First Baptist Church
Completed in the 1860s by a generous donation from the wealthy Peter Herdic, the First Baptist Church was designed and created by Eber Culver, who built Millionaires’ Row. The religious group at first did not like the site of the donated land and was hesitant to take the offer, but eventually, they did. In the late 1800s, the land had multiple floods causing the original church to be torn down, and Culver built a new one. Culver designed the church to have an exterior of Romanesque architecture and an interior of Byzantine. Currently, the City Alliance Church, previously known as the First Baptist Church, has a partnership with assistance programs such as THRIVE International Programs, Family Promise, and Expectations Women’s Center.
Backstory and Context
When Peter Herdic was young, he worked on a farm, and in the 1850s, he moved to Williamsport and focused on the lumber industry. Upon his arrival, he bought a lot of property, and eventually owned a part of every business in town and became the third mayor. He funded Millionaires’ Row and invented the horse-drawn carriage. Eber Culver was his friend and architect who built the majority of the buildings on Millionaires’ Row as well as the First Baptist Church. Herdic’s wealth was established by the lumber industry and led to the creation of the Church, but Herdic’s generosity led him to bankruptcy in 1878.
In 1853, the First Baptist group was formed. The group did not have a set location during this time, so they conducted their meetings in the Court House and then relocated to a public school. The sawmill industry increased during this time and Williamsport only had a few stores open with a population of 2,000. Furthermore, the group began to look for a permanent site. Herdic had initially made an offer to donate the land on the corner of Elmira and Fourth Street, the church’s current location. However, the group was reluctant to take the property because of the swampy area and its considerable distance from the city. Since they were not able to find another affordable place, they accepted the plot. Herdic allowed them to have the donated land on the condition that this be used for religious gatherings, as stated in the deed. Even to this day, if the area is not mismanaged, the property can be reverted to the current heirs.
In 1860, the First Baptist Church was built for $8,000 (2019= $247,479). Throughout the years, the church encountered two major floods, 1889 and 1894. The last flood damaged the basement severely, preventing people from entering the building safely. The original church had to be torn down, and a new one was built in 1898 by Culver. This church cost $35,000 (2019= $1,082,719), and the architecture was something different compared to other architectural trends of the time.
The exterior of the church embodies Romanesque architecture. The Dark Ages influenced the Romanesque era which began in the 1800s. Buildings of this style have thick walls, a sturdy platform, round arches, and large towers. They are built symmetrical and have little use of sculptures. The church’s interior is based on the Byzantine era. This era focuses on depicting heaven, the Spirit, and roofed domes. The church has 39 stained-glassed windows representing Protestant and Baptist teachers and ministers instead of saints. The Wooden beams are part of the last wooden bridge on Market Street from the beginning of the twentieth century. Also, the Austin Organ in the church is one of the oldest pipe organs still properly functioning in Lycoming County.
Today, the First Baptist Church is known as the City Alliance Church, which is a local congregation of the Christian & Missionary Alliance. They began in 2012 with their first gathering for Bible study in Alabaster Coffee Roaster & Tea Company. They relocated to Thaddeus Stevenson Primary School, Williamsport YMCA, and eventually returned to Alabaster Coffee Roaster & Tea Company. In 2015, the group entered into a partnership with the First Baptist Church. Besides being a place of worship, they offer support to organizations such as THRIVE International Programs, Family Promise, and Expectations Women’s Center. THRIVE International Programs offer Spanish and ESL classes, immigration legal assistance, and the opportunity to be integrated into the community. Family Promise helps with disadvantaged families that are struggling with homelessness. Expectation Women’s Center helps mothers who struggle with parenting or finding resources.
Peter Herdic donated the land for the First Baptist Church between Elmira and Fourth Street. The location was not desired at first by the group, but eventually, they accepted Herdic’s offer. The church suffered two significant floods that led to building a new church by Culver with Romanesque and Byzantine architecture. Today the church is known as the City Alliance Church who desires to help and support other organizations to build a stronger community in Williamsport.
1) Deed from Peter Herdic to First Baptist Church, 13 October 1857, Thomas T. Taber Museum.
2) “History of Williamsport and Lycoming County.” Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce. Accessed September 15, 2019.
3) Hurst, Ellen. “Medieval Art in Europe: A Beginner’s Guide to Byzantine Art.” Khan Academy.Accessed September 16, 2019.
4) Koons, Elmer. The Stained Glass of First Baptist. Edited by Lucille C. Nancarrow. Williamsport: Reed Hann Litho Company, 2004.
5) “Millionaires’ Row.” Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce. Accessed September 16, 2019.
6) One Hundred Years of Christian Service to the Community. The First Baptist Church, Williamsport, Pennsylvania, 1954.
7) Our Bric-a-Brac: First Baptist Church, Williamsport, Pa. Williamsport, PA: Gazette and Bulleting Printing House, 1880.
8) “Peter Herdic (1824-1888) Historical Marker.” Historical Marker. Accessed September 16, 2019.
9) “Romanesque Architecture.” New World Encyclopedia. Accessed September 17, 2019.
10) Senn, Lola. History of the First Baptist Church 1859-1939. Pennsylvania: Wlliamsport,1939.
11) Sweeting, Spencer. Interview with Evelyn Torres. Personal interview. Williamsport, October 30, 2019.
12) Thomas T. Taber Museum, Accessed November 3, 2019.https://www.tabermuseum.org.