First Baptist Church
of Birmingham, Michigan
300 Willits Street
Founding Fathers and Mothers
Founded in 1870 as the First Regular Baptist Church, this church has served God in this community for almost one-hundred and forty years. The ten charter members originated from the states of Massachusetts and New York.
It was near the end of the time when Baptists were being persecuted for their beliefs. When these ten individuals set out to form a Baptist church at Birmingham they did so knowing the history of their faith in this country had been one of persecution. It was with strong convictions that they laid the framework for the congregation. Original records from the first nine years state the expulsion of a few members for failing to come to church on a regular basis.
The ten charter members were Eliza Anscomb, Joseph Donaldson, Joshua and Polly Fay, Esther and Samuel Holman, Benjamin Leach, Joseph Phillips, Albert Putnam and E. A. Valentine.
Eliza Anscomb was born in New York in 1805, other than his residence next door to the Holmans in1870 no other information has been found.
Joseph Donaldson was not found in the 1870 census. Nor was he listed in later census records. His time at the church was very short. He either died or moved on.
Samuel Holman was a harness maker. He and his wife, Esther were both born at New York, he about 1808 and she about 1818.
E. A. Valentine’s history is unknown.
Joshua and Polly (Chase) Fay arrived from Southboro, MA. They had the following children, all born most likely at New York; Charles, Mary Ann, Edmund and George W.. Joshua was born in 1800 and died about January 4, 1879. His wife Polly was born in 1803 or 1811, her death date is unknown. Joshua’s parents were Anna (Fairbanks) and Eli Fay of Southboro, MA. His grandparents were Lucy (Bemis) and Nathan Fay also of Southboro, MA.
If his parents and grandparents were also of the Baptist faith they would not have had the right to vote until after 1834 as the state of Massachusetts did not recognize the Baptist religion until that time.
Benjamin Leach was married to Marilla Page. She is not listed as a charter member as were the other known wives, Esther Holman and Polly Fay. The Leach’s were in Michigan by 1842 when there second child Harriet was born. Henry the eldest was born at New York in 1840. Other children born at Bloomfield Hills were John born 1844, Franklin born 1846, and Charles born 1853.
Joseph Phillips was one of the younger charter members having been born at New York in 1832. When he arrived in Michigan is not known but he was here by 1862 as his daughter Eva was born here in 1862 and baptized July 18, 1880 by the Rev. J. E. Bitting when she was about 18 years old. His son Elmer was born in 1864. Joseph’s wife was Margaret who was born at New York in 1838. The father of Joseph was born in Poland. At the time of the 1870 Michigan census the Phillips family resided at 312 Merrill Street.
At 41 years old Albert Putnam was the youngest charter member. He was born at New York in 1839 and owned his own bakery in the area by 1870 when he helped to found the church. His wife, Harriet was born in 1841 and had come from Canada. They had three children by the time of the 1870 census, all were born in Michigan. Albert was born in 1863, Mabel S. Was born in 1865 and the youngest known child was born in 1867.
First Pastor Brother Finn:
Originally this first congregation met in the homes of its members under the leadership of a pastor from Pontiac.
The 1870 census lists a Silas Finn, fifty eight of Avon who was a Minister. He had a wife, Cynthia and three children at home; James, Albert, and Linus.
Eventually the congregation shared a pastor with Royal Oak Baptist Church and met in the Academy building until it burned down. The Methodist Church allowed us the use of the building at the corner of Maple and Pierce until we were expelled for preaching the doctrines of the New Testament.... and after that Brother Finn preached in the streets.
1916 - 1922: Rev. Peter MacKay
Peter McKay was born in Aberdeen, Scotland. While pastor of a Baptist church in Providence, Rhode Island in 1916, he accepted the call from the First Baptist Church of Birmingham, Michigan. he left here and held other positions before returning here to retire. In the 1940's after retiring he took on the job of janitor of the church. He would take his suit to church and put it on after he had stoked the furnace. He would greet the congregation before and after the service. Many in the congregation did not know about his "moonlighting". (From granddaughter Fran McEvoy)
1927-November 1932: Rev. D. L. Woodward
Under the leadership of Woodward the original wooden frame church building was torn down that had served the congregation in the beginning. The congregation now had a solid vision towards the future and a firm faith in God and their pastor. Rev. David Leon Woodward, orchestrated and managed the building of the current church through the beginnings of the Great Depression. The old building fell and the current English Gothic structure stretched up towards heaven. It was a year and thirteen days from old to new. The depression had just begun. (From the History of First Baptist Church) The Church Archives The church maintains extensive archives files reaching back through the church's long history. Historical membership records, financial data, special programs, mission efforts, photographs and worship bulletins are all on file at the church.
A Word from Wes
(Sr. Pastor Sept. 2003- June 2015)
As I re-read one of the historical accounts of First Baptist Church if Birmingham, I was struck by some of the important information that was not included. There are many names and dates, facts and figures, accomplishments and controversies recounted. But, the whole story is not there in those pages.
Obviously, not every event or aspect of the life of the church will be recorded. However, there are other perspectives that should be considered.
One element of the life of this church that I see as vitally important to recall is the number of people, youth and adults, who have answered that call to serve as Pastors, Christian Educators, Chaplains and Missionaries sent from our congregation over the years.
Additionally, numerous members of our church have engaged in significant short term mission involvements. Many have provided denominational leadership on the National, Region and Association levels.
Lives have been touched by youth groups, in men’s and women’s activities, in choirs, in Sunday School classes, in small group Bible studies or special interest groups. Kind and loving words have been shared, and acts of friendship and even sacrifice have been made for one another.
There are countless ways, in the past, that lives have been changed that have not been specifically noted or listed in historical documents. They are just as important and maybe more so than those events and activities that are formally recorded in written histories of our church.
We are looking to the future of this great congregation. As we do, it is valuable to consider the legacy of the past and learn from that gift. It is wise to be aware of the contributions that are found “between the lines” of narratives we possess. Learning from our pas is critical to facing our future. By being aware of the systemic tendencies, both positive and negative, that are a part of the spirit if this church, we can be helped to grow together in accomplishing the dreams and visions that have been laid before us.
What is true for a congregation is true for us in our personal walks of faith.
Once again we can affirm, “As God has been faithful to us in the past, we can trust God to help us become a people of vision for today and tomorrow”. We may not readily recognize how God has been faithful. It all may not have been written in annuals of our history. I would encourage you to own and embrace the untold stories and to remember that the key to our future is in trusting the One who has brought us “safe, thus far”.
The Church Archives
The church maintains extensive archives files reaching back through the church's long history. Historical membership records, financial data, special programs, mission efforts, photographs and worship bulletins are all on file at the church.