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First Baptist Church is a Sarasota Landmark

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Mark D. Smith, former County Archivist
Photo Credit: Sarasota County History Center
Credit: Sarasota History Alive

Sarasota History - First Baptist Church is a Sarasota Landmark photo

Religion has always played an important part in the development of Sarasota. Even though the population was small, several denominations were organized in the late 1890s and early 1900s.

The First Baptist Church was organized on March 23, 1902, with five charter members: the Rev. Henry Messer, James Bates, Nathan Hayman, Mrs. Kiziah Messer and Patsy Dancy. The Rev. P.O. Miller was the first regularly elected pastor and James Bates was the first clerk.

In December 1903, the Rev. H.H. Norris was elected pastor, and the Sunday school was organized in July 1904. For the first two years of the church's existence, the small congregation met in the old Methodist Church at Five Points on Sunday afternoons.

The First Baptist Church was erected on Eight Street (now Second Street), near Central Avenue in 1904. It was a simple frame building. The pastorium was built on an adjoining lot in 1912. The church immediately began its outreach into the community. Two examples would be the Baptist Young Peoples Union, organized in November 1915 and the Woman's Missionary Union, organized in 1916 to succeed the Ladies Aid Society, which was founded in 1904.

By 1920, the congregation had grown to a point that a larger building was needed. In December 1920, two lots at Adelia and Main Street were purchased for $2,500. By October 1923, a building committee was appointed, and work soon began on the new site. Plans for the new building were done by nationally renowned church architect George Washington Kramer of New York.

The new church was completed in December 1924, costing an estimated $30,000. The property on Eight Street was sold, and the buildings were moved. The bell from the old church was presented to the Bethlehem Baptist Church on Central Avenue.

From the late 1920s through the 1950s, the First Baptist Church continued to grow in size and in the outreach of its programs. In June 1939, it organized the first daily Vacation Bible School. Several missions were established, including Second Baptist (now Bay Haven) in 1927; Southside Baptist in 1952, constituted as a church in 1956; and Eastside Baptist (now Kensington Park) in 1954, constituted as a church in 1959.

Citing the need for more space, ground was broken for the first educational building in 1947. Furthering their outreach, the First Baptist Church began radio broadcasts of the Sunday morning services in 1949. However, by 1950, space was still a problem, and in February 1951, additional land was bought on Main Street next to the church. Plans were drawn up for a new building that would seat 1,600 people. It was 10 years before construction began in August 1962.

The building is in the traditional Georgian Colonial Style, featuring six massive cast stone columns and a 158-foot steeple. When put in place, the steeple became one of the highest points in downtown Sarasota and quickly became a landmark.

Today, the First Baptist Church continues its presence in downtown Sarasota and will always be a memorable landmark.

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