To Rev. William C. Patterson, pastor of the Baptist Church in East Dedham, Mill Village, belongs the honor of establishing preaching services in Hyde Park, in 1857.
He used to come over occasionally, in summer, after the Sunday afternoon service at his own church, and preach in the house of Mr. A. P. Blake, corner of Fairmount avenue and Summit street. A Union Sunday-school was also organized in the same place, of which Mr. L. B. Hanaford was first elected Superintendent, but he declined in favor of Mr. Daniel Warren, to whose house it was transferred.
This was in the early days of the new settlement which has developed into our present town. The first prayer meeting ever held on Fairmount was suggested by Mrs. John Williams, and was held in 1857, at the house of Mr. David Higgins, 238 Fairmount avenue.
Other ministers came and preached from time to time, and during the following summer, services were frequently held Sunday afternoons, by Boston ministers in a grove on a hill between the railroad and the site of the Baptist Church. This hill was afterwards leveled.
During the summer of 1858, a depot was erected for the New York Central Railroad, later called the New York & New England, and to the hall above this depot the Union services and Sunday-school were transferred. During a religious interest, Mr. Patterson and the Methodist preacher of East Dedham both administered baptism in the Neponset river here, the candidates uniting with the churches in East Dedham.
On the evening of Thursday, September 23, 1858, in the parlor of Lyman B. Hanaford's house—now numbered 189 Fairmount avenue and owned and occupied by Deacon Archibald MacGregor -was organized the Baptist Church of Hyde Park — the first church in the future town of Hyde Park — with ten constituent members, Mr. and Mrs. Franklin Stone, L. B. Hanaford, Mr. and Mrs. David Higgins, George Pierce, Georgiana Pierce, Mr. and Mrs. H. G. Smith, John M. Williams.
A preliminary meeting had been held in the same place Sept. 9th, when it was voted "That it is expedient to form ourselves into a Baptist Church, to be called the First Baptist Church of Milton." but it was never thus designated, being usually callcd the Fairmount Baptist Church until Aug. 30, 1867, when the church voted "To change the name to the Hyde Park Baptist Church."
In the meantime, Mr. George Pierce had erected a building called "Fairmount Hall," at the corner of Fairmount Avenue and Highland Street, expecting that the Union meetings and Sunday School would be transferred there; but owing to the unwillingness of some to unite with the Baptists in services in this place, the upper floor was secured for the use of the Baptist' Church, the lower floor being used for a public school of the town of Milton, " Fairmount Hall " was dedicated to the worship of God Sept. 24th, Rev. D. C. Eddy, D.D., preaching the sermon, and on the following Sunday, September 26, 1858, the church worshipped there for the first time. Rev. William Howe, of Boston, preached forenoon and afternoon, to an audience of about fifty.
The Sabbath school was organized during the intermission, with John M. Williams Superintendent; Henry G. Smith, Assistant Superintendent; L. B. Hanaford, Secretary and Treasurer. Two unsuccessful attempts were made to call a Council to recognize the church, and on October 1, 1858, it was voted "To postpone indefinitely the meeting of the Council previously called, to wait till we are stronger." This took place Tuesday. September 4, i860, when the church was unanimously recognized as a regular Baptist church, by a Council convened for that purpose and composed of delegates from nine churches.
Rev. Hervey Fittz, Missionary of the Massachusetts Baptist State Convention, engaged to see that the pulpit was supplied for one year, for whatever amount the church could pay, which was about one dollar a Sunday, and it was several years before the church became independent of aid from this Society. Dea. William A. Holland, a licentiate of the Harvard Street Baptist Church of Boston, supplied the pulpit very acceptably for some months during the summer of 1859. On June 1, 1860, the first one to join the church on confession of faith was baptized in the river by Rev. Amos Webster. Father Fittz continued to be responsible for pulpit supplies till the fall of 1860, when Rev. Amos Webster, who had become a resident of the place, consented to supply the pulpit at the request of the church. In the spring of 1861 Rev. A. B. Farle came and conducted a series of meetings, which resulted in the conversion of a good number, more than twenty of whom united with this church. During this revival, the hall having changed hands, the new owner served legal notice to the church to vacate the premises within thirty days, but before the expiration of the time, some members of his own family having been converted, he personally requested that the meetings and Sabbath worship be continued. But the church now began to consider building a chapel.
