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First Baptist Church, Raleigh, N.C. View from Capitol Square


Our postcard feature for Flashback Friday this week depicts Raleigh’s historic First Baptist Church. A solitary figure is seen in a quiet moment on a spring day, taking in the view of the imposing Gothic Revival building from the expansive grounds of Capitol Square.

First Baptist Church_back_web

I can’t quite decipher the handwriting on this unsigned card. I can’t even make out Minnie’s last name, or the town she lived in! Wonder if any readers can fill in the illegible bits?

Hello Minnie,
This is [illegible] of Raleigh so you see [illegible] Raleigh is some [?] place isn’t it. So good night.
ans[wer] soon

First Baptist Church has been a prominent and picturesque landmark on Capitol Square since 1859. We thought Goodnight Raleigh readers would enjoy learning the backstory of this noble edifice.

A Glimpse into the Past: Raleigh’s First Baptist Church

‘Raleigh Baptist Church’ was organized in 1812, one year after Edenton Street Methodist, four years before First Presbyterian, and nine years before Christ Episcopal. There were 23 charter members — nine white and 14 African-American — who met for services in the Senate chamber of the 1795 State Capitol building.

Shortly thereafter, the congregation erected a permanent structure in 1816 on Person Street, across from Moore Square. They later moved this building to the center of Moore Square around 1823; locals soon began referring to the square as “Baptist Grove.” This simple frame meeting house remained in situ for many years after the Baptists vacated the property, and can be seen on C.N. Drie’s 1872 map, “Bird’s Eye View of the City of Raleigh.”

Under the leadership of pastor Amos Battle, a new, more commodious church building was built in 1840 at the corner of Wilmington and Morgan Streets, opposite Capitol Square.

Then, on the eve of the Civil War, under the pastorate of Thomas E. Skinner, the congregation sought to erect a new building and contracted with William Percival, a Richmond architect who had recently opened an office in Raleigh. He designed a magnificent Gothic Revival structure of stuccoed brick which was scored to look like stone. The new church was completed in 1859, and featured a towering 160-foot spire.

State Archives of North Carolina photo

State Archives of North Carolina photo

First Baptist Church as originally built. Photo ca 1880s.

Raleigh Baptist Church played an active role during the Civil War. In the early years of the war the church basement was used as a makeshift factory where mattresses, uniforms and haversacks were made for Confederate troops. The steeple bell was donated to the War Department in 1862 to be melted down for cannon, and following the Battle of Bentonville in March 1865, the church basement was briefly used as a Confederate hospital.

The photo below shows the interior of First Baptist ca 1880s, much as it was originally designed by William Percival.

State Archives of North Carolina photo

State Archives of North Carolina photo

In 1868 the newly emancipated African-American members of Raleigh Baptist Church established their own congregation and built a frame church on N. Salisbury St, near the Raleigh and Gaston railroad yards. In 1904 First Baptist Church, Wilmington Street, was erected on the empty lot at the corner or Wilmington and Morgan Streets, formerly the site of the 1840 Raleigh Baptist Church building.

Members of Raleigh Baptist established a mission church on Swain St. in 1874. When the Swain Street Baptist Church congregation relocated to a larger brick structure at the corner of Hargett and Person Streets, opposite Moore Square, in 1881, they took the name ‘Second Baptist Church’ (Renamed Tabernacle Baptist Church in 1910, the facility now houses The Long View Center, and is a part of the Moore Square Historic District); the mother church, Raleigh Baptist Church, was thenceforth known as First Baptist Church.

A major expansion of the 1859 building at the turn of the 20th century doubled the size of First Baptist Church. The 1904-o7 renovation included the addition of twin transepts, several beautiful art glass windows, and a reorientation of the interior with a horse shoe-shaped gallery, ‘auditorium’ styled seating, and a redesigned pulpit area and choir loft. Raleigh architect Charles W Barrett  designed the improvements.

Below is a postcard view of First Baptist  Church after transepts were added 1904-07.

First Baptist Church_3_web

Raleigh’s historic First Baptist Church continues to command an imposing presence on Capitol Square to this day. It has been designated a Raleigh Historic Landmark within the Capitol Square Historic District.


This week’s early color-tinted postcard was published by Sackett & Wilhelms Corp. of New York.

Sackett & Wilhelms Corp.   1889-1950
1013 Grand Street, New York

In 1882 Charles Wilhelms formed a partnership with Robert Sackett and Edward Betzig to become Sackett, Wilhelms & Betzig. When Betzig left in 1889 the company changed their name to Sackett & Wilhelms. They expanded over the years to print postcards. In 1902 they became the first business to install air conditioning to to enhance printing conditions affected by humidity in their Brooklyn factory.

“Flashback Friday” is a weekly feature of Goodnight, Raleigh! in which we showcase vintage postcards depicting our historic capital city. We hope you enjoy this week end treat!

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