The current First Baptist Church is actually the third church to sit on the corner of Public Square and State Street
Replacing the Otis Wheelock-designed church built only forty years prior, the new First Baptist Church would be built of stone with the exception of two brick walls from the previous structure which were incorporated into the design. The previous Wheelock design constructed in 1846-47 itself replaced the second church on the site, built in 1838 which replaced the first church, also destroyed by fire, erected just the year before. In 1872, the church would be thoroughly overhauled with many improvements, but by 1889, a new one was in the planning stages.
In the January 1890 Watertown Daily Times, a note to the citizens of Watertown read–
To the Citizens of Watertown:We desire briefly to call your attention to the plans begun some time since, for the erection of a virtually new and handsome church building, by the members and friends of the First Baptist church, on the site now occupied by the old and unsightly edifice, which stands at the lower end of Public Square.
The project was first started in July ’89.A building committee was at once appointed to procure and present for consideration, plans for the proposed building.After a personal visit and a careful examination of location and surroundings by Architect Charles H. Smith, of New York, a lithograph of the proposed building was prepared, and has been on exhibition at various stores, where it was viewed by a large number of citizens.
In preparing this plan the committee kept two prominent objects in view: First, convenience of interior arrangements for the successful prosecution of the work of the church; second, beauty of exterior so that when finished it would stand as a thing of beauty in the most sightly spot of this city, of which we are so justly proud.
The Watertown Daily Times would post architectural drawings of the planned First Baptist Church shown below, which are interesting to note the differences vs. what is present today.
The church would start with funds of $5,000 and state their willingness to indebted to the amount of $10,000 turning over the rental of the stores to pay interest on the mortgage to give them $15,000 of the $20,000 needed. They would ask for subscriptions from the citizens to cover the last $5,000. A large portion of the events held to benefit the project were for the citizens’ clock tower fund. Grand concerts with a 27-piece orchestra, vocal solos, duets, etc. would partake in the event held at the City Opera House.
John A. Haddock’s excellent historical reference Growth of a Century would note–
On November 1st, when the bids were opened, it was found that Patrick Phillips (who had also constructed the Emma Flower Taylor mansion), of this city, was the lowest bidder, and in February, 1891, the contract was executed with him for the erection of the building of native limestone for $19,540, and on the first day of March following, the old building was turned over to him, and the demolition of it begun.
On June 26, 1891, the corner stone for the First Baptist Church would be set. Inside it, the following would be placed as recorded by the Watertown Daily Times:
List of officers and members of the church.
List of contributors to building fund.
Copy of Col. Shaw’s “Historic Reminiscences of the Building Enterprise.”
History of the Building Enterprise.
Sample of circulars, subscription cards, “Appeal to Citizens.”
Program of Benefit concert given by Prof. Seymour, and ticket of admission.
Program of exercises of laying corner stone.
Copu fo Association minutes in 1890.
Copy of minutes of Baptist Education society for 1890.
Catalogue of Colgate Academy for 1891.
Copy of Watertown Daily Times.
Copy of Watertown Post.
Copy of Watertown Re-Union.
Copy of Watertown Advocate.
Copy of Watertown Herald.
Copy of “The Fair Journal.”
Photographs of the “old church” exterior and interior views.
Photograph of the present pastor.
Kimball’s city directory and map of the city.
Piece of the first carpet ever laid in the old church–with history.
Some old coins.
Lithograph of the new church.
By-laws of Watertown Fire Department–with account of unveiling of Firemen’s monument.
Copy of “The Examiner.”
Postage stamps and postal cards.
Today, over 130 years later, the First Baptist Church continues to stand on the very same corner. During those years, there’s been a number of issues addressed – most recently being the clock not working correctly and the bell not ringing. Several maintenance people from Knowlton Technologies volunteered to help maintain it, but stopped in recent years due to safety concerns climbing the tower. In late 2020, the city and a handyman were able to resolve the issue and repairs to the clock enabled the bell to ring throughout Public Square once again.