Bethel Baptist Institutional ChurchEdit profile
Bethel Baptist Institutional Church is a historic Baptist church in Jacksonville, Florida, in the United States. Its building built in 1904 at 1058 North Hogan Street was added to the National Register of Historic Places on April 6, 1978.
Established under co-pastors James McDonald and Ryan Frier, in 1838, Bethel Baptist is the oldest Baptist congregation in Jacksonville. At its inception it had only six charter members, four whites and two blacks, the latter of whom were slaves of white members. Membership quickly grew, with most early congregants being black slaves who received day passes from their masters to attend. The first meetings were held at "Mother Sam's", a local plantation, and in 1840 a dedicated meeting house was erected at Duval and Newnan Streets. This, the first church building in Jacksonville, was sold to Presbyterians in 1844. In 1861 a permanent church building was built in the west LaVilla neighborhood at Church and Julia Streets. Bethel Baptist remained an interracial church until after the American Civil War, when the decision was made to segregate the congregation by race. At this time members were facing a split over which pastor to follow, and white congregants took the opportunity to try and force the blacks out of the church. They took their case to court, but the court ruled in favor of the blacks, who were in the majority, determining that they were the rightful owners of the Bethel Baptist name and property. As a result the whites formed Tabernacle Baptist Church, which was eventually renamed First Baptist Church, now one of the largest churches in the United States. Tabernacle Baptist purchased the Church Street Property from Bethel Baptist Church, as was required by the court, and in 1868 Bethel Baptist relocated to a large new building on Union and Pine Streets. In 1895 this was replaced with a large brick building, but this burned in the Great Fire of 1901, which destroyed much of downtown Jacksonville. In 1904 the current edifice was built by Utica, New York architect M. H. Hubbard. The new building combined elements of Greek Revival and Romanesque Revival architecture. Through this time Bethel Baptist continued to grow considerably, but political infighting led to parts of the congregation splintering off and founding new churches. By 1890 there were 1200 members and the church received over $3000 in pledges every year. In 1894 it was recognized as an Institutional Church by the state of Florida, authorizing it undertake social and educational work.
Bethel Baptist Institutional Church is still an active congregation with over 10,000 members. The 1904 building is now part of a much larger church complex.