The following article by Charles Hartley originally appeared in The Courier-Journal on 24 Oct 2012. It is archived here with additional information for your reading enjoyment.
Today, 175 years ago, Shepherdsville was in the midst of a revival meeting that resulted in the establishment of "The United Baptist Church of Jesus Christ of Shepherdsville," the forerunner of today's First Baptist Church of Shepherdsville.
This meeting, which ran October 19-30, 1837, was held in the county courthouse, then located within the square at the intersection of what is now Joe B. Hall Avenue and Buckman Street.
The impetus for this revival meeting came from the desire of a local businessman and his wife, John and Nancy Baker, for a local church to attend. At that time, there were no churches at all in Shepherdsville. At their request, Thomas J. Fisher, a prominent Baptist evangelist, came to town to hold the revival.
On the last day, Fisher led the gathering downriver next to Baker's forge where 67 were baptized. It seems that the entire town showed up to watch this event. Then they returned to the courthouse where the new church was established with its membership including 68 persons, 20 of whom were slaves. A call was issued to Francis F. Seig to be the church's first pastor.
For twelve years the church continued to meet in the courthouse. Then, in September 1849, the church, under the leadership of Preston B. Samuels, joined with the local Masonic Lodge to purchase the land on which the current church stands. Together they constructed a brick building, forty by sixty feet. The Lodge used the upper floor, with the church occupying the main floor.
During the Civil War, this building was commandeered by Federal troops for use as a hospital, forcing church members to find another place to hold services, likely in homes.
Following that war, the church witnessed a period of ups and downs in attendance, and at one point in the early 1880's it appears that no services were held at all. The church building, which had suffered from its use during the war, was in a sorry condition, and almost uninhabitable.
Then, following another revival, the church was revitalized. Under the pastorate of Dr. Benjamin Goss, a new church building was erected in 1886. It was described as a "quaint little frame building," with a small congregation.
Over the next sixteen years, the church population remained more or less stable with a number of pastors, each staying only a short time. Then, in 1902, church minutes reported that the church was "without a pastor and discouraged."
Late that year, Sam P. Martin was called as pastor. During his stay, the church membership rose from 63 in 1903 to 305 in 1911. During that time the church built a new brick building on the corner lot, dedicating it in 1910. It was a beautiful church with stained glass windows.
After Brother Martin left, the church had a number of short-term pastors until 1923 with the arrival of L. L. Burkhalter who pastored while attending the Seminary. By 1932, church membership had reached 437. October 30, 1930, was a sad day for the church with the death of Brother Burkhalter's wife who was well loved by all.
After Burkhalter left, the church went through several pastors until 1945 when Bruce V. Hartsell, who was then a student at the Seminary, came as pastor. Brother Hartsell would remain as pastor until 1973. During his tenure, the church constructed an educational building (now the church office building) in 1951; and then in December 1966 ground was broken for a new sanctuary. The present building was dedicated the following August. It includes the stained glass windows from the former sanctuary.
The old church building was torn down in 1973. In that same year, Bruce Hartsell resigned and, together with other members of the church, started the Shepherdsville Baptist Chapel. Since that time, First Baptist has had eight different pastors, and, at this writing, is ably led by Dale Raines.
During that time, there have also been a number of associate ministers, particularly for the youth program. In the mid-seventies, Randy Cheek led the youth choir group named "The Jesus Express" on a tour of New England; and in the nineties Bill Thomas developed a youth handbell choir that traveled extensively to conventions and on tours. Programs like these have helped to develop youth who have gone on to serve in other churches. Two examples are Greg Barr and Tommy Valentine who have both pastored churches. There are many others, too numerous to mention, who continue to work within the church as well.
The church continues today to be an active part of its community, with a new educational building and Fellowship Hall which provide space for the church preschool, and for numerous community functions. First Baptist also continues to serve its community with an active food pantry and clothes closet to help meet the needs of others.
Thanksgiving is an important time in the life of the church as it hosts the annual Community Thanksgiving Service sponsored by the Fellowship of Concern, and also provides a Thanksgiving meal for many in our community.
To celebrate its 175th anniversary, the church planned a number of events beginning on Wednesday, October 31, and running through Sunday, November 4. Were you there?
Copyright 2019 by Charles Hartley, Shepherdsville KY. All rights are reserved. No part of the content of this page may be included in any format in any place without the written permission of the copyright holder.