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Our History

For more than two hundred years, the people of First Baptist Church have been worshiping God and working to build His Kingdom not only in Wilmington but also in places in need all over the world. As early as 1690, Baptist work began in Wilmington. Our congregation was first known as Front Street Baptist Church as our church building was located in a

house at Front and Ann Streets on Baptist Hill. This historic house still stands today.

Since 1870, our congregation has been worshiping and serving in its present location, 411 Market Street. Land for the present church building at Fifth and Market Streets was purchased in 1858. Construction of the current sanctuary began in 1860; the Civil War delayed completion, and the building was not dedicated until May 1870. Our sanctuary was designed by Samuel Sloan, an architect from Philadelphia.

The building is an example of early English Gothic architecture, with pointed arches and two narrow spires. The spires, originally made of heart pine, were joined with wooden dowels; the taller spire rises 197 feet. Winds from Hurricane Fran in 1996 caused the steeple to be blown from its original support structure. The congregation voted immediately to rebuild the steeple to its original height and look. The sanctuary foundation holds tons of ship ballast discarded from sailing vessels that once crowded the Cape Fear River. A portion of the exposed ballast rock foundation can be seen in the basement of the Education wing. The bell in the tower weighs 2,106 pounds; the tongue weighs 47 pounds. Some of the metal in the bell is probably over 200 years old.

Old black and white photo of a church in Wilmington.
Photo of stain glass that is above a pipe organ.

The present “art windows” were installed in 1903. The pews of the lower level of the sanctuary, like the grille work on the front of the balcony, are handmade and originally cost $3.00 each. At one time, the church was financed by renting pews. Fees ranged from $5.00 to $500.00 per year and were based on location and size of the pew. The renter had exclusive use of the pew for morning worship, prayer meetings, revivals and business meetings. The pews are still divided into sections and are numbered. In the past century, our facilities have expanded to include most of the block on which our sanctuary sits, with the addition of an education building, the historical Sidbury House (now being used for Sunday school space), and the

WLI building now serves as the location of the main

offices for our church.

The Activity Center

In the mid 1970’s our church opened a separate facility on Independence Boulevard. Renovated and expanded in 2008, our Activity Center includes a gymnasium, a high-tech multi-purpose room for kids and teenagers called The Cove, as well as multiple classroom spaces utilized by the First Baptist Church Preschool and by the rest of our church for meetings, small groups,

Bible studies, and book studies.

A photo of a brown Activity Center building.
A brick building with a grassy courtyard.

The Harrelson Center

In 2005, our church purchased and renovated the former New Hanover County Law Enforcement Center. Renamed the Jo Ann Carter Harrelson Center, our vision for this building was an innovative non-profit whose mission is to serve as a hub for other non-profit organizations in our city. Meeting the needs of the community in areas such as safe and affordable housing, education, employment, health care and family support has expanded our mission footprint in ways we never dreamed possible. The Center recognizes the critical needs of others and seeks to encourage, uplift and assist them in rebuilding their lives.

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