History of Church Building
The earliest Baptist services were held as occasional meetings in the woods or in worshippers’ homes. In 1831, the Baptist pioneers decided to organize a church of their own. They turned to ‘a building kept for a young ladies school’. Although this school was not named in the account of the time, it may well have been the Owego Female Seminary established in 1828 by Juliette Camp. In 1858, W.H. King referred to the site as being ‘on Front Street on the ground now occupied by Mr. Camp’s Foundry’.
When the school could no longer be used for church activities, permission was obtained from the Sheriff to hold meetings in the Court House. The congregation met there at the time they were recognized as a church. Unfortunately, this arrangement was short-lived. On assembling for worship one Sabbath morning, they found the Deputy Sheriff had closed the door against them. In disappointment and dismay, they returned to their homes. They then sought and obtained permission from the Board of Supervisors to occupy the building. Although permission was granted, the Deputy once again locked them out.
On October 8, 1831, a committee was appointed from the congregation to seek a different meeting site. The rapidly approaching winter weather forced the committee, made up of Deacon Asa Woolverton, Deacon Nathaniel Spencer, and Brother Ebenezer Daniels, to come to a decision quickly. The only immediately available space was Daniel Chamberlain’s wagon shop located on the southwest corner of Main and Park Streets. The deal was quickly closed, the committee paying $14 for six months rent. The congregation remained there throughout the winter with no heat using log benches as pews.
The church moved again at the end of the agreed-to six months, this time to a building owned by William A. Ely. The building was located on the south side of Front Street and was used as a Masonic Hall. The Baptists met on the third floor.
By 1833, the congregation was sufficiently strong to build its own house of worship. The edifice was built on a lot purchased from Charles Pumpelly for the sum of $275. At that point, the congregation voted to authorize the Deacons to raise a subscription to build a meeting house as soon as possible. The land was located on the corner of Main and Church Streets, the present church site.
On January 8, 1835, the small frame structure (40′ x 60′) was formally dedicated. The pulpit stood at the south end with a gallery supported by large wooden posts extending around the west, north, and east sides. The choir was stationed in the north end of the gallery. This structure proved adequate until August 1843. By August 1845, the meeting house had been altered and repaired and a conference room added at a cost between $1,100 and $1,200. Ambrose Townsend was the builder. During 1846, additional land to the south and east of the church was purchased from Charles Pumpelly for $204.
The first town clock in Owego was placed in the Baptist Church steeple in May 1846. The clock was the invention of Charles Frederick Johnson who constructed the device with the help of John Speed of Ithaca. It had four dials and was run by huge weights. The clock was arranged with a striking apparatus and the hours were struck upon the church bell. Some problems were later encountered with the bell and also with hiring men to keep the clock wound. In October 1856, the street commissioner removed the clock at the church’s request and returned it to Johnson.
As the congregation continued to grow, the church building rapidly became inadequate. In 1856, the entire building was sold to Ezra Canfield, an early member of the church, who removed it to a lot opposite the Owego Hotel where General I. B. Ogden’s cabinet shop had burned. This today would be on Main Street opposite Lake Street.
Additional vacant land east of the church was contracted for in 1851 for $500 so adequate land was available when construction was begun on the new church building in December 1856 by James A. Dean. The deal for the land was closed with David Mersereau in May 1863. Work moved along rapidly with the foundation being laid the following April and completion of the church just one year later in December 1857 at a cost of $16,000. The new building was dedicated January 14, 1858.
In June 1863, the church purchased yet more property to the south of the church building for $670. No further construction on the church building was attempted until 1869. Remodeling and repairs continued until 1871. During that period the two towers at the north end of the church were replaced by James A. Dean and Miles Howes, carpenters, and J. S. Houk and A. H. Keeler, masons. One of the towers was converted into a steeple and the other to a more modern style tower. The north wall and the greater part of the west wall were taken down and a portion of the building was extended out toward Church Street to make an alcove for the organ and choir. A baptismal pool was constructed at the back of the pulpit and separated by sliding doors. At the south end of the building, a large brick addition, two stories high, was built as conference rooms. The total cost of these improvements lay between $15,000 and $20,000. The reconstructed edifice was dedicated on March 16, 1871 by the Reverend Dr. E. Dodge, President of Madison University (now Colgate University).
Twenty-five years later in 1896 the building was again remodeled. In the summer of 1896, a sloping floor was installed in the Sanctuary, three feet higher at the entrance than at the alter. Also at that time, oak pews of semi-circular design were added by Lucius Ford at a cost of $4,500.
After the turn of the century, new ideas in architecture were introduced. In keeping with the times, the decision was made to paint the brick exterior of the church a gray hue. The women of the church rallied to the cause and in June 1909 presented the church with the required funds to finance the project.
By 1911, the trustees felt the need of further interior improvements and so signed a contract with Kinmear and Gager Manufacturing Company of Columbus, Ohio to install a steel ceiling, put up wainscoting and lower two arches. The total cost was $970. With this work completed, the next step was to redecorate. In July 1911, a painting and decorating contract was awarded to A. S. Frauk for $750. A gold leaf was added to the ceiling, installed for $150. New draperies and carpets completed the decor. During this same time, the Haskins Art Company of Rochester, New York was engaged to replace all the windows. Done in tones of blues, greens and golds, the total cost for the work on the interior was $5,268.
