On the occasion of the 70th Anniversary of the Wadsworth Avenue Baptist Church, the history of our early beginning is set forth as a document for all to enjoy in the historic march of Wadsworth Baptist in New York City. Over the years, Wadsworth has been characterized by its simplicity of worship, a pure gospel and fervent prayer in each of its pastorates. We now share with you the proud ancestry we enjoy.
Once upon a time, in the year 1908 to be exact, Dr. A. Lincoln Moore, urged by Capt. Gustavus W. Schroeder, a devoted layman of Swedish birth, began preaching in a tent on 181st Street, near St. Nicholas Avenue in Manhattan. Capt. Schroeder was an ardent lay-missionary, a Swedish sea Captain and long time member of Mariner’s Temple. He was ever making fruitful suggestions which other men received and oddly enough carried out. He persuaded Dr. Moore that his next effort should be the opening up of a Baptist interest in upper Manhattan. Dr. Moore, now Supt. of the New York Port Society, had relinquished his pastorate of the Riverside Baptist Church and came up in the spring and summer of 1908 to institute the work. Captain Schroeder’s suggestion was providentially made practicable by the unsought gift just at that time of $2,000.00 from Miss Mary Colgate of Yonkers, with no conditions attached, except that it should be used in some forward-looking Baptist work. In that same vicinity, George E. Croscup, a layman, started a Sunday School in a store. That was the very beginning of a Baptist group which we know today as the WADSWORTH AVENUE BAPTIST CHURCH.
Capt. Schroeder’s daughter, Emma, was for many years an active member of Wadsworth and in later years at the Baptist Home.
This little group began to grow and was fostered and aided by the New York City Mission Society, Dr. Edward Judson and Dr. Charles H. Sears. A seminary student, Stanley G. High, served as pastor of this group and George H. Van Tuyl started a Men’s Class. As the group grew, it moved and occupied quarters up over a store on St. Nicholas Ave. & 180th Street. They outgrew that space and moved to a hall over Riker’s Drug Store at the southwest corner of 181st Street and St. Nicholas Avenue.
This same group, with a membership of 69, organized as the Fort Washington Baptist Church on February 25, 1910. A life-long member of Wadsworth, the late George H. Van Tuyl was a charter member of the 1910 group.
In May of 1911, Rev. Enos J. Bosworth of New Rochelle, was called to the pastorate. Under his leadership and ministry, the Fort Washington Baptist Church grew in membership. Finally, in 1915, at the earnest desire of Rev. Bosworth and the church, the New York City Baptist Mission Society financed the purchase of the property at 124 Wadsworth Avenue, formerly a dance hall and now the site of the Greek Church and school. It was purchased for the church with the understanding that the church would take title to the property when it was financially able to do so.
In 1917, Rev. Bosworth resigned because of ill health and during that period from 1917 to 1918, when the church was without a pastor, it was discovered that the Hope Baptist Church, now called the Broadway Baptist Church, was seeking a new location. And so this Broadway (Hope) Baptist Church came up to the Fort Washington Baptist Church, bringing with them their pastor Dr. Edwin S. Holloway.
On April 15, 1918, the Broadway (Hope) Baptist Church and the Fort Washington Baptist Church consolidated, taking the name of the WADSWORTH AVENUE BAPTIST CHURCH.
The historical background of the old Hope Baptist Church is equally interesting. Back in 1843, the Laight Street Baptist Church was organized (which later became the Hope Church), but was compelled to close its doors in the early 1880’s. It was located on Laight Street, south of Canal Street. In 1884, through the efforts of James Pyle and the New York City Mission Society, a new Laight Street Baptist Church was organized under Rev. Richard Hartley, who continued as pastor for 25 years. The name of this church was shortly changed from Laight Street Baptist to Hope Baptist Church.
Around 1890, encroachment of business made it necessary to move the Hope Baptist Church uptown where it located at Broadway and 104th Street and on March 23, 1917 it changed its name to the Broadway Baptist Church. Rev. Hartley died in 1910 and Rev. Edwin S. Holloway, coming from the South Church in Hartford, Conn., became the pastor. He continued for several years after the merger with the Fort Washington Baptist Church to the new WADSWORTH AVENUE BAPTIST CHURCH.
In 1919 we purchased the 124 Wadsworth Avenue location (between 179th and 180th Streets) from the New York City Baptist Mission Society for $18,305.00, subject to three existing mortgages, totaling $32,000.00 and received a nominal interest bearing mortgage for the same amount payable in five years, or on the sale of the Broadway-Hope 104th Street property, now owned by Wadsworth. Then the Baptist Home for the Aged agreed to extend their two mortgages for three more years to help us out.
Dr. Holloway continued to serve the church until 1923, when he was succeeded by Rev, Leonard F. Requa.
As the church grew, it was evident that a new building was needed and, through the advantageous sale of the old Hope properties and 124 Wadsworth Avenue, this was accomplished. We sold 124 Wadsworth Avenue for $60,000.00. We bought our present lot on May 22, 1922 for $47,500.00 from W.B. Parsons, real estate agent for the Atlantic Realty Co.
This beautiful building which we now enjoy was dedicated, thus realizing the dream of years and bringing to fruition the efforts of the pioneer workers. The building committee, under the chairmanship of Charles W. Hinckley, was tireless in their efforts to secure for the church the best possible structure. Some may be familiar with the names of those who served on this committee: Messrs. Coupe, Cushman, Dunton, Frankenburg, Garrison, Carl Johnson, MacKinnon, Reiber, Requa, Southwell, Stoker, Thurlow, Wuerfel and G.H. Van Tuyl. The preliminary sketches were made by the Architectural Bureau of the American Baptist Home Mission Society and the Operating Architects were the firm of Ludlow & Peabody. This building was to house a large Sunday School which resulted in the unique set-up of Sunday School departments. Each department had its own classrooms which opened into a general session room so that their preliminary service included the entire department before they adjourned to their separate classrooms. Adequate provision was made not only for auditorium worship and preaching services, but for religious, educational, social and recreational needs of the church. It is a plant well equipped with facilities for every aspect of a well-rounded church program.
