The Historic Church
The history of the First Baptist Church and Kalamazoo College are closely interwoven. The same year that the church was organized, 1836, the Reverend Jeremiah Hall persuaded the Michigan and Huron Institute, now Kalamazoo College, to settle in this city.
The First Baptist Church of Kalamazoo was founded in 1836. That year it built its first home on one of the four lots which Titus Bronson had designated for the churches of the town. (thus the name " Church Square") Today the church still stands on that lot across from the court house on the corner of West Michigan and Church Street. The Bronson Park churches formed an alliance and still work together as a team to support each other and bring the many areas of religion to the downtown area.
The building that stands there today descends with various modifications from the building that was erected in 1856. The most major modification to that building was in 1971 when a gabled roof was added to the exterior and a balcony added to the second floor sanctuary to counter the roof's outward thrust. At the same time an apse was added for the Hooke and Hastings organ that was to be installed the next year.
Since that time a church house has been added to the original church building and the sanctuary has been remodeled three times; in 1912, 1951, and 1998. This last remodeling undid much of what had been done in 1951.
For many, many years the clock built into the bell tower was the "town clock" because it could be seen from many outlying areas surrounding downtown. For a long time, FBC was known as the church with the clock.
The Baptist faith reached the Kalamazoo River Valley in 1826 when missionary Leonard Slater preached to the Indians. In 1836 fourteen settlers led by Jeremiah Hall, a Baptist minister from Vermont, met in the home of Ezekiel Ransom to organize the First Baptist Church.
The second Pastor, Dr. James H.B. Stone, was an early President of the college and many of his successors in that office have been active in this congregation.
Leadership in the City
Over the years the First Baptist Church has served as the parent church of several parishes that branched out into outlying areas. First Baptist Church is a proud member of American Baptist Churches USA, as well as American Baptist Churches - Michigan.
Throughout its history members and clergy of First Baptist have played active roles in the civic life of Kalamazoo. Until recently the presidents of Kalamazoo College have been part of the congregation, and pastors of the church have always been on the college's Board of Trustees. In the 1850's the church played an active role in anti-slavery movements. In the 1960's one member of First Baptist was city mayor, during the era of civil-rights demonstrations and anti-war protests. Another member, a lawyer, played a significant role as a school board member in instituting school busing as a rememdy for school segregation. A woman member served six terms in the Michigan House of Representatives. More recently a member conceived a secured funding for the first of what has become bi-annual Michigan Festival of Sacred Music.