A lot was secured corner of Fairmount avenue and Davison street, the price of which was $475.00. This was virtually donated by the "Real Estate and Building Company," and later Mr. Gordon H. Nott, though identified with the Episcopal denomination, generously contributed, unsolicited, nearly 10,000 feet of land additional, and these together constitute our present church lot. Mr. George Parrott donated the plans for the chapel which was built here, and which cost complete, less than $2,500, besides the labor contributed by the men of the church, but when finished, in the summer of 1862, there was a debt of $1,600. This remained a burden for some time, till in 1864 it was paid mainly through the efforts of Mr. T. C. Evans. In June, 1863, Rev. George R. Darrow was engaged as a regular supply for the pulpit, and in September of the same year he was called as the first pastor of the church, which office he held till March 27, 1864, when his resignation took effect. Rev. Mr. Earle came again in the autumn of 1863 and held meetings.
A number united with the church, among them Miss Louisa Bradbury, who afterwards became the wife of Rev. Alonzo Bunker and went with him to the mission fields of Burma. After Mr. Darrow's resignation, the pulpit was supplied mainly by students from Newton Theological Institution till November 20, 1864, and when Mr. A. DeF. Palmer, a recent graduate of that institution, was invited to supply regularly till the following April, which he did very acceptably. Miscellaneous supplies followed till October 1, 1865, when Rev. C. A. Skinner of Groton commenced his pastorate, which closed with the first Sabbath of May, 1866. At the end of the first seven years, the membership of the church numbered seventy. September 30, 1866, Rev. W. H. S. Ventres, of Paris, Maine, commenced his labors among us, with a salary of $1,200. During the next two years the work of the church was prosperous, the membership was increased by letters and baptisms and the congregations outgrew the capacity of the chapel. A larger house became a necessity, but the society lacked the necessary funds to provide one.
In the autumn of 1868 a building committee consisting of T. C. Evans, Amos Webster, Elihu Greenwood, W. P. Badger and C. C. Bradbury was appointed. The committee was limited to an expenditure of $20,000 for the house, §15,000 of which must be subscribed before the contract could be made. Mr. Evans took charge of the subscription book. When $13,500 had been subscribed, failure seemed inevitable and a proposition was made among the committee to abandon the enterprise. But Brethren Webster, Evans and Greenwood at length agreed to assume the lacking $1500, above their own subscriptions, and the contract was awarded Messrs. Thompson & Russell for $18,8oo, June 12, 1869. The chapel was moved back on the lot and used by the church during the erection of the new building, and after being rented for other purposes for several years, was finally sold and torn down. In July, 1870, Mr. Ventres' resignation took effect and he was succeeded Nov. 20, 1870, by Rev. I. H. Gilbert of Middletown, Connecticut.
On November 30th of the same year our new house of worship, having a seating capacity of 675, was dedicated, the pastor preaching the sermon. The next two years were years of prosperity and spiritual growth; there were many accessions to the church, and the pastor, by his devoted service, his wise and loving ministry and sympathy, greatly endeared himself to the hearts of his people. Then followed a season of business depression, and the financial ability of church and society was much weakened, b ecause of this and also on account of the death of some who had been generous contributors. In May, 1876, Mr. Gilbert's pastorate ended and we depended on supplies until April 1, 1877, when we were favored by securing Rev. D. C. Eddy, D. D., as our pastor. Four years of considerable religious interest and general prosperity followed. Dr. Eddy's sermons were strong and uplifting and his Sunday evening discourses especially were preached to large and interested audiences.
On the closing day of his pastorate a successful effort was made to raise $5,000 towards reducing the church debt, which had doubled, owing, in part, to buying the parsonage. Our next pastor was Rev. Gorham Easterbrook, who came to us June 19, 1881, from Amherst, New Hampshire. He was a superior preacher, and a number were added to the church by baptism during his stay, which lasted until March 2, 1884, when he accepted a call to another church. In September, 1883, was celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of the church and Sunday-school, which was an occasion of great interest. Mr. Easterbrook was followed in September of the same year by Rev. Horace W. Tilden of Augusta, Maine. One special feature of his work was the weekly Bible study, which was largely attended and of great help in increasing knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures. On December 13, 1885, the entire day was devoted to efforts to raise the church debt.
