Baptists in New London first organized a church in 1710 and constructed a meetinghouse on Niles Hill, called the “pepperbox” because of its unusual hip-roofed shape. This church broke up in 1771, but a Baptist church was reformed in 1792, formally organizing in 1804 as the First Baptist Church. Local resistance thwarted their attempts to buy land for a new meeting house and the Baptists had to resort to subterfuge to acquire land at the corner of Union and Pearl Streets. As related in Frances Manwaring Caulkins’ History of New London (1856):
The church which now bears the designation of the First Baptist Church of New London, was constituted in February, 1804, by a colony of about fifty members from the Waterford Baptist church, most of whom resided within the limits of New London. [ . . .] The position chosen for their house of worship, was a platform of rock, on a summit of the ledge that runs through the central part of the city. It was commenced in 1805, and was occupied nearly ten years in an unfinished state; the beams and rafters left naked, and with loose, rough planks for seats. The interior was then finished, and the whole edifice has since been enlarged and improved. [. . .] In 1847, under the ministry of Rev. Jabez S. Swan, the members of this church amounted to six hundred and twenty-five, probably the largest church ever known in New London county. It has since colonized and formed another church. The number of members reported in 1850, is four hundred and five.
This rapid growth of the First Baptist Church led to the need for a new church, which was built at the corner of State and Washington Streets in 1856. The Romanesque Revival edifice was designed by W.T. Hallett, who also designed such other New London buildings as the City Hall (original facade) and Lawrence Hall (since demolished), both also built in 1856. The interior was not completed until the 1880s and the church’s stained glass windows were dedicated in 1892. The window on the State Street side was added in 1931.
At 22 Lyme Street in Old Lyme is a former church building that is now a private home, with the old choir loft converted into children’s bedrooms and a half bathroom where the confessional had once stood. The church was built in 1843 for Old Lyme’s Baptist community, which had previously gathered intermittently at various locations, often private homes. The Baptist Society disbanded in 1923 due to declining membership. Episcopalians purchased the building three years later. In 1934, the church was leased by the Roman Catholic Diocese, which dedicated it as Christ the King Church in 1937. The Parish now has a new church building, completed in 2005, at 1 McCurdy Road in Old Lyme.
The Niantic Baptist Church was established in 1843 by residents of East Lyme’s southern village of Niantic who were weary of making the trip to the northern village of Flanders each Sunday to worship at the Baptist Church there. The Niantic Baptist Church of 1843 burned in 1866 and was replaced the following year by the current church. The original steeple (a double cupola) was blown down in the 1938 hurricane and replaced by the current single cupola tower. A Fellowship Hall was added in 1959 and another fire in 1964 led to the restoration of the building, which is located at 443 Main Street.
The earliest Baptist Church in what would become Jewett City was established in 1786. It met in the house of Amos Read in Lisbon and was known as the Preston and Canterbury Baptist Church. As related in the History of New London County (1882), compiled by D. Hamilton Hurd,
They united with the school district in building a school-house sufficiently large for meeting purposes. This house stood on the site of the old “Fenner store.” In 1813 they united with the Episcopalians in building a regular house of worship. They now numbered 162, and had as a pastor Rev. Caleb Read, a son of their former pastor. A majority of the stock in this house was bought up by a single individual and the house closed against them.
As explained in the Jewett City Souvenir (1896)
The church building was allowed to pass into other hands, and the Baptists were compelled to betake themselves to the school-house which they had previously occupied and which they had helped to build. Soon they lost this place of worship and then followed their extinction.
Again as related in the History of New London County (1882):
In the spring of 1840, Rev. Benajah Cook came among them to labor. He found the church disorganized and dispirited. However, he succeeded in gathering a band of thirty-seven, who on Sept. 13, 1840, were organized into what is still known as the Jewett City Baptist Church. They elected Reuben Barber and Rufus Williams to be deacons. They built and dedicated a house of worship Nov. 30, 1841. This same house, twice enlarged and remodeled, is still used. Its estimated value, with its surroundings, is eleven thousand dollars.
The church appears to have since lost the upper section of its steeple.
The First Baptist Church of Waterbury was organized in 1803. At first, meetings were held in members’ homes or outdoors. The first meeting house was built in 1818 at the Mill Mill Plain crossroads, two-and-a-half miles from the center of town. It had no paint, plaster or chimney and the seats were wooden benches without backs. The second house of worship was erected (after considerable financial difficulties) c. 1840 in the town center on South Main Street. It was later significantly remodeled and extended, the entrance being moved to the Bank Street side of the building (the church spire was later taken down after it was deemed unsafe). This church was later replaced by a new one, built on Grand Street and dedicated in 1883. It was destroyed by fire in 1912. The corner stone of the church’s fourth building, at 208 Grove Street (located in a primarily residential area), was laid on October 3, 1915 and the completed church was dedicated in 1917. The Baptists later moved from the building, which is now New Life of Waterbury Church.
The First Baptist Church of Lebanon is located at the north end of Lebanon Green. The church was founded in 1805 and the current church building dates to 1841. The steeple originally had a second stage that deteriorated and was removed in the 1930s. A chapel, built from lumber from an old cheese factory, was added in 1907.
Shiloh Baptist Church in Hartford is the city’s fourth oldest black church. It began in 1889 after a split in the membership of Union Baptist Church. The church began in the home of Lucy Roy and then used various halls temporarily, until occupying a church on Mather Street, built in 1902. The current church building, at 350 Albany Avenue, was built in stages. As the Hartford Courant reported on December 7, 1914:
It was decided to build upon the pay-as-you-go plan, and the vestry of the edifice was built, the cornerstone being laid December 4, 1911. The new vestry was dedicated in February, 1912. Since this dedication, this part of the church has been the meeting place of the parish members. Last winter, the temporary roof over the vestry was troublesome because of its leaking. To repair it would have involved the expenditure of some $1,500, and it was decided to make one piece of work of raising the structure to completion.