First Baptist Church, Salem, Mass

The First Baptist Church, at 54 Federal Street in Salem, around 1865-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The site of the church in 2017:

The first Baptist minister in Salem was none other than Roger Williams, who briefly served as pastor of the First Church in the 1630s, immediately prior to his famous banishment in modern-day Rhode Island. However, it would be some 170 years before a Baptist church was formally established here in Salem, when 24 parishioners formed the First Baptist Church in 1804. The following year the church installed its first pastor, 25-year-old Brown graduate Lucius Bolles, and around the same time construction began on a permanent church building here on Federal Street, just east of North Street.

The diary of William Bentley, the prominent Unitarian minister of the East Church in Salem, provides an interesting perspective on the early history of this church. At the time, Baptists were a religious minority in Massachusetts, where nearly all churches were Congregational Bentley’s diary reveals hostility toward the Baptists. For example, on January 9, 1805, the day when Reverend Bolles was ordained, Bentley wrote:

A very rainy day & the day designated for the public ordination of a Baptist Minister in Salem. It was a dark day, because we were afraid of the uncharitableness of this Sect which has been the most illiterate in New England. All the ministers were invited. The Tabernacle was opened for the services. I did not attend. No Congregational minister of the Town was present. Dr. Stillman of Boston preached.

A month later, there was a tone of sarcasm when he wrote that “It is said that Mr. L. Bolles does not incline to dip [baptize] in the very cold weather as it too much endangers the health of the Spectators. The public owes him many thanks.” Then, on April 14, following the baptism of 10 more new members, Bentley complained of the Baptists luring members away from the established Congregational churches, writing:

It is said that the Clergy of the Town are about to print a refutation of the Baptists as the Baptists consider as free plunder all the members of their churches & rebaptise all who have been sprinkled at any age or baptised in any form in infancy. This superstition has all its fury at present in this place. Its violence must burst. Still like a storm, it may be short & leave many a wreck on the shore especially when many are too nigh to escape. I cannot think our Clergy equal to the controversy.

The brick, Federal-style Baptist church was completed later in 1805, and was dedicated on January 1, 1806. On that day, Bentley wrote, “This day was appointed to dedicate the New Baptist Brick Meeting House in Salem & to ordain Charles Lowell in the West Church in Boston. I preferred to employ the fine weather in a visit to Boston.” However, later in the same entry he gave some begrudging praise to Bolles:

In Salem, Mr. Bolles preached at the dedication & as usual in such occasions gave the concourse some history of his newly gathered Church. Its rapid progress in fifteen months since his first mission to Salem, is an honour to his perseverance & an example to his Superiors.

Notwithstanding Reverend Bentley’s scorn, the Baptists grew at a rapid pace upon completion of this church building. The congregation more than doubled in size in 1806, and by 1813 it had over 300 members. The church evidently welcomed all races, with Bentley noting in one 1810 entry that “8 young females & one Negro man” were baptized here. Earlier in 1810, he had also commented on how Thomas Paul, the pastor of the First African Baptist Church in Boston, had previously preached here at the church. He was apparently well-received at the church, but was ridiculed by some townspeople and was denied a seat inside the stagecoach:

[I]n the past actually the Negro Minister Paul preached repeatedly in the Close Baptist Meeting House accompanied & assisted by their Pastor. In consequence one family only discovered displeasure, but the wags of the town put a paper of dogrel rhymes in print & distributed them through the town. The Stage refused the Negro Minister a passage in the Stage within, but offered him a seat with the driver, which he angrily refused.

Over the next few years, the church did experience some fluctuations in its size, as many of the members left to form Baptist congregations in the neighboring towns. However, the church remained strong, and during its first 20 years it added 512 members. Reverend Bolles remained in the pulpit until 1826, when he resigned because of poor health and his new responsibilities as corresponding secretary of the Foreign Mission Board in Boston.

