by Kirby Lindsay, posted 20 October 2014
This month, the Fremont Baptist Church is having the sign on the top of its current building – the iconic sign that has become an identifier for our neighborhood from miles around – repainted.
While the Fremont Baptist Church members have provided for our community in small and large ways for over 100 years, they’ve also adapted and changed within their own community. It might be why they’ve survived as a community of worship in a neighborhood known for irreverence and whimsy.
Yet, from their site atop the crest of one of Fremont’s smaller hills, the FBC remains a fixture with a history of change.
At The Very Start
According to the FBC 75th Diamond Jubilee Booklet, the Fremont Baptist community began in 1889 with Mr. & Mrs. A.G. Wooster, who sought to unite the Baptists of their new neighborhood. With Reverend H.W. Black, Mr. Wooster secured the use of the Gospel Car Evangel as a place of worship on a railroad spur at the southeast corner “of Fremont Street and Ewing Street,” (possibly Fremont Avenue and N 34th St,) “just behind and in between the Fremont Fire Station and the small red railroad depot.”
In that era, specially outfitted railroad car served for worship and to establish new congregations all over the west. A Mr. Hoyt paid to have the Evangel built. It was 85 feet long and 11 feet wide, and could seat approximately 100 people in addition to providing living quarters for the missionary reverend and his wife. It was dedicated for missionary service in Cincinnati, Ohio in May of 1891. On March 20, 1892, the first Fremont Baptist worship service took place with Reverend E.G. Wheeler and 26 congregants. One week later, and the Evangel moved on to another service and the FBC rented a store building for its temporary meeting place.
The First Fremont Baptist Church
In January 1900, under Reverend James Cairns (and his extensive family – wife ‘Grandma Cairns’ and ten children,) the congregation of 28 members “with very little money; but with faith and vision… set out to build a church.”
FBC purchased two lots for $450 from Judge McDonald, and at a cost of just over $3,000 they built a wooden structure. The completed 44 foot by 66 foot church building had a baptistery but no basement and was dedicated on March 24, 1901. Later that year, they added a basement and voted the next year to add a furnace and heating plant.
With the congregation slowly growing (from 31 in October 1892 to 61 in December 1902,) the church notified the Home Mission Board of the American Baptists that they would be self-supporting. By the arrival of Dr. Elbert Hicks, the membership of Fremont Baptist had increased to 275. Under his leadership, the church community continued to expand (as did the surrounding neighborhood) and many Sunday mornings, the wooden building was filled to capacity with extra chairs brought in from the basement to accommodate the overflow.
The Church We Know Today
Between November of 1919 and November of 1924, the FBC purchased three adjacent lots for a total of $2,500. These lots gave the FBC 150 feet of frontage on North 36th St. In 30 minutes at a church meeting, inspired by Dr. Hicks, enthusiastic FBC members pledged $42,000 toward construction of a new structure.
They broke ground on the new, brick structure on April 7, 1924, and dedicated the new structure on December 7th of the same year. The building cost $43,851.56 to build, using revised plans that eliminated the steeple and a lower west wing. During its construction, Fremont Baptist services and Sunday School classes took place in the Fremont Odd Fellows Hall one block west.
The exterior of the current church building is done in Italian Renaissance, with the walls constructed of a so-called ‘Joseph’s Coat’ (many colored) brick. The sanctuary is 46 feet by 50 feet, excluding the platform, and has a seating capacity of 400. In April of 1927, the FBC secured an Estey pipe organ from Bremerton for $2,500. The original building was remodeled in 1951, with installation of a contoured ceiling, modernized oak pews, grey carpeting, new pulpit and lectern, new lighting, and a new backdrop to the main wall.
In addition to the sanctuary, the building has a large social hall, kitchen, restrooms, and classrooms in the basement. There are offices for the pastor and a church secretary, and a meeting room (once the ‘Ladies Parlor’) to the east of the sanctuary. The balcony, which once seated 150 more people, has been converted, in recent years, into a casual gathering space for youth.
In December of 1950, a sign was installed along the central roof line of the Fremont Baptist Church at a cost of $2,000. The 75th Booklet describes it as “a large, dignified neon sign… visible from the Aurora Bridge and many blocks in all directions.” The neon has since been removed, and the sign has been in slow deterioration for the last decades.
Our Community Church
In July 2004, Reverend (now Dr.) Judith Gay came on as pastor at Fremont Baptist Church, selected by a hiring committee of the congregation. She came to a church that had, just prior, spent three years as Fremont Community Church. The name change had been, according to sources, then and now, based on the decision of the previous pastor. The congregation chose to return to its original name before Dr. Gay arrived.
As Dr. Gay went out to introduce herself, and her church, around the region, she found most people knew it as ‘that church with all the 12-step programs.’ A recent published listing (which divided the Recovery Groups into Alcohol Dependency, Marijuana Addiction and Narcotics Addiction) had 14 groups holding regular meetings there, at all hours of the day and night.
In addition, during the day, Woodland Park Cooperative Preschool uses the basement classrooms and the fenced playground for its popular program for ages 3 – 5. On Sunday afternoons, The Hallows Church uses the sanctuary for its worship. This fall, a Fremont Baptist member started hosting a free hot lunch for those needing a meal on Thursdays at noon.
Of course, the best way to experience the Fremont Bapstist Church, its community, and the brick building on the hill, is to attend the worship service held Sundays, at 10:30a – and stay for fellowship hour at 11:30a.
“We worship and work together to present Christ and his love to the greater Fremont community and beyond,” is written on the back of the current FBC brochure, above the year it was established: 1892. From a brick edifice or a evangelical railroad car, Fremont Baptist Church serves our community.
- Fremont Baptist: Old Name On An Old Friend
- by Kirby Lindsay, April 6, 2005 in the North Seattle Herald-Outlook
- Meet The Oddfellows Hall, a.k.a. the I.O.O.F. Building
- by Kirby Lindsay, October 7, 2011
- An Always Orange Fremont Baptist At The Fremont Fair
- by Kirby Lindsay, June 16, 2014
©2014 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.