A Brief History of The First Baptist Church
The Raleigh Baptist Church of Christ was organized when a presbytery, composed of four Christian believers, met in Raleigh Court House “on the second Lord’s Day and Saturday in November 1850”. The Greenbrier Baptist Association, upon petition of the Coal Marsh Church, chose this presbytery, which founded what is now known as First Baptist Church of Beckley. Names appearing on the list of the presbytery were M.T. Bibb, Matthew Ellison, M. Bibb and William P. Walker.
Rev. Matthew Ellison was pastor of the Coal Marsh Church in the Trap Hill District when the need became apparent for a new church in the vicinity of Raleigh Court House. It was he who took the initiative to bring about the existence of the body from which the present Beckley church developed. Rev. Ellison was chosen as the first pastor of the church. He retained this position until 1879, a period of 29 years. He was ordained in 1837 and at one time preached for nine churches, some of them 60 miles apart. He made his journey to these churches on horseback, often accompanied by his faithful wife, who would ride with him on the same horse.
The dimensions of the first log meetinghouse were 24 x 36 feet and it had a balcony for the use of slaves. The church fared badly during the Civil War. Beginning October 4, 1861, there were no meetings in the church for nearly four years, during which time the membership dispersed and soldiers of the North destroyed the meetinghouse.
Records show that in May 1865 “Elder M. Ellison, our former pastor, returned to his former home in Raleigh Court House and commenced an effort to revive our drooping cause preaching on the second Lord’s Day.” On January 19, 1877, M. Ellison and Elizabeth L. Ellison, his wife, conveyed to the Raleigh Baptist Church of Christ a lot fronting Heber Street and covering the site where the old church stood. When Matthew Ellison’s pastorate ended in 1879, the church membership was approximately 80.
On April 1, 1893, the Trustees for the Baptist Church of Raleigh Court House purchased a lot on Neville Street where a frame church was erected around the turn of the century. This building was used for 11 years before it was destroyed by fire. The first brick church was dedicated June 23, 1918. A large frame Sunday School Building was later added. The basement of the brick church was used as a hospital during the influenza epidemic of 1918. This building was torn down to make way for our present church.
On March 8, 1928 a contract was entered into and plans and specifications for today’s church were drawn up. In June of that same year the old buildings were moved and the ground was cleared for excavation. Work on the church began in March of 1929. The Masonic Lodge laid the cornerstone on May 12th and it was ready for a roof in July. Ninety-six rail carloads of materials were used in this construction in additional to the material obtained locally. The total cost of the building, including construction, pipe organ, pulpit furniture and pews was approximately $200,000. The new Baptist Church was introduced “as a symbol of Beckley’s prosperity and a prophet of greater opportunities for our community and our people” and was dedicated Sunday, January 12, 1930.
Since the beginning of the church in 1930, many improvements have been made to meet the continuing needs of the congregation. An interesting note: A Mr. Fitzpatrick, an itinerant painter who stayed at the home of a church member for one month painting and teaching art classes, was secured to paint the mural over the baptistery of our church in 1931. He was paid $35.00 for his fine work.
More recently the church has also undergone renovations on our Children’s and Youth floors. A massive renovation project has just been completed which included replacing the windows in the church sanctuary and constructing a new four story elevator.
What will the future hold for the unique community of faith? As believers, we know who holds the future and in Him we have eternal life. The ongoing history of this body of believers is being written even now through God’s love.