The first major changes to the church building came a year later in 1827, when it was expanded and a tower was added above the front entrance, as seen in the first photo. Further changes occurred around 1850, when the original Federal-style design was given Italianate details, such as the quoins on the corners and the arches above the windows. It was remodeled again in the late 1868, was damaged by a fire on October 31, 1877, and then repaired the following year. Although undated, the first photo was probably taken before the fire, and perhaps even before the 1868 renovations.

Much of the tower is cut off in the first photo, but by the turn of the 20th century it consisted of three stages, topped by an almost absurdly oversized illuminated clock. However, the tower was ultimately removed in 1926 due to the cost of maintenance, dramatically altering the exterior appearance of the building. It continued to be the home of the First Baptist Church throughout the 20th century, though, and despite the many changes it still retained significant historic value as the oldest surviving church building in the city.

Today, the historic church building is still standing, although no longer in its original location. The site was needed in order to build the new Essex County courthouse, so the congregation sold the property and relocated to a different church building on Lafayette Street in 2007. The following year, in December 2008, the 1,100-ton brick church was moved a couple hundred feet to the west, to the corner of Federal and North Streets. The exterior was restored and repointed, and the interior was converted into a law library for the new courthouse, which opened in 2012 as the J. Michael Ruane Judicial Center. The photo below shows the church at its current location, a little to the left of where it had once stood.

First Church, Salem, Mass

The First Church at the southeast corner of Washington and Essex Streets in Salem, around 1865-1874. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The building in 2017:

This location, at the southeast corner of Essex and Washington Streets, was the site of the First Church of Salem for nearly three centuries. The congregation worshipped in four successive buildings here, beginning with the completion of the first meeting house in 1634. The pastor at the time was Roger Williams, who would preach here for less than two years before his banishment and subsequent founding of Providence. This building was used until the 1670s, when it was replaced by a new meeting house that, in 1692, was the site of some of the examinations during the Salem Witch Trials.

The fourth church on this site was built in 1826, with a Federal-style design that was the work of noted Boston architects Solomon Willard and Peter Banner. The church itself was located on the second floor, while the ground floor was rented out to retail tenants on Essex Street side, providing the church with about $1,000 in revenue per year at the time of its completion. The first photo was taken around 40 years later, and shows the church in its original exterior appearance, with a granite first floor, brick upper section, and Ionic pilasters on the Essex Street facade.

However, around 1874 the exterior of the church was heavily remodeled to give it a High Victorian Gothic-style appearance. The granite first floor was rebuilt, creating a new storefront with large windows on the Essex Street side, and the Washington Street side was expanded to add towers on either side of the building, which were originally topped with pyramidal roofs. Also on the Essex Street side, the pilasters were removed and the rounded arches of the old windows were given pointed stone trim, matching the arches of the new third-floor windows on the addition.

When these renovations were completed, the new ground-floor tenant was Daniel Low & Company. Established in 1874, this store sold jewelry, watches, and silverware, and was a longtime fixture here in downtown Salem. The store would remain here until it finally closed in 1995, although the signs still hang above the first-floor windows in the present-day scene. In the meantime, the First Church continued to worship in the remodeled building until 1923, when the congregation merged with the North Church and relocated to its 1836 Gothic Revival-style church at 316 Essex Street.

Today, the building bears little resemblance to the church from the first photo, aside from the large pediment and the windows on the Essex Street side. However, aside from the missing tops of the towers, the exterior has remained well-preserved since the 1870s renovations. The former Daniel Low storefront is now the Rockafellas restaurant, and the building is now a contributing property in the Downtown Salem Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Essex Street from Washington Street, Salem, Mass

Looking east on Essex Street from the corner of Washington Street in Salem, around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

This scene shows the commercial center of Salem, with a mix of 19th century buildings that, for the most part, have not seen significant changes since the first photo was taken about a hundred years ago. Starting on the left side, at the northeast corner of Essex and Washington Streets, is the four-story, Classical Revival-style Neal and Newhall Building. It was completed in 1892, and can also be seen from a different angle in this previous post, which shows the Washington Street side of the building. When the first photo was taken, the storefront on the left side was holding an “Auction Sale,” with a sign in the window encouraging customers to “Buy You Holiday Presents Now and Save Money!” The upper floors housed a variety of professional offices, including real estate and insurance agents, and an optician whose second-floor office is marked by two large eyes that are reminiscent of the Doctor T. J. Eckleburg billboard in The Great Gatsby.

