Falmouth Baptist Church
Until the devastating flood of 1997, our church still possessed all the original minutes from 1797 until the present. Unfortunately, they were stored in a safe in the basement of the current church building where they were submerged in river water for over a week. I understand that efforts to restore them were less than successful. Fortunately, prior to the church’s bicentennial year, 1992, a committee consisting of Russ Conrad, Harry Crozier and Cheryl York carefully went through these books, in order to write a fairly comprehensive church history. Most of the information contained herein was gleaned from the original church minutes. We were also able to access some old newspaper articles, previously written histories of the church. For more recent (since 1992) information I have had to rely on my memory and that of other church members. My hope is that you will not only find this article interesting and informative, but that it will also make you aware of the struggle, sacrifice, and dedication of those generations of members who went before us, and especially aware of, and grateful for the graciousness of our God in preserving our local church for over two centuries. It reminds us that we need to continue to be faithful in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ and in encouraging our fellow Christians in our walk with Him.
Falmouth Baptist Church was organized in 1792, the year Kentucky became a state, and was known as The Baptist Church of Jesus Christ at the Forks of the Licking. That small group of 15 believers (a list of the charter members has long since been lost) obtained permission to separate from the church at Bryan Station in Fayette County because of the hardship and danger of traveling the 60 miles through Indian country. We believe the church met monthly in the homes of members and that Alexander Monroe was the first pastor. We know for certain that “Elder Monroe” was the regular moderator at the business meetings and exerted great influence over all church affairs from 1797 through 1825. It is interesting to note that Alexander Monroe and his late father, Ed Monroe, Jr., who himself also served as moderator in our church for some time, are direct descendants of “Elder Monroe.”
According to a church history written by Kenneth Marquette in 1967, on the occasion of our church’s 175th anniversary, the church adopted its constitution in 1795.
The first church building was a log structure at Point Pleasant located at the confluence of the Main Licking and the South Licking. The second church home was a brick building on Burns Branch near the corner of Fourth and Main Streets. In 1820, the place of worship was moved to the “Old Seminary Building” and carried on there for 35 years. This building, also known s “the Academy,” was located on Fourth Street between Chapel Street and Maple Avenue. The church authorized the construction of a new building at the corner of Fourth and Chapel in 1854. This building was dedicated in 1861. In 1873, while still at this location, the church changed its name to “The Baptist Church of Falmouth, Kentucky.” In a history of the church which covers the years 1792-1891 it states that in August 1880, the name was changed to “Falmouth Baptist Church,” however, the church minutes began referring to the organization as “Falmouth Baptist Church” as early as June 15, 1878. Therefore it is unclear exactly when the name was officially changed to the one we presently bear.
The church acquired property on which the parsonage and sanctuary are presently located in 1909. Sister Harriet Blackaby bequeathed this site to the church. In return, the church agreed to pay her estate’s indebtedness (about $500) and tend to her grave for five years. The property value at the time was approximately $1500. We continuing improvements and modernization, we are still using our first parsonage built on the property in 1924. Our fifth and present location is a beautiful brick building with white columns situated at the corner of Fourth Street and Maple Avenue. Daugherty Lumber Company began construction on this building in 1929 for a cost of $31,622
A feature of Southern Baptist doctrine that sets it apart from other denominations is that each congregation is self-governing. Like most of her sister churches, Falmouth Baptist feels the need to be in friendly association with other like-minded believers. Therefore since our church’s inception we have belonged to our area association. Our first affiliation was with the Bryan Station Association. When the Elkhorn Association formed nearer to us, we united with them. In 1807, our church joined with other churches from Pendleton, Harrison, and Bracken Counties to form Union Association. That affiliation continues today. (In the Marquette history, he states that in 1802, we united with the “newly formed North Bend Association, but I have not found confirmation of this.)
Falmouth Baptist church has also been continuously united with both the Kentucky Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention. While not a governing body, the SBC is very influential in the direction of theological trends of the church in both Baptist literature and teaching in Baptist seminaries.
Early Church Discipline
It is interesting to note that in its earlier years, our church had a policy of very strict discipline. During the years of 1796 to 1875 they banished 33 members from their fold. This number does not include those who were re-instated. Reasons for exclusion included such transgressions as “dancing, fighting, drunkenness, hitting a child in public, joining the Reformation Movement [i.e. join the then newly formed movement of Joseph Campbell and Barton Stone. You know it today as the Christian Church], irregular church attendance, slander, adultery, not paying sponsorship [tithes], and allowing suffering labor to be done on the Sabbath.” The only way a member could be re-instated was by standing in the presence of the church, confessing the sin, and giving evidence of repentance. Upon unanimous vote of members present, the petitioner would again receive full membership privileges. It was also church policy to grant a transfer of a member’s letter to another church only after he or she paid all subscriptions in full.