The morning service, at which Rev. A. K. Potter, D. D., of the Dudley Street Church, Roxbury, preached a short sermon, was preceded by a prayer meeting. After the sermon pledges were received. The evening service was continued for the same purpose, and the amount of $11,500 was promised. This effort was successful because of the hearty and united efforts of all, and represented a great amount of self-sacrifice by many who had only limited means. The money was raised by subscriptions without the aid of fairs or entertainments for the purpose. Payments were made from time to time, until on the evening of July 20, 1888, a rejoicing company gathered in the vestry to celebrate with thanksgiving and praise the last payment on the mortgage. The pastor spoke of the efforts to raise the debt, others followed. Mr. T. C. Evans, who will always be held in grateful remembrance for his untiring efforts for and liberal generosity to this Church and Sunday School, especially in the trying days of the earlier years, spoke of the building of the church, the subsequent financial difficulties, the placing of the $20,000 mortgage in 1875. He then enjoyed the privilege of holding the cancelled note, which had been the cause of many a sleepless night for himself and others, in the flame of a gas jet, until the last trace of a burden which had hung over the church for eighteen years was consumed.
On the first, of July, 1889, Mr. Tilden closed his pastorate and the pulpit was supplied by Rev. B. L. Whitman, Dr. Franklin Johnson and others, until December 5, 1890, when Rev. H. Francis Perry assumed the pastoral charge. During the six years that he remained the church and congregation increased in numbers and were greatly strengthened financially. His zealous watchcare and earnest, prayerful words were blessed by the Spirit to the advancement of this people in spiritual things, and by his hearty efforts, our missionary contributions were greatly increased. After Mr. Perry went to Chicago, December 1, 1896, we were favored by having Rev. Cephas B. Crane supply the pulpit for some months. On April 24, 1898, Rev. Charles C. Tilley, of Bridgeton, New Jersey, became our pastor.
Mr. Tilley remained until April 1, 1905, having served a longer period than any other pastor in the history of the church. He was faithful in his ministrations and was a preacher of superior ability. During the seven years of his ministry one hundred and eighteen were added to the church.
After several months of supplies the church called to its pastorate the Rev. Guy C. Damson, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Montpelier Vermont. Mr. Lamson accepted and began his work December 1, 1905. The four years which have already passed have been years of great activity. Nearly two hundred have united with the church. The parsonage has been repaired and greatly improved. In the summer of 1906 nearly thirty-five hundred dollars were expended in renovating the auditorium of the church and in other repairs. During the week of September 20-27, 1908, the church celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of its birth. Many former members returned and Revs. Gorham Easterbrook and C. C. Tilley, former pastors were present while letters were read from all others who were living. The fiftieth anniversary of the Bible School was celebrated on September 27, the principal address being delivered by the Rev. O. P. Gifford who was the speaker at the twenty-fifth anniversary. The week closed with a union meeting of all the churches at which the pastors and prominent laymen spoke.
On the morning of Monday, October 19--only three weeks after the close of the Semi-Centennial, the church building was partially destroyed by fire—about one third of the building being burned. The loss was a staggering blow. But the church undaunted, rallied nobly. About twelve thousand dollars were recovered from the Insurance Companies. The plans for rebuilding, enlarging and refurnishing called for an expenditure of twenty-five thousand dollars. The amount needed was promptly raised by subscription without resort to a public canvass for funds. The church occupied two vacant stores and French's Opera House until January, 1909, when the vestry was opened for use. The work of rebuilding was completed so that the reopening services were held on June 6. On June 17 the church set apart to the work of the Gospel ministry one of its young men, Revs. Roy E. Whittemore. Two others look forward to this work. Missions are being maintained for the Italians and the Swedes which have already accomplished much good.
With a better equipment than ever before, with the largest membership in its history—united and loyal—the church continues on its way "to win for the Lamb that was slain the reward of His sufferings."
1. "Historical Sketch", Directory of the First Baptist Church, Hyde Park, Mass. With Historical Sketch, 1909, pages 29-35. Condensed from a Sketch by Miss Jennie M. Stone in 1905, with necessary additions.