Just beyond this building are two smaller commercial blocks. Closer to the foreground is the three-story Browne Block, which was built in 1862 and was occupied by the Hall & Lyon drugstore when the first photo was taken. The shorter building to the right of it, located at 216-218 Essex Street, is even older, dating back to around 1801. It was originally owned by Jacob P. Rust, and in the first photo its tenants included the Palace of Sweets, an ice cream and confectionery shop that was located in the storefront on the left side. At the time it was probably the oldest building in this scene, and today it still stands as the oldest surviving commercial building in the city.

On the right side of the scene, the large building in the foreground is the First Church of Salem, which was built in 1826 and heavily modified in the 1870s. Upon completion, it had a fairly plain Federal-style building, which was work of noted Boston architects Solomon Willard and Peter Banner. It was built as a mixed-use property, featuring storefronts on the ground floor and the church itself on the second floor. The original design lacked towers, but these were added in the mid-1870s, when the exterior of the church was extensively rebuilt with a High Victorian Gothic-style design. By the time the first photo was taken, it was still in use as a church, and the ground floor was occupied by Daniel Low & Company, which sold jewelry, watches, and silverware.

Today, this scene has not had many changes in the century since the first photo was taken. All of the buildings in the foreground are still standing, although some have been altered in one way or another. The Neal and Newhall Building on the left has modern storefronts, and the Browne Block beyond it is nearly unrecognizable, with the top floor gone and a different facade. On the other side of the street, the white building just beyond the church has gained a fifth floor, and the church itself has lost the top of its towers. This building has not been used as a church since 1923, when the First Church merged with the North Church and relocated to their building at 316 Essex Street. The Daniel Low store is also gone, having closed in 1995, and the ground floor now houses the Rockafellas restaurant.

East Church, Salem, Mass

East Church on Washington Square North in Salem, seen from the Salem Common around 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

Salem’s East Church was established in 1718, when residents in the eastern part of the town left the First Church. They constructed a church building at the present-day corner of Essex and Hardy Streets, and worshiped there for more than 125 years. During this time, the church transitioned from traditional Puritan theology to, by the late 18th century, liberal Unitarian beliefs. This was largely because of William Bentley, who served as pastor from 1783 to 1819. He gained prominence as a pastor and as a journalist, regularly writing for the Salem Gazette, and Thomas Jefferson offered him a position as the first president of the University of Virginia. However, Bentley did not want to leave the East Church, and he remained there until his death in 1819.

The congregation left its old building in 1846, upon the completion of this Gothic Revival-style brownstone church at the corner of Washington Square North and Brown Street, across from the Salem Common. It was designed by noted architect Minard Lafever, and originally featured two tall towers at the front of the building, as shown in the first photo. Along with this, the building’s design included other distinctive Gothic elements, such as the tall, narrow windows, the pointed arches over the doorways and windows, and the crenelation along the roofline and atop the towers.

In 1897, the East Church merged with the Barton Square Church and was renamed the Second Unitarian Church. The building was damaged by a fire in 1902, but it was repaired and the church continued to worship here throughout the first half of the 20th century. The first photo was taken around 1910, showing the church as it appeared after the fire, but before the towers were reduced to their present height around 1925.

