The First Baptist Church of Kenova is an iconic church in the Kenova, West Virginia community. The first incarnation of the church was established in 1897 but was short lived. In 1908 it was revived and has remained in operation ever since. After starting with thirteen members, the church today is one of the largest in Wayne County and very prominent in the community.
The First Baptist
Church of Kenova was originally founded in December of 1897 under the
leadership of Rev. Arthur Hank. The fledgling church held services in an
elementary school building and at a YMCA. In 1899 the group purchased lots on
the northwest corner of Seventeenth and Chestnut Streets to build a formal
church building but the plan was later abandoned. By 1902 the original church
had effectively disbanded. In 1908 the First Baptist Church was reestablished
by Rev. Elliott Thornton Billups, along with a Sunday School and a Ladies Aid
Society. The group consisted of just thirteen members. They briefly held
services in Lambert’s Hall on the corner of Twelfth and Chestnut Streets before
moving to a vacant Episcopal Church building.
In 1914 First Baptist
finally constructed their own church on the southeast corner of Twelfth and
Poplar Street. Membership swelled and in 1924 the present-day church was built
next to the original in order to accommodate more people. This left the church
in debt for almost twenty years. Dedication of the new sanctuary took place on
September 26, 1926 with Governor Howard M. Gore giving the principal address. By
the 1940s membership had reached over 1,000. In the 1950s three educational
units and a parking lot were constructed around the church, with the original
1914 building being demolished in the process. In 1966 the church building
underwent extensive renovations, and also added its iconic seventy-five foot
steeple. In 1978 the steeple was toppled over by a severe thunderstorm and a
new one was installed in 1980.
First Baptist Church of
Kenova has been very active in the community and has sponsored missions both
foreign and domestic. In 1955 the church built Oakview Baptist as a mission
church on the outskirts of Kenova; it was granted full independence in 1967.
First Baptist historically had social events such as mass baptisms on the Ohio
River, sweetheart banquets, rally days, church picnics, choir concerts, and
large revival services. There were also organizations including a Ladies Aid
Society, various study groups, choirs, and even a local radio program. Today First
Baptist Church of Kenova continues its outreach with several ministries, support
groups, a podcast, and funding missions in many countries.