The First Baptist Church of Melrose was organized on January 1, 1896, about three months after the formation of the First Baptist Society of Melrose. This was six years after the little community of North Malden had separated from the mother town and had assumed its present name. The membership consisted of thirteen members of Baptist Churches and eight Protestant Methodists. A church property, consisting of a large lot of land at the corner of Main and Upham Streets, and a wooden chapel erected thereon in 1843, were transferred to the society by the Protestant Methodist Church, together with a heavy mortgage debt.
The first pastor, Rev. T. C. Jameson, remained until November, 1858, adding about one hundred to the membership. Rev. James Cooper, Rev. Lewis Colby, and Rev. William S. Barnes were the next pastors of the little organization. Following the brief pastorate of Rev. James J. Peck there came, in 1871, the beloved Rev. Almond Barrelle. During his pastorate the little wooden structure was sold to the Catholic Church and moved to Dell Avenue. In its place was erected, in 1874, the red brick chapel which for many years stood on the corner. After four years of significant service, Mr. Barrelle was succeeded by Rev. N. B. Thompson, who served from October 1875 to November 1876.
In February 1878, the church called Mr. R. F. Tolman, a student at Newton Theological Institution, who was ordained as the eighth pastor on July 27 of the same year. His fine spiritual leadership of eight years was influential in adding nearly two hundred to the fellowship of the church. In 1885 the Society was disbanded and the property was transferred to the church. The first organized missionary work among the children was instituted at this time. The church made marked progress under the zealous leadership of Rev. G. A. Cleveland: there was a large accession to the membership, the mortgage debt was paid, the building was enlarged to meet the demands of a greater work, the young people were organized for definite Christian service.
Starting in 1892, Rev. Joseph Kannard Wilson, an able and scholarly preacher and later associate editor of the “Watchman Examiner,” led the church for seven years. Officially associated with B.Y.P.U.A., he inspired the young people to a fine and far-reaching work. He was ably assisted by Mrs. Wilson, who tactfully unified the women into a flourishing missionary society.
As a result of mission work conducted mainly by members of this church, a church was organized in January 1889 at Middlesex Fells. In March 1894, a third Baptist church was formed at Melrose Highlands, to which we gave many members. Later, when community needs made three Baptist churches unnecessary, many members returned to us. Rev. Augustus Erving Scotville was called to the pastorate in 1900, guiding the work for fourteen years. The Holy Spirit honored his ministry by a constant ingathering of members. A significant number dedicated themselves to the ministry and to missionary service. During this time, the present granite church building was built upon the site of the brick chapel, the cornerstone having been laid just fifty years after the organization of the church.
Our first war pastor was Rev. Philetus H. McDowell, D.D., who served both his country in camp and overseas from January 1, 1915 through September 15, 1923. A man of burning missionary zeal, he imparted a new conception of giving so that thousands of dollars were distributed yearly for Christ’s work here and in other lands. Possessed of great organizing ability, he took advantage of the latest developments in Christian education, grading and coordinating the work of the Church School and the young people. This, together with close affiliation with summer conferences, led again to a marked dedication of life and service by many of our youth.
Rev. Walter E Woodbury came to the pastorate in January 1924. By his sincerity and scholarly preaching, he reached the hearts of many in our parish and pursued with conscientious vigor the progressive program of his predecessors. His pastorate of six years was full of joy and blessing. The church reluctantly released him for a broader service to the denomination.
Rev. Harold V. Jensen became pastor in October 1930. A man of magnetic personality and recognized ability, deeply sympathetic with the perplexed, the sick, the sorrowing, and the needy, he won a large place for himself among all the people in the seven years of his ministry.
Rev. Wallace Forgey assumed the pastorate on January 1, 1939. He found a church united in spirit, generous in support of missions, devoted to the advancement of God’s kingdom. An able preacher and teacher, a wise counselor, tireless in his ministry to the sick and needy, he bound to himself by strong ties the resident and non-resident membership of 1508. During World War II, two hundred and sixty-six young men and women of our church enrolled in the service of their country.
With a fine property free of all debt, with a Church School of 811 as an assurance of the future, with an unfailing spirit of Christian unity, an open handed generosity, and a sound educational program, our prospects are as bright as the promise of God. With Christ as the chief cornerstone, we strive to build worthily for time and eternity.