The church closed in 1956, following a merger with the First Church, and the two congregations were reunited nearly 250 years after their separation. No longer needed as a church, this building became the Salem Auto Museum and Americana Shops. However, another major fire in 1969 caused significant damage to the interior of the building, and destroyed much of the museum’s collections. The building was restored, though, and the interior was rebuilt to house the Salem Witch Museum, which opened here in 1972.

Today, the Salem Witch Museum is still located here in the building. Very little is left of the original interior, but the exterior has remained well preserved over the years, aside from the shortened towers. The houses on both sides of the first photo are also still standing, with the Abraham True House (1846) on the left, and the Captain Nathaniel Weston House (1837) on the right. These houses, along with the church and a number of other historic buildings in the area, are now part of the Salem Common Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Tabernacle Congregational Church, Salem, Mass

The Tabernacle Congregational Church, at the corner of Washington and Federal Streets in Salem, around 1865-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

The Tabernacle Congregational Church had its origins in 1735, when a large group of parishioners, including the pastor, broke away from the First Church of Salem. Following the split, both churches claimed to be the true “First Church,” and the dispute was not resolved until 1762, when the colonial legislature forced the newer church to give up their claim to the name. As a result, the congregation became the Third Church of Salem, although it later came to be known as the Tabernacle Congregational Church.

Its first meeting house burned down in 1774, and was replaced three years later by a new one, located here at the corner of Washington and Federal Streets. In 1812, Samuel Newell, Adoniram Judson, Samuel Nott, Gordon Hall, and Luther Rice were ordained here as the first foreign missionaries from the United States, prior to their departure overseas for India. The building would remain in use for many years afterwards, but it was demolished in 1854 to build the church that is shown in the first photo.

This church building was designed by noted Boston architect Richard Bond, and had an Italianate-style design that was popular for churches of this period. It included a tall steeple that rose 180 feet above the street, and the sanctuary of the church could seat some 1,050 people, which was more than double the membership at the time. Including furnishings, it was built at a cost of $21,400, or about $600,000 today. However, the church made most of this money back in short order. In keeping with customs of this period, the pews were sold to parishioners, with prices that ranged from $25 to $60 in the galleries, and $40 to $250 on the main floor. Through this sale, held in 1854 on the day of its dedication, the church brought in $16,119.48 in revenue.

The 1854 church stood here until 1922, when it was demolished to build the present-day building. This was the third consecutive church building to stand on this site, and incorporated elements of the 1777 structure. This included the tower, which was modeled after the one that had been added to the earlier church in 1805. The new church was designed by Boston architects Philip Horton Smith and Edgar Walker, and it was completed in 1923. It has remained in use by the congregation ever since, and the exterior has been well-preserved after nearly a century since its completion. It is now part of the Federal Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Unitarian Church, Springfield, Mass

The Unitarian church at the corner of State and Willow Streets in Springfield, probably sometime in the 1860s. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

 

For nearly 200 years, the Congregational Church was essentially the only church in Springfield. Aside from small groups of religious minorities such as Baptists and Methodists, who arrived at the turn of the 19th century, nearly all of Springfield’s residents were affiliated with the First Church. However, this hegemony began to break apart in the early 19th century, when the New England Congregationalists saw a schism between the traditional Trinitarians and the newer, theologically-liberal Unitarians.

Here in Springfield, the First Church had two fairly liberal pastors throughout much of the 18th century, beginning with Robert Breck, who served from 1736 to 1784. Breck’s ordination had been highly controversial, due to the perceived unorthodox beliefs of the young clergyman. He was popular among the Springfield congregants, but many of the pastors of surrounding towns – including Jonathan Edwards of Northampton – had advised against him, and some of his opponents had Breck arrested for heresy on the day of his scheduled ordination.

The charges against Breck were ultimately dropped, and he was duly ordained, serving the church for nearly 50 years. After his death, he was replaced by another young liberal pastor, Bezaleel Howard, who served for 18 years before announcing his resignation in 1803, due to poor health. He agreed to remain with the church until his replacement was found, but this process likely took longer than Howard had anticipated. By this point, the Unitarian-Trinitarian controversy had become the dominant issue in New England churches, and it took six years – and 37 candidates – before Samuel Osgood was selected as pastor in 1809.

