First Baptist Church, Huntsville, AL
Friday, April 18, 2014
A Historic Church Looks Forward
When the First Baptist Church of Huntsville was formed more than 200 years ago, there wasn't a Huntsville and there wasn't an Alabama.
First Meeting House 1813-1825
The handful of white settlers who clustered around the Big Spring called their community Twickenham until they shucked off that name during the War of 1812 because it sounded too British and chose to identify with John Hunt, prominent first settler. As for the state designation, the area was simply a part of the Mississippi Territory-"Alabama" was separated and named a decade later.
White families streamed into the fertile Tennessee River valley in the first decade of the 19th century as native Americans receded following treaties of 1805 and 1806 with Cherokee and Chickasaw tribes.
On June 3, 1809, several families established the West Fork of Flint Baptist Church in open farm country about six miles north the present downtown Huntsville. A month later, at their second meeting, they decided the name was too cumbersome and renamed themselves "Enon."
The Brick Church 1825 - 1861
In 1861 Enon, having had two successive meeting houses in the farming countryside, moved into the growing town of Huntsville, becoming the only Baptist church of "missionary" persuasion in the town. The church minutes noted the "sparseness" of rural population and concluded that "we think it best to meet hereafter as a church at Huntsville, where most of our members reside and where a wider field of usefulness is open…
Enon officially became Huntsville First Baptist Church in 1893. It is the oldest Southern Baptist church in Alabama. (There is an older Baptist church on the outskirts of Huntsville - the Flint River Primitive Baptist Church was established in 1808,
eight months prior to Enon's beginning. The two were sister bodies until the 1830s when a controversy over missions arose; the Flint River church choose the antimissionary stance and later became identified as a "primitive" Baptist body, whereas Enon/First Baptist joined the missions movement, established a "Sabbath School" and took on other modern aspects.
Gothic Church 1895-1963
The town and the church had grown to the point that, in 1895, a new impressive "gothic-style" building was erected on the corner of Clinton and Gallatin Streets. That handsome structure, built at a cost of $7,890 in cash, served the fellowship for nearly seven decades, the latter years in which membership had grown to more than 2,000 although the meeting house was designed to accommodate 450 originally. Spacious new facilities on Governors Drive were occupied in the 1960s.
The Governors Drive property, is therefore the fifth location of the church, two in the open country and three in Huntsville. Through it all, First Baptist has been in the forefront of Baptist progress in Alabama. It has led in the growth of what is now the Madison Baptist Association and, as the first church, has mothered many of the 94 bodies that now make up that association. It has hosted many meetings of the Alabama Baptist State Convention and supplied two of its presidents, as well as state and national leadership of the Woman's Missionary Union. Further, in recent decades as some of its sister churches assumed more conservative positions, First Baptist has been a leader in the cause of moderation, maintaining traditional Baptist values, embracing new missions roles and selecting leaders without regard to gender, contrary to prevailing practice.
Of the two-score pastors who have served the church, the two of longest service both led in the latter period in which the growth and influence of the church have been the most dramatic: J. J. Milford was pastor for 23 years ending in 1949, during which time the church was positioned for explosive growth as rocketry/space development commenced locally in the 1950s; and Alvin Hopson, who served 26 years and led the church in planning and constructing the structures on the outlying Governors Drive.
First Baptist celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2009, feeling blessed of the Lord for its past and facing the future with enthusiasm for continued service.
In 2009, the church celebrated its 200th anniversary; it is the oldest missionary Baptist church in Alabama. The celebration was four years in the planning and actually covered a span of 18 months.
Milestones Along the Journey