With its simple colonial lines and dignified spire, this building seems to have caught the spirit of the early Baptist Churches in the country. The unique organ (click for history and pictures) was built to specifications by the Skinner Organ Company, organ architects and builders in Massachusetts and it was shipped to New York for installation in 1926 at a cost of $12,950.00. Our console is a collection of pipes (1,237 in all) made to sound by means of compressed air from bellows and played upon by keys. In today’s market, our pipe organ would cost between $75,000.00 and $100,000.00. The casing of the console and organist’s bench is oak and dummy display pipes are visible to the audience. The organ committee of Wadsworth in that era was so particular in their judgment that all generations have enjoyed the results of their endeavors.
The dedication of our building took place at the Sunday morning service on May 2, 1926. Rev. H. Clarke Colebrook, General Director of the New York State Convention, spoke. Holding back his text until he had drawn the picture of a Christ centric Church, none of whose activities are ends in themselves, but only the means of glorifying the Lord Jesus who stands as the source and center of its life - - of the labors of such a church – the text would ever be true, “Not in Vain”, 1 Cor. 15:58. Pastor Requa offered his Prayer of Dedication which is an inspiration each time it is read. As the people stood in their places, this dedicatory prayer was offered. The thought underlying this offering of praise was the empowering grace that had called the people of the church to a work beyond their visible strength. In the evening service, Dr. A. Lincoln Moore preached and his talk was reminiscent as he stressed the importance of small beginnings developing into larger field of work for the people in His service. Share with us the enthusiasm so well expressed in our church bulletin of May 9, 1926:
“OUR DEDICATION WEEK (April 25 to May 2, 1926) IS OVER in fact, but it will never be over in the minds and lives of those who attended these services. The appreciation and love of WADSWORTH goes out to all who had a part in making the week the big success that it was; Pastor Requa, who planned the programs, Miss Vinor (organist) and the Choir for their splendid music, each organization and every individual who helped in any way. WADSWORTH has had a fine beginning in its new home; let everyone put the shoulder to the wheel and keep WADSWORTH going finely to the glory of God and the advancement of His Kingdom”.
The whole Dedication week consisted of a Friends and community Night which included an organ recital and community music. The Wednesday evening prayer meeting was described as an ‘enlarged and transfigured prayer meeting”. Rev. William N. Hubbell, pastor of Mariner’s Temple, gave an impromptu speech on “The Amazing Power of Suggestion when backed by the Power of God”, citing the suggestion of Capt. Schroeder to Dr. Moore and the eventual outcome of the Baptist work. He was followed by the speaker of the evening, Dr. Curtis Lee Laws who was editor of the Watchman-Examiner. His topic was, “Learning to Walk More Perfectly with God”, contrasting Enoch, the saint of long ago, a man with like feelings and temptations as we and yet, he was the ordinary, not the superman. He had to learn to walk with God, and we, too, can learn if willing to pay the price.
In 1929, Cora Reibor, an artist by profession, gave her talent to the Lord and the beautiful painting in our baptistry depicting the river Jordan, which no one has ever forgotten who has ever come into the church, was painted by Miss Reiber on the back wall of the baptistry. In later years she became Mrs. Charles Rothweiler. We saw her for the last time in 1976 at our 66th Anniversary. She has since passed on but not without remembering Wadsworth in her will. This “posthumous power” is indicative of so many of Wadsworth members whose bequests have enabled the church to carry on through its Memorial Fund. “Moreover I will endeavor that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance”. 2 Peter 1:15.
This is the story of the early beginnings and struggles of a church. Each ministry had its own accomplishments and, similar to business cycles, Wadsworth has experienced its own “up” and “down” times. During the depression, it reached its peak of membership growth and spiritual acceleration. When its program for youth was strongest, its contribution of young people to full-time Christian service was greatest. What could be looked upon as award-winning accomplishments were carried on over the years with a family membership of consecrated and devoted Christians who have been proud of their affiliation in Wadsworth. The rest of the church’s history lies within the memories of our current membership. The terms of the Wadsworth pastorates were:
Feb. 25, 1910 – Rev. Stanley High
As we look back and see the groundwork that was laid, the anxiety experienced and financial hazards encountered and a strong faith without bounds from the time the church was first organized in 1910, we now find ourselves in 1980 of this historical setting.
“Hitherto hath the Lord helped us”. A milestone is not only a nostalgic appreciation of what has happened in the past, but it is also a renewed trust in the present so that the future can become even more glorious than the past. Milestones can have a boatman’s philosophy of progress – going ahead by looking backward!
We look tenderly and gratefully backward. We look joyously and prayerfully forward. To many this church has been and is the very gate of heaven. Here many have found Christ, many have been helped with heavy burdens and many have found inspirations for the trials of life. In letters of living light, the recording angel has written the Wadsworth story before the throne of God.
What a heritage and what a challenge. There is no other way to go – but forward! Let us add to the history of Wadsworth in our own generation so that those who follow us may be equally proud of our contribution.
|NOTE: Background for the history of our church was taken from Minute Books of the Fort Washington Baptist Church, Hope Baptist church and the Wadsworth Avenue Baptist Church; our Church Bulletins; the May, 1936 edition of the Watchman-Examiner, and the rest within the memory of the writer.|