First Baptist Church
116 W. Main Street
Ionia, Michigan
Built 1872

The initiatory step in the formation of the First Baptist church of Ionia was taken on June 24, 1834, at which time Rev. E. Loomis, agent of the American Baptist Home Mission Society, and Rev. S. Slater, of the Thomas mission station were present. After sermon and religious services, Samuel Dexter, Erastus Yeomans and Alfred Cornell, and their wives, formed themselves into a conference. On the 23rd of the following August, Reverend Loomis being present, the subject of church organization was discussed; it was thereupon decided to organize as the First Baptist church of Ionia.

W. B. Lincoln was the first candidate for baptism. The following day, August 24, 1834, Reverend Loomis preached at the home of Erastus Yeomans. After this service Reverend Loomis extended the right hand of fellowship to Brother Cornell in behalf of the church, also to W. B. Lincoln, who was to be the first church clerk. On the 18th of February, 1837, the church met at the school house in school district No. I, according to previous adjournment, and adopted the articles of faith and covenant presented by the following committee, appointed for that purpose, namely: J. Eaton, R. S. Park, W. B. Lincoln and Erastus Yeomans. The following were also members of the church at this time, all received by letter: George Dexter and wife, Stephen Dexter and wife, William Wood and wife, Jeremiah Eaton, Candis Dexter, Justus Barber, Mercy Smith and Delilah Clapsaddle. In August, 1837, Rev. A. C. Sangster, became pastor of the church and so continued until 1840, when he was succeeded by Rev. TH. D. Buttolph, who remained in this relation until 1844. The church at this time numbered forty-five members.

In 1845, Rev. Alfred Cornell became pastor and remained with the church until 1862, a period of seventeen years-years of faithful, untiring, consecrated service, not only to his own church people, but to all the surrounding country. During the early part of Reverend Cornell's ministration, a house of worship was erected; this building was occupied as a church until the completion of the new building in 1872. This first structure erected and dedicated as a church was the first and only church edifice in this section of the then wilderness, and for several years continued to be used for all large gatherings and wedding celebrations.

During Rev. Alfred Cornell's pastorate, many were added to the church membership by baptism or by letter, many were granted letters of dismission as they moved to adjoining places when new churches were formed. At the close of Reverend Cornell's first pastorate he was succeeded by Rev. E. H. Morrison, who remained with the church two years. Upon his resignation, Rev. Alfred Cornell was recalled and served the church for another two years, nineteen in all. Faithful in season and out of season; often preaching three times on Sunday, frequently riding forty miles to meet all these appointments, many times reaching Ionia late at night, faint and weary, not having stopped to taste food after an early breakfast. It can be said of him that he presented himself a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God.

In August, 1858. Rev. Levi Parmely accepted the call to the pastorate and remained four years. During his term of office, the present brick building was erected just west of the old church; and was dedicated on January 7, 1872. Since 1872 the following pastors have ministered faithfully and devotedly: Rev. John Rowley one year; Rev. E. O. Taylor, two years; Rev. John Donnelley, five years; Rev. D. Van Alstine, D. D., three years; Rev. T. S. McCall, two years. In December, 1886, Rev. T. S. McCall was ordained in the Ionia Baptist church. Rev. P. S. Henson, of Chicago, preached the ordination sermon, and Rev. Kerr B. Tupper, of Grand Rapids, gave the charge to the candidate. Then followed Rev. J. J. Phelps, three years; Rev. F. O. Dickey. three years; Rev. E. M. Jeffers, three years; Rev. D. L. Martin, five years. Rev. F. E. Branch, the present pastor (1916) came to the church in 1905, and is still its devoted and loyal minister.

During these eighty-two years, the church has grown in strength and number; the building has been remodeled, the lighting system changed, the pipe organ installed, the church work broadened and strengthened. Two veteran ministers, Rev. John Van Vleck, and Rev. John Coe, lent their wisdom and spiritual aid to the growing church in its earlier struggles. Two members of the church have entered the work of the ministry, Henry W. Powell and Herman J. Powell. So far as can be ascertained, this church was not only the first one organized in Ionia county, but the first of any denomination to be organized in this section of the state; antedating the first church in Grand Rapids by a year or more.

(from  History of Ionia County, Michigan : her people, industries and institutions, with biographical sketches (1916) pages 400-402)

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Postcard courtesy of Mark Patrick

Last update March 17, 2009