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Centennial History of Hurricane: Church Histories: First Baptist Church of Hurricane

First Baptist Church, built 1877

In 1988, The Centennial History of Hurricane, WV was published to commemorate the town’s 100th anniversary. The publication included the histories of 16 Hurricane area churches. This week’s selection is the 4th of the church histories which were published in 1988.

Submitted by Mrs. V.K. Knapp

As early as 1815, maps show a stage coach station on the old Kanawha and James River Turnpike about one mile south of the present railway in Hurricane. There were about twelve buildings in chat area-one of them was a log building used as a schoolhouse, a meeting house and a church used by both the Baptists and the Methodists.

Earliest church records show that May 26, 1860, Baptists organized their church in that building with twenty-four members mostly from the Mt. Vernon, Mt. Salem and Union areas. Those pioneer members of the first church were Joseph Savine, Charles Qualls, Anna Gibson, Elizabeth Gibson, Eliza Harbour, Elizabeth Gore, Calvery McCallister, Maryette Mays, Amazetta Herndon, Charles J. Riddle, William Martin, F.H. Reynolds, Margaret Jones, John Griffith, Catherine Savine, Robert Forth, Virginia Erwin, Sara Forth, Henry Savine, Susan Savine, Preston Martin and Catherine Reynolds. Rev. LE Peters was the first pastor. Since Rev. Peters served several churches, services were held occasionally on Saturday afternoon and on Sunday morning. He rode horseback, traveling only when the weather was good. He was promised an annual salary of $100.00 but it was seldom paid in cash and usually was in the form of farm produce or once in a while a country ham.

In 1863 a Civil War skirmish, lasting about five hours, destroyed most of the buildings on Hurricane Creek.

The twenty four that had organized the Hurricane Bridge Church disbanded and did not attempt to reorganize until 1871. Then they met in a log building located on the southeastern corner of the present parking lot.

In 1877 a 318 acre tract of land, adjoining the log building, was purchased for $25.00 and a 34’ by 54’ frame building as built by the forty-seven members.

By 1900 both the railway and an unpaved road, following generally the same location was Route 60, had been built so another 3/8 acre of land had been purchased for $50.00 and the old building was remodeled to face the highway. The bell in that old bell tower is the same one in use today.

When the membership had grown to 251 in 1915, Rev. B.S. Akers was called as pastor to conduct services once a month for an annual salary of $720.00. As the community grew, so did the church until by 1923 the frame building was inadequate. A building committee consisting of A.N. Sumner, J.T. Garrett, L.O. Hodges, E.J. Qualls and R.F. Forth was appointed to plan a completely new building. The cornerstone was laid June, 1924, but, as was the custom then, no dedication service was held until the $32,000 was completely paid in 1931.

Rev. J. Guy Saunders became the first full time pastor in 1935 at an annual salary of $1500.00.

In 1953 and again in 1960 additions were built to accommodate a kitchen, fellowship hall and Sunday School classrooms. Also, the old parsonage was sold and a larger modern brick parsonage was built on Virginia Avenue.

During Rev. Gilbert Moore’s pastorate the church celebrated its 100th birthday with many activities including addresses by Rev. Shirley Donnelly who had been present at the first dedication of the church in 1931 and the then Governor of West Virginia, Honorable Cecil Underwood.

Completion of Interstate 64 caused a surge of development in Teays Valley and in Hurricane until the congregation grew to such a point that it was no longer wise to keep adding to the old building. After much deliberation and planning, the congregation voted to build a completely new building on the western side of the old sanctuary.

Just as the church was ready to let the contract for the new building tragedy struck! The pastor, Rev. Eldon Waltz drowned while saving another man from drowning.

Believing it to be God’s will, the congregation continued with their plans and the ground breaking ceremony was held in July, 1966.
Rev. Milan Johnson assumed the pastorate in February 1967. For almost a year the congregation watched the new sanctuary take shape. The day of dedication, July 2, 1967 was one of great praise and rejoicing.

By the time Dr. Ward Robinson became the pastor in 1974, space was again a problem. The old sanctuary was then remodeled into a small chapel, more adequate office space, a new youth department, a larger kitchen and a redecorated fellowship hall.

Soon after the church celebrated its 125th anniversary, Dr. Robinson retired and the church was without a permanent pastor until August, 1986 when Rev. Ivan Joseph Hodge from Evansville, Indiana was installed as pastor. For 1986 the resident membership was 1300, the non-resident membership was 413 and the annual budget was $310,788.

Although affiliated with the Teays Valley Association, the West Virginia Baptist Convention and American Baptist Churches, The First Baptist Church of Hurricane is an autonomous church with the pastor, the various boards and the congregation making all the decisions for the operation of the church.

One mark of a great church is the number of people that have been influenced to dedicate themselves to full time Christian service. The first person from this church to become a missionary was Erville Sowards who served in Burma for over thirty years. More recently Marshall and June Waltz Peters have been missionaries to Thailand and Mark Young has been serving in Eastern Europe. As this is being written, both the Peters family and the Young family are on furlough in the United States attending school but expect to return to foreign missionary service soon.

Dr. Irene Easter Lovett and Rev. Oscar Byrnside have been ordained by this church and have given many years of their lives to the ministry.

At the present time, Rev. Dwane Porter and his wife Cyndi Boehm Porter are both on the staff of the Baptist Temple in Huntington. Rev. Curtis Brown is serving as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Vincentown, N.J.

First Baptist Church has always been blessed by many members with musical talent. In the early years, the choir was directed by various members but since 1972, Dale Riley from Huntington has been music minister directing the Sanctuary choir in very inspirational music. There are choirs for each age group from the four year olds in the Cherub choir progressing on through the Sanctuary choir.

Long before regular worship services were held each Sunday, the Sunday School has been conducted each Sunday with well-organized classes for each age group beginning with the nursery and continuing through to several adult classes with an average Sunday School attendance of about 400.

Since the congregation has grown so large it is impossible for one minister to take care of all the responsibilities of the church. Rev. Richard Thomson was the first full time associate pastor. He was followed by Rev. Scott New and since 1975, Rev. Gerald Losh has been serving in this capacity. In all, twenty eight men have served as pastors and three as associate pastors.

Hurricane Bridge Church, Hurricane Baptist Church and now known as First Baptist Church of Hurricane has made an indelible mark on the lives of many in the 128 years of its existence and will continue to do so into the next century.

Dorcas Sunday School Class
First Baptist Church, 1988
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