In February 1916, the original smaller pulpit area platform was enlarged to its current size. In October 1919, modern conveniences were installed beginning with an inside men’s bathroom. By 1924, the women of the church raised over $1,800 to enlarge the church kitchen. At the same time, the upstairs Sunday School room was repaired at a cost of $1,235. The last transaction involving the site on which the church stands took place in the summer of 1925. At that time, ‘part of the lot back of the church was sold to H. J. Briggs for $600′, approximately 60′ x 65’. From 1927 to 1933, the doors and windows in the middle upstairs Sunday School room were wired to permit basketball practice. In 1929, a tennis court was constructed on the church grounds and was used until the summer of 1934 at which time the fence was removed and the court plowed under.
In 1938, the congregation once again took a long, hard look at the exterior of the church building and decided that what was handsome to the people of 1869 was not for them. They ordered the removal of the steeple to ‘conform in height with the tower on the opposite corner’. In 1942, a new roof was installed. Also in 1942, with World War II at its height, the village of Owego felt the need for an air raid warning device. The mayor requested the use of the church bell for such a signal and it was so granted. From October to December 1945, a Boy Scout troop formed in the church worked under the supervision of their adult leaders to excavate an area in the church basement for a meeting room. In April 1947, the decision was made to invest $8,300 to purchase and install new heating equipment. A new chimney was also built. During 1948, the Sanctuary was redecorated. The side walls were painted green, the ceiling blue, and dark green trim with colonial white wood work trimmed with gold. The sanctuary floors were resurfaced for $400 and the carpets shampooed. New draperies for $142 completed the project.
In July 1953, a fire escape was built from the second floor, a front entrance cloak room was converted to a Sunday School room in 1954, and a new carpet was installed in the Sanctuary in 1955. In January 1955, Snyder Brothers removed the window in the gable facing Church Street and enclosed the space for $2,000. New sewers and cesspool were installed in 1957 at a cost of $974. In March 1957, Snyder Brothers laid new Sunday School room floors, covering them with asphalt tile. By January 1959, the installation of conversion gas burners and the insulation of the entire attic had been accomplished. By November 1959, a nursery and kindergarten were built next to the kitchen area and the baptistery area was rebuilt to include dressing rooms on each side. The total cost was $47,366. An open house and rededication ceremony was held on December 6, 1959.
In February 1960, the kitchen facilities were improved. In 1961, shrubs were planted at the sides and front of the church. Because of increasing and prohibitive maintenance costs, the old pipe organ was replaced in August 1964 with an Allen electronic organ purchased for $11,300. During the end of 1964, a water heater for the baptistry was installed and the choir loft expanded to include storage for robes and music. The Sanctuary was repainted in March 1965 for $800, the exterior of the church was painted in August 1966 for $7,000, and the driveway at the rear of the church was blacktopped. It was at this time that the exterior building color was changed from gray to red. In 1968, the sidewalks were rebuilt around the church.
In late 1969, work began to excavate the remaining basement area to provide additional space for church programs. This work was completed Spring 1971, the total cost of the project was approximately $45,000. This project also included the expansion and modernization of the church kitchen and the creation of the Fellowship Hall next to the kitchen area. A parking lot in the rear of the church was developed and blacktopped. Later in 1971, the church received a new roof and the Sanctuary was redecorated. In 1972, the second floor Sunday School rooms were redecorated and a lavatory was installed on that floor. In the summer of 1975, a large tree in the front of the church fell during a storm, damaging the front of the church. Repairs were made to the stained glass window, the structure of the front church wall and the exterior paint. During 1977, a new vapor light was installed to illuminate the parking lot, storage cupboards were built in the Church Street hallway, fiberglass insulation was installed in the basement walls, repairs were made to the stained glass windows, storm windows were added to the Fellowship Hall. During 1978, the church was further insulated and the balcony in the back of the Sanctuary was sealed off to reduce heat loss. Wall paneling was added to the upstairs hallway and several new cabinets and closets were built. A partition was built to separate the large upstairs classroom into two rooms.
Also in 1978, Plexiglas storm windows were installed on all Sanctuary windows.
In 1980, a major redecoration of the Sanctuary included: refinishing of the floors, new pew cushions, repainting of all surfaces, new carpeting and relettering on the stained glass windows. In the early 1990’s, interior insulated walls were constructed against the east and west Sanctuary walls to better insulate the area, increase temperature control and reduce the maintenance that was required of the painted masonry walls.
The Shepherd’s Window
Located in the front wall of the church, this window was originally planned by Mary McQuigg Baker as a memorial to her beloved mother, Mary Freeland McQuigg (1819-1882). Unfortunately, Mrs. Baker died before the window could be completed. Her husband, Francis M. Baker, completed the project in 1911 honoring both women. The work of actually constructing and installing the window was done by the Haskins Art Company of Rochester, N.Y. at a cost of $500.