Osgood, a 24-year-old Dartmouth graduate, had been the unanimous choice of the congregation, who had viewed him as being theologically liberal. However, as the divide grew between the two factions, Osgood ultimately favored the orthodox Trinitarian theology, alienating some of the most influential citizens of Springfield in the process. The majority of the church sided with Osgood, but the Unitarians were both vocal and wealthy, and included prominent businessmen such as merchant Jonathan Dwight, Sr. As a result, around 117 Unitarians separated from the First Church in 1819, forming the Third Congregational Society of Springfield. This name came from the fact that Chicopee, home of the Second Congregational Church, was still a part of Springfield at the time.

Later in 1819, the Unitarians moved into this newly-completed church building at the corner of State and Willow Streets. Both the land and the building had been donated by Jonathan Dwight, and the building was designed by local architect Simon Sanborn. It bore a strong resemblance to the new First Church building, which had been completed several weeks earlier at Court Square, and it reflected the Greek Revival style of architecture, which was becoming popular for churches and other public buildings during this era.

The first pastor of the Unitarian church was William B. O. Peabody, who was just 21 years old when he was ordained in October 1820. He served the church for the next 27 years, until his death in 1847, and during this time he also had a successful career as an author. He wrote several books, plus a number of poems and hymns, and he was also a regular contributor to the North American Review literary magazine. None of Peabody’s 19th century successors were able to match his longevity with the congregation, but the second-longest pastorate here in this church building was that of Francis Tiffany, who served from 1852 until 1864, when he left to accept a position as professor of English and rhetoric at Antioch College in Ohio. Like Peabody, he also became a published author, writing a biography of social reformer Dorothea Dix in 1890.

The Unitarians worshiped here in this building for nearby 50 years, but by the 1860s they had begun planning the construction of a new building further up the hill, opposite where the Springfield City Library now stands. In the process, they helped to start the career of Henry H. Richardson, who would become one of the most influential architects in American history. Although he did not have any major commissions at the time, Richardson was allowed to enter the design competition thanks to Chester W. Chapin, a railroad and bank executive who was a prominent member of the Unitarian church. Chapin’s son-in-law had attended college with Richardson, and this connection enabled the young architect to submit his plans for a new church, which were ultimately the ones chosen in the competition. The new building, known as the Church of the Unity, was completed in 1869, and Richardson’s work helped to establish his reputation as an architect.

The other building in the first photo, just to the right of the church, is the Springfield Bank. This brick, two-story Greek Revival structure was built around in 1814, the same year that the Springfield Bank was established as the first bank here in Springfield. It was one of the many business interests of Jonathan Dwight, who was one of its founders and its first president, serving from 1814 to 1817. The building was also the first home of the Springfield Institution for Savings, which was established in 1827. It was the first savings bank in Springfield, and it shared this building with the Springfield Bank until 1849, when it moved into the newly-completed Foot Block at the corner of Main and State Streets. In the meantime, the Springfield Bank remained here in this building until 1863, when it was reorganized as the Second National Bank. This new bank relocated three years later, and the old building later became a store owned by grain merchant John W. Wilder.

Only four years after the Unitarians moved up the hill to their new building, the old church burned down on the night of October 12, 1873. The site was later redeveloped with a large brick commercial building known as the Kirkham and Olmstead Block, which was in turn replaced by the two-story building that is now standing here. However, the old bank building survived well into the 20th century, despite being converted to other commercial use. The 1920 atlas shows it still standing, but it was demolished sometime before 1933, when the Art Deco-style Springfield Safe Deposit and Trust Company building was completed on the site. This building, now the Community Music School, is still here today, and is visible on the far right side of the 2017 photo.