auditorium of the church was closed for about six weeks to allow repairs to be undertaken. Meanwhile, services were held in the annex next door.
The church continued to grow and celebrated its 100th anniversary during various ceremonies held in November 1943. One of the culminating events was the celebration of “Founder’s Day,” held at the church on Sunday, November, 21, 1943. The New Castle News of November 22, 1943, reported, “At the Sunday morning and evening services of the First Baptist church, the auditorium was crowded, this being “Founder’s Day,” with a reunion of church families, older members, and former members, who were publicly recognized by the Rev. O. W. Hurst. The services were a continuation of the Centennial celebration of the church. Rev. George Landis, of Fayetteville, former pastor of the First church, from 1925 to 1932, was the preacher of the day.”
In late 1957 the construction of a new annex facility, which cost over $200,000, began next door. The large addition, containing a social hall and Sunday school classrooms, was dedicated during a ceremony on Sunday, October 26, 1958. The annex itself was named in honor of local physician Ernest U. Snyder and his wife Mary, longtime supporters of the church, and the social hall was named in honor of hardware store owner Paul D. Weller, the longtime superintendent of the Sunday school program.
In July 1967 the New Castle Redevelopment Authority (NCRA) formalized an ambitious plan, known as the Central Area Renewal Project, to demolish old buildings in the downtown New Castle district and revitalize the area with new construction. About 160 businesses or establishments, including the First Baptist Church, would be affected in the “Central Area” zone. The NCRA began acquiring, by agreement or condemnation proceedings, vast parcels of property over the next few years. The First Baptist Church was the last holdout, agreeing to an $813,000 buyout in September 1972.
About a year prior church officials, with relocation in mind, had purchased a 17-acre site on West Maitland Lane in Neshannock Township. The W. G. Eckles Company designed a massive new church, with a main auditorium seating 650 people, which eventually cost about $1.3 million. Groundbreaking at the new site took place on February 25, 1973. The new First Baptist Church of New Castle, led by the Reverend Calvin Merritt, opened for it first Sunday service on April 7, 1974.
At that time the old church was turned over to the city and demolished a few weeks later. The site became part of the new Washington Centre, an office and retail complex that opened beginning in late 1974. The corner location where the church sat is mainly a parking lot and drive-up banking facility.
The First Baptist Church of New Castle, which settled into its new home in Neshannock Township, is still going strong today and will celebrate its 175th anniversary in 2018.
The congregation that became known as the First Baptist Church was founded in November 1843. Within a few years a small church was erected on North Street, but was replaced with a larger church (shown in drawing above) at the same location in 1890. A year later the congregation was officially chartered as the “First Baptist Church of New Castle.” (c1895) Full Size
This church underwent numerous improvements including major expansion and remodeling projects in 1904-05 and 1957-58. (c1915) Full Size
The First Baptist Church, which fell within the confines of the Central Area Renewal Project, was sold for $813,000 in September 1972. The last service was held in this building on Sunday, March 31, 1974, after which the congregation moved into a new church in Neshannock Township. This old church was torn down in late April 1974. (c1908) Full Size
The spacious new First Baptist Church, located on West Maitland Lane in Neshannock Township, was opened for services on Sunday, April 7, 1974. The congregation will celebrate its 175th anniversary in 2018. (Jul 2013) Full Size
(Jul 2013) Full Size