First Baptist Church

First Baptist Church, South Berwick, Maine

1823 - First Baptist Church – Main Street

This building is part of the South Berwick Village District on the National Register of Historic Places. South Berwick has been an important location in the history of Baptists in Maine, dating from the formation of a Baptist meetinghouse near Great Hill in 1767. This First Baptist Church on Main Street was built in 1823.  From about 1850 until 1950, the railroad ran past the church where Route 236 from Kittery meets Main Street today.

Baptists began meeting in the village in the 1790s near the present intersection of Portland Street and Agamenticus Road, in a meeting house situated where the soldier's monument stands today. A local Baptist history tells us that in 1808, just after the Boston to Portland turnpike was built along the present route of Main and Portland Streets (Routes 236 and 4 through South Berwick), Rev. Ebenezer Boyd's church "gathered on the Plains now known as South Berwick village... This church never made much increase in numbers and strength, and its organization ceased in 1824."

The First Baptist Church on Main Street was built in 1823.

Chronology of Baptists in South Berwick:
-- 1767 - Joshua Emery organized Baptists at Great Hill in Berwick. A certain amount of confusion and disagreements in the early days.
-- 1795 map showed a Baptist meetinghouse of the "Plain" at today's intersection of Portland Street and Agamenticus Road.
-- 1796-1818 - Rev. William Batchelder led the Great Hill meeting house.
-- 1808 - A church "gathered in Berwick, on the Plains now known as South Berwick village, and enjoyed the pastoral labors of Rev. William Chadbourne several years." Rev. Ebenezer Boyd also preached there.
-- 1822 - First Baptist Church organized. Built on Main Street in 1823.
-- 1820s - Rev. Joshua Chase led the Great Hill meeting house.
-- 1830s - Free Will Baptist Church organized/built on Main Street.
-- 1837-8 winter - Rev. John Hubbard at "South Berwick Church" (apparently at Great Hill). "There was a powerful revival, in which it was estimated four hundred persons were converted, a large number of them, of course, belonging to other towns. There were meetings sixty evenings out of sixty one, at the dwellings of Deacon Peter Knight and Samuel Knight, and at some of them as many as three hundred were present. For three Sabbaths the pastor had no opportunity to preach a sermon. Prayer meetings commenced at 9 o'clock Sabbath A. M., and continued till three o'clock P. M., without cessation, allowing no time for preaching. Mr. Hubbard Baptized seventy-seven that winter." (Source: "The First Century of the Baptist Church of North Berwick," 1868.)

Below is a history of South Berwick’s Baptists from The History of York County, 1880:

The second Baptist Church formed in Maine was organized within the limits of this town. In 1767 considerable religious interest was manifested among the people at “Great Hill,” Berwick, caused by the preaching of Rev. Hezekiah Smith, pastor of the Baptist Church in Haverhill; and those who adopted his religious sentiments became united with his church. July 8, 1768, “ it was voted by the Haverhill Church to approve and confirm proceedings of our pastor, Deacons Whitten, Shepard, and Elder Greenleaf, in dismissing members from this church, and constituting two Baptist Churches, one in Gorham and the other in Berwick.” [Note: the Great Hill church was in present-day South Berwick, near Hooper Sands and Knight’s Pond Roads.—ed.] The proceedings alluded to were the usual steps taken by the Berwick members for the formation of a church of their own, which dated June 28, 1768, and consisted of 17 members. Joshua Emery, though never ordained, was the teacher and exemplary guide of this church for about twenty years. Wm. Batchelder was ordained over this church Nov. 30, 1796. He served with great acceptance till November 1805, when he removed to the First Church in Haverhill. After being destitute for two years Joshua Chase became pastor, and remained five years. In 1818, for some irregularities, this church was dropped from the Association. In 1821 it was restored to its former standing, taking the name of “Berwick and York.” In 1822, Mr. Chase resumed the pastorate for a short time, but died Feb. 6, 1825. The rest of the pastors have been as follows: Rev. Joseph Gilpatrick, from June 7, 1826, to 1832; Rev. Nathaniel G. Littlefield, from 1833 to 1836, during which time the name was changed to South Berwick and York; Rev. John Hubbard, from 1837 to 1841; Rev. J. M. Wedgwood, from 1844 to 1846; Rev. Gideon Cook, one year; Rev. W. H. Copeland, six years; Re. John Hubbard, five years, closing March, 1862; Rev. J. M. Thompson, from 1834 to 1866. In 1866 the meeting-house was taken down and removed to North Berwick.

The first house of worship stood near John Hooper’s, south of the parsonage in South Berwick. Report says that Joshua Emery did much toward building it. It was afterwards enlarged by the addition of twenty-four feet to its length. Getting old and dilapidated, it was burned down. In 1842, David and Elijah Hays and Peter Knight were appointed a committee to erect a new house, which was located near where Rufus Clark now lives, in Berwick. It was dedicated Aug. 31, 1843, Oliver Barron preaching the sermon. In the winter of 1837-38 a powerful revival was experienced, in which it is estimated that 400 persons were converted. Seventy-seven were baptized during the winter. [Note: The Free Will Baptist Church was built about this time.—ed.]

The deacons have been John Knight, Shem Emery, Benjamin Knight, James Gray, Nathaniel Walker, Peter Knight, Oliver Boston, William Shaw, William B. Emery, B. F. Swain, William Emery, Reuben Dennett. Aug. 17, 1776, members in the north part of the town were dismissed to form the “Berwick and Madbury” Church. The ordination of Wiliam Hooper of the church was the first Baptist ordination in the State.

Baptist Church, South Berwick, MEIn 1808 a church was gathered at South Berwick Village. Rev. William Chadbourne labored with them several years, and after him William Boyd [Note: The correct name may have been Rev. Ebenezer Boyd. He resided at the William Lambert House on Portland Street.—ed.]. The organization became extinct in 1824. [Note: The meetinghouse was used as the South Berwick town hall through about 1860.—ed.]

The present house of worship was built in 1826 [the date 1823 appears on the building - ed]. Josiah W. Seaver and Samuel Parks were the building committee, and used their own property so freely as to embarrass themselves. This society has generally been very prosperous. The first deacons were Dr. Charles Trafton and Charles Shorey. The meeting-house has been enlarged and beautified [Note: The work was reported to have been done by gundalow captain William Gooch Cheney.—ed.], and was rededicated Jan. 1, 1872, during the pastorate of Rev. Mr. Gile. Present pastor, Rev. R. R. Riddell.