First Baptist Church
Constructed in 1912, this building has served as the home of First Baptist Church, one of the oldest congregations in the region. The congregation was organized as Goodson Baptist Church for many years and traces its origins back to 1859. After the congregation held meetings in homes and a modest frame building for many years, the congregation constructed this building in 1912. The building is on the Virginia side of Bristol's Virginia-Tennessee border by about 30 feet. Prior to the construction of this church, this lot had been home to two different local churches. The church’s structure, designed by prominent and local architect Clarence Baker Kearfott, is significant because It represents an exceptionally sophisticated style of Classical Revival architecture not common in southwestern Virginia. It is the only remaining church on its street where several were previously located but destroyed in the 1960s and 70s urban renewal. The First Baptist Church of Bristol was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2015.
Backstory and Context
Since its organization 160 years ago, the First Baptist Church in Bristol has been referred to by locals as several different names, including the Goodson Baptist Church, the Bristol Baptist Church, and now, the First Baptist Church (of Bristol). Similarly, the church’s congregation’s meetings have also been held in several different buildings throughout its history, all at the same location. The Goodson Baptist Church was established by a man from Jonesborough named Elder William Cate on April 22, 1859. From its founding until 1862. the Goodson Baptist Church held its meetings at a building referred to as Temperance Hall.
Another building was constructed for the church’s meetings in 1887. At this time, the name of the church was changed to the Bristol Baptist Church. By 1895, the church’s name had been changed again to its current name, the First Baptist Church (of Bristol). In 1904, the recorded membership of the church’s congregation was around 475 individuals. It was around this time the church’s membership began to grow significantly as its building was commonly used for community gatherings, instigating a movement for the construction of a new, larger building for meetings.
A new building was designed by Clarence Kearfott in 1911. Its construction began in 1912 and was completed sometime in 1914. The construction of the current church reportedly cost around $75,000. While the current building was still being constructed, the church’s congregation held its meetings at the City Hall building in Bristol, Virginia. The first service to be held in the current building took place on July 26, 1914.
Additions were made to the church in 1940, and some of which are still utilized today for holding Sunday School classes and various offices. In February 1947, parts of the church were destroyed as part of a larger fire in Bristol. The fire started at a filling station at Pennsylvaniaa and State Streets just across the street from the church building. As a result of the fire, most of the church’s stained glass windows were shattered.
After the fire, several other additions and adjustments to the building’s structure were made. Later in 1947, the windows which were destroyed by the fire were replaced by new one-piece steel frame windows which are still in place today. In 1964, an educational wing was constructed onto the church along Goodson Street. In 1976, elevators were installed in the church at a cost of around $20,000 by the Otis Elevator Company.
Today, the First Baptist Church of Bristol serves not just the city of Bristol, but the whole northeast section of the Tri-Cities region. The area served by the church includes Bristol, Virginia, Bristol, Tennessee, Kingsport, Tennessee, and Johnson City, Tennessee. The church’s congregation holds regular meetings and traditional worship services each Sunday morning throughout the year in addition to various Bible study groups throughout the week.
"Home." First Baptist Church of Bristol. Accessed August 03, 2019. https://fbcbristol.org/index.html.
"National Register of Historic Places Registration Form: First Baptist Church." National Park Service. Accessed August 03, 2019. https://www.nps.gov/nr/feature/places/pdfs/15000905.pdf.
Netherland, Tom. "Learn about the curious history and architecture of First Baptist Church." Bristol Herald Courier. October 03, 2015. Accessed August 03, 2019. https://www.heraldcourier.com/lifestyles/learn-about-the-curious-history-and-architecture-of-first-baptist/article_8c447990-693e-11e5-b585-6fa6af19b1fa.html.