You may recall from your high school American history class that October of 1929, the very year we embarked on the building of our present church building, brought the infamous stock market crash that heralded the beginning of the Great Depression. However, on February 16, 1930, the building was dedicated under the pastorate of Re. R. H. Tolle. In July of 1932 the church was forced to accept 25 cents on the dollar for their savings in the Pendleton Bank, and further saw their assets erode when they had to sell the old church building for $1,250. These events resulted in a higher than anticipated debt.
The decade of the 1930’s was marked by the cooperation and sacrifice of the membership. Obstacles to settling the debt were many, and solutions were creative. Both the pastor and the janitor, the only two paid employees, allowed the church to remain behind on their salaries through the decade. At times they donated their services to pay their own pledges. The members of the Ladies’ Aid Society catered dinners for the Rotary Club at their own personal expense and applied the money they made to the building debt. They continued to do this for 14 years. In 1937, some enterprising person came up with the idea of selling the bricks, columns and stained glass of the church for cash. The only catch was, thankfully, that they could not be taken from the building. That sale netted $1999.50 with bricks going for 25 cents each. Each purchaser received a certificate of ownership. In 1992, one of these certificates was on display in the vestibule of the church.
There was some discussion of leasing or even selling the parsonage during this time, but fortunately the membership did not see fit to do this. By 1939, the tight financial situation began to ease a bit. “Bond Fire Socials” became semi-annual events between October 1939 and October 1941, when the last bond was retired. It has been a tradition for Falmouth Baptist Church to honor God by faithfully improving His house. Minutes record constant routine maintenance and periodic expansion of the buildings.
Hard times for Falmouth Baptist were certainly not limited to the depression. The church minutes note continuing financial concerns from the 1890’s to the early 1940’s. The church funded everything other than building projects through member subscriptions, or pledges, and committees were regularly formed to follow up on members who failed to pay their pledges. In fact, almost everything was done by committee. For example, at one point, a committee was formed to raise $1.60, the amount needed to pay for the professional printing of he association minutes and letter. Another time a committee was formed to find 20 members who could contribute fifty cents each to pay a $10 coal bill!
In 1861, the year the Civil War began, the church dedicated its new building on fourth and Chapel Streets. The church minutes from this time were very sketchy and hard to follow. It seems that meetings continued until September, 1861, but from that time until June, 1862, the church clerk continued to note each month with the phrase “No Meeting.” From July 1862 until December 1864 there were no entries in the minutes book at all. When the minutes resumed, the clerk penned these words: “The Baptist Church of Jesus Christ at the Forks of the Licking met on the second Saturday in December 1864 and was again organized for business.” It is interesting to note that there isno mention in the minutes of the War Between the States, and the war did not end for four more months. Further confirmation that there was a hiatus in the operations of the church comes from the church history written in 1875. It states the Elder J. R. Barbee was called to preach in 1854, and “served as pastor until 1860. Elder A. W. Mullins was then called and preached for us for two years. The church was then without a pastor until 1865.”
Falmouth Baptist Church has always recognized the need to support the government of our country as we are instructed to do in the New Testament. We also recognize that it allows us the freedom to worship and spread the gospel. Though reluctant to lose our pastors during World War II, we were proud of Brothers C. Q. Jones and W. H. Branson when they answered the call to serve our country as chaplains. During those war years, we allowed our church basement to be used as a blood bank and for other activities supporting the war effort. We also fed departing soldiers there.
The weather also posed hardships for members of our church. Two cyclones buffeted our building, one in 1854 and another in 1890. In 1964, Falmouth experienced the worst flood in its history up to that time. Homes and businesses all over the north and west sides of Falmouth were inundated by flood water. Floodwater three feet deep in our basement spewed up through the floor drains. Four years later, Falmouth was hit by a tornado in 1968 which devastated the east side of Falmouth, and killed four people in Pendleton County. It seemed that those who were not affected by the flood were hit by the tornado. Both of these devastating events have permanently affected our community. Our church actively participated in the relief efforts. Though our building did not sustain major damage during either event, many members of our congregation were personally affected. Some believe the 1964 flood dealt a blow to our attendance from which our church has never fully recovered.
