A Brief History of First Baptist Church of White Plains
From the 1600s to this day, Baptists have advocated for religious freedom, tolerance, and the separation of church and state. In the 19th and 20th centuries, our Northern Baptist forebearers were progressive evangelicals. From planting churches on the frontier to the abolition of slavery, to supporting women's ordination and suffrage, to building colleges open to all, to addressing poverty and advocating for civil rights, the American Baptist Churches USA (formerly Northern Baptists) have a rich heritage of balancing the social and personal Gospel.
Following Christ's example, we seek to live faithfully and think critically, to maintain unity amid diversity, rejecting all forms of fundamentalism and intolerance as contrary to God's vision for religious practice and human community.
Out of this legacy, the American Baptist Home Mission Society of New York helped establish our church in 1871. Our 21-member congregation was admitted to the Southern New York Baptist Society and purchased the Dutch Reformed Church at the corner of Mamaroneck and Martine Avenues in downtown White Plains. By 1891, our church was self-supporting and able to build a parsonage for its Pastor.
Over time we developed our own passion for mission, planting a new church in Silver Lake in the early 1900s (now the West Harrison Community Baptist Church) and another church in Greenwich, CT. Individual missionaries were supported in China, Hong Kong, and Africa. In the 1970s, we established a ministry for Spanish speakers, which became Iglesia Misión Bautista Hispana de Westchester, our on-campus partner in ministry to this very day.
As White Plains grew, so did its churches. By 1917, our membership increased to 405. A new building was erected at the corner of Mamaroneck and Maple Avenues in 1926. With 700 members and a post-war Baby Boom by the 1950s, we outgrew our facilities.
Through the generous effort of church member Charles E. Wilson (then President of General Electric), the former summer estate of the J.C. Penney family was purchased. The 6.5 acre estate was located at the intersection of North Street and Bryant Avenue, next door to the new White Plains High School campus. A 500-seat sanctuary was added in 1960-61, followed by a gymnasium in 1968. Both the barn and carriage house were converted into residences, the barn eventually being renovated to become the Parsonage.
Changing demographics and cultural trends brought membership decline to many churches in our area, including ours, from the 1970s onward. Yet, challenge and change bring opportunity. Though we opened our facilities to outside organizations about 30 years ago to augment our income, we now see this as an expression of stewardship and service.
We are pleased to share our facilities with Iglesia Misión Bautista Hispana de Westchester, Cerebral Palsy of Westchester, Family Services of Westchester, as well as Al Anon and the American Meditation Society, and other groups. We also see the decline of so many churches as an opportunity to re-imagine our mission and renew our ministry for a "new normal." It's a new day!