The worst natural disaster our church and community was ever to suffer, at the time of this writing, came again in the form of floodwaters in 1997. The water was five feet higher that the previous record-breaking Falmouth flood of 1964. Almost the entire town of Falmouth had to be evacuated and those that were not were trapped in their homes with all exits blocked by water for well over a week. This time our church was hard hit with not only the basement being completely submerged, but floodwater more than a foot deep in the sanctuary. More than a year would pass before we were able to resume church services in the building. Even then, the members of our church who were able to prepare food, served meals to hundred and hundreds of volunteer relief workers and National Guard troops who came to help us. Our church, indeed our community, was put back on its feet by an outpouring of love provided by people from all over the country. A huge percentage of these volunteers were members of God’s church from many different denominations who felt the call to come and help us. In fact, the experience served as a springboard for our own church to form mission groups to go out, in a like manner, an help other churches and Christian organizations as well as those in the secular community. Our church has even sent a group to New York City to aid in the massive clean up effort after the catastrophic terrorist act of September 11, 2001.
The minutes record that an active Sunday School has been a part of our church for well over a century. An old news clipping from 1889 reports that there were 120 present in Sunday school with an offering of 92 cents. We don’t know the exact year the Sunday school began, but it was flourishing then. On May 3, 1859, we had the largest number ever to attend our Sunday school – 477. During those years before the 1964 flood, an attendance of at least 300 was the norm. The church bought the parcel of land next to the sanctuary in the early 1950’s. n 1954 they built the basement and the first floor of the Sunday School Annex on this parcel. In June 1957, the church met its goal of paying off this $47,955 debt. In 1960, with the continued growth of our Sunday school to spur us on, we embarked on building a second story to the Annex building. A parking lot was added to the west side of the Sunday school annex in 1991. In 2002, the remaining parcel of land on our block fronting on Fourth street was purchased and the old garage building that once housed Charlie Lemmon’s old Chrysler/Plymouth dealership was torn down to expand the parking lot. This project was completed in August 2004.
Tradition has it that music was not a part of our church’s worship in the early years, because some members thought its use inappropriate. We don’t know exactly when music was incorporated as a regular part of the worship service, but the first musical instrument owned was the old pump organ built in 1909. It was bought second-hand by the church sometime after 1914. Falmouth Baptist church still owns this organ. After minor repairs were made to it by member Steve Adkinson, the husband of our pianist, Kat Atkinson, she played it beautifully several times throughout our bicentennial year.
The church purchased a black baby-grand piano in 1936, over the objections of those members who thought only organ music was appropriate in church. The cost of this piano was $300. Rubye Arnold was our first pianist. This piano was donated to First Baptist church when the church purchased the present Wm. Knaabe grand piano in Lexington, Kentucky for $3015. The piano committee consisted of Uarda Atkinson, Melva Young, Rosamond Fisher, and Rubye Arnold. All were not only church members, but very fine musicians as well. Throughout our church’s musical history we have been blessed with a plethora of talented musicians.
Our present organ was purchased in 1940, from a convent in Cincinnati at a cost of $550 and was positioned in the middle of the choir loft. In 1951, the church voted to upgrade the pipes at a cost of $1800 and they repositioned the organ to its present location. Later upgrades of chimes and a trumpet section were added. All the valves were rebuilt and the bellows re-leathered in 1978. Mrs. Rosamond Fisher was our church organist and expertly played this instrument for many, many years.
Missions and Outreach
Revivals. Our church minutes record revivals or “protracted meetings” as they were once called, from its earliest history. Often they held two meetings each day. For many years the record for the greatest number of additions to the church roll during a revival was under the ministry of Elder J. R. Barbee in the mid-1800’s. There were 50 souls added. As far as we can tell, this record held until 1950, when 50 people came forward by letter and profession of faith. Brother Carl Sears was the pastor at this time, and Brother George Jones was the evangelist. Even during the years of hardship, Falmouth Baptist church has been diligent in its evangelism in the community.
Ladies’ Aid Society. The actual founding date of the Ladies’ Aid is unknown as their original book of minutes has been lost. According to church minutes and other documents, “the Aid” began making regular contributions to missions in 1880. We know that from 1887 to 1890 they met every Wednesday afternoon at 2:00. Later they met monthly in members’ homes. These dedicated ladies were always thee to help out in any crisis. Among their many contributions to God’s work were regularly giving to foreign, state and home missions, as well as contributions of clothing and money to the Baptist Children’s Home. They also bought clothing for needy children in Falmouth. They paid $1000 toward the educational building, bought a refrigerator, silverware and china, and other items for the new kitchen. They paid to have the parsonage re-papered, bought a stove for an elderly woman, sewed a comforter for a family in need, bought coal for needy households, and had milk delivered to others. The Ladies’ Aid also made significant contributions toward the church mortgage and contributed to the pastor’s salary.
To fund these impressive and worthwhile projects, the ladies prepared and served Rotary suppers, held public turkey dinners, sponsored rummage and bake sales, sold greeting cards, and sold 575 bricks in a brick sale. In 1983, the Ladies’ Aid met for the last time, at the home of Mae Shelton. They decided due to advancing age and declining health that the society would disband. One of the most benevolent and distinguished organizations in the church’s more than 200-year history was laid to rest. It is difficult to imagine a more dedicated, hard-working group of people. Our church owes them a debt of gratitude.
Women’s Missionary Society. Mrs. O. B. (Betty) Gayle was the moving force in our first Women’s Missionary Society. Mrs. Gayle was the presiding officer o the W.M.S. from 1905 until her death in 1952, a total of 47 years. “Laborers together with God,” I Corinthians 3:9, the permanent watchword, truly expressed the purpose of this organization. Indeed, the minutes from 1922 noted the following: “The spring conference was held at Falmouth Baptist Church. Miss Jennie Bright was with us and announced that Mrs. Earl (Sarah) Parker, daughter of our most beloved and efficient secretary, Mrs. O. B. Gayle, has been called to labor for the Master in China.”
In 1945, the W. M. S. began to branch out and formed sub-groups called circles. The first two of these groups called themselves the “Sarah Gayle Parker Circle” and the “Charles and Ruth Conrad Circle.” Both were named after noted missionaries from Falmouth. In 1949, the “Grace Shields Applegate Circle” was formed. Mrs. Applegate was a dedicated, missions-minded woman who taught Sunday school in our church for many, many years. She had a profound and positive influence in the lives of many of the people who knew her right up to her death, and she lived to be well over 100 years old. The “Betty Gayle Circle” began in 1953, and the “Harold and Clara Matthews Circle” was organized in 1962. this was also the year when the W.M.S. enjoyed their all-time high enrollment of 98. This was a time when Sunday school attendance was also at its peak. After the 1964 flood, many people lost their homes and moved away. We see this, along with a nationwide trend of falling church attendance, as the reason we have never been able to obtain those numbers again. In 1967, the “Harold and Clara Matthews Circle” voted to disband. In 1968, a major national reorganization of the Women’s Missionary Society restructured it into Baptist Women. During the early 1980’s, the W. M. S. struggled, and became inactive for a short time. However, in the fall of 1986, they reorganized. Currently, there are only four or five members, but they are strong advocates of foreign, state, and home missions through the Annie Armstrong and Lottie Moon Offerings, as well as other local projects.
Mission Groups for the Young. Over the years Falmouth Baptist has had a number of mission groups for children and youth including Sunbeams (later known as Mission Friends) for the youngest children, Girls’ Auxiliary (later divided into two age groups: Girls-in-Action and Acteeens,) and Royal ambassadors for boys. These groups come and go as there are children of the appropriate age group to be served.
Care Unit Ministry. The Care Unit is an alcohol and drug abuse rehabilitation center located on Maple Avenue in Falmouth, and administered by St. Luke Hospital. About 1984, under the direction of Rev. George Naylor, our church began a regular Sunday morning worship service at the facility. This valuable church outreach ministry continued for about ten years.
There have been many faithful pastors who have shepherded the flock of Falmouth Baptist church over the more than two centuries of its existence. According to Kenneth Marquette’s history, there were 40 pastors who served our church up until its 150th year (1942), and he recorded the names of five men who had ministered between that time and the date of his writing (1967): C. Q. Jones, W. H. Branyan, Bennett Hall, M. P. Delaney, and Carl Sears. The one who served the longest was Bro. Carl Sears. (He preferred to be addressed as “Bro. Sears” rather than “Rev. Sears” because he did not believe human beings should be addressed as “reverend.”) Bro. Sears was called to minister the church in 1948, and retired in 1980, having pastured the Falmouth Baptist church for 32 years. Bro. Sears was well known in the entire community as a man of faith and conviction. It was under his leadership that Falmouth Baptist enjoyed its greatest period of growth and influence in the community. I recall that church membership from the mid-1950’s to the mid-1960’s was well over 500 with average attendance between 300 and 350. Those of us who knew Brother Sears have been forever blessed by that experience.
Ministers who have served at Falmouth Baptist since Bro. Sears, in order, are Dan Lane, Ray Daugherty (served as interim both before and after the pastorate of Brother Naylor), George Naylor, Dan Reynolds, and our present pastor Bro. Don Mays, who has served us since 1999.
Falmouth Baptist church is one of the oldest institutions west of the Allegheny Mountains, and we are very proud of our heritage. We also owe a debt of gratitude to all those dedicated members who went before us. More important than any of this, however, we should acknowledge and praise God for the opportunity to serve Him in or little corner of the world and testify that all that has been done and all that will be done at Falmouth Baptist Church has not been for our own glory, but for the glorification of God almighty and His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.
by Cheryl York, Russ Conrad and Harry Crozier