Donald Macomber was the pastor of the Epsom Baptist Church in 1961
when the centennial of the Baptist Church was celebrated. His history
is online at Epsom History.com. At the same time, previous pastor,
Dr. Emmet Russell, had retired and returned to Epsom and remained
a member of the church. His article on the history of the building
was part of the centennial celebration. This history has been on
the website as well, but its author was unknown. An original type-written
manuscript, with 'by Rev. Emmett Russell' added in pen, attributes
this history to him.
HISTORICAL ADDRESS AT THE CENTENNIAL OF THE PRESENT
BUILDING OF THE EPSOM, NEW HAMPSHIRE, BAPTIST CHURCH, JULY 1961
Rev. Emmett Russell
The Freewill Baptist
Church in Epsom was organized July 1, 1824,under the leadership
of Elder Arthur Caverno, its first pastor. For ten years worship
services were held in Deacon Marden’s barn at Marden’s Corner, now
the Traffic Circle. A society to handle business affairs was organized,
and the first church building erected in 1834, on the present site.
The church began in revival
among a small group of believers, which resulted in their reaching
out to others, so that the church was evangelistic from the first.
Serious discipline problems soon arose, which were met in a forthright
manner, with due deliberation but no beating about the bush. However,
every time the reviving power of the Holy Spirit came upon the little
flock, the records indicate that discipline problems vanished. The
positive power of the Spirit of God in the lives of men and women
exercised more effective discipline than the negative restraints
imposed by men.
Early records show that
the people who formed it desired a “free” church, that is, one not
linked with town and state government; and that the type of church
life they envisioned was intensely practical. For instance, two
aims expressed were that the members would not “grudge” one another
in such matters as dress; and that they could care for the poor
among their own number.
By 1861 the Society felt
the need of a more commodious building. William Goss bought the
old building and removed it to Gossville, where, enlarged and altered,
it remains as a store and post office. The building was moved by
oxen. When they reached the place where Fred Knight now lives, the
church stuck fast and could not be soon dislodged. It was Saturday
night. The building was so badly tipped that when the worshippers
sat in the pews on Sunday morning, some became seasick because of
the angle at which they were tilted.
Quoting the church records:
“April 1, 1861. The winter past, the Lord has again revived his
work. The church as been quickened into a new life and interest,
and quite a number of souls have found the Savior. The Society has
decided to build a new house of worship this season, and this with
the revival gives a fresh interest in all things. Tho’ the beginning
of the terrible civil war makes things look dark and paralyzes the
industrial pursuits of life. Out hope of success is in the Most
There were baptisms twice
in August, once in September.
Again quoting the records:
”Dec. 25, 1861. A happy Christmas to us, tho’ stormy, in the dedication
of our new house of worship. For about thirty years the Church worshipped
in the old house, where we saw much of the power of God in the conversion
of souls, from time to time. All felt that the time had come when
we needed a more convenient house to worship it. An effort was made
to raise a subscription sufficient to build a new house, and in
this we were successful. The old house was disposed of without much
difficulty, and the stockholders of the new decided on the same
site of the old. The work was commenced in the latter part of May
and completed in December. Bro. James B. Stanton of West Lebanon,
Me., was master workman, and won out high esteem as a workman and
a manager. The pews sold very readily and all were perfectly satisfied
with the new house. The house was dedicated to the worship of God,
Dec. 25, 1861. Eld. MA. Quimby, the pastor of the church, preached
the sermon, founded on Gen. 28:17, ‘And he was afraid, and said,
How dreadful is this place: this is none other but the house of
God, and this is the gate of heaven.’”
(Outline) “I. Some of
the appropriate opportunities in the house of God.”
“II. The immense value of Christian opportunities in the house of
God. The exercises were interesting and quite satisfactory to all.
We felt that the Lord had prospered us beyond our expectations.
May this church edifice long stand consecrated to the worship of
the Most High, and constantly occupied with an intelligent and spiritual
ministry of attentive hearers. The Lord make it the birthplace of
many souls, who shall shine as the stars forever and ever.
Thomas Tripp, Clerk, Epsom, Dec. 25, 1861”
Thus our present church
building was erected in troubled times. In February 1861 the Confederacy
was formed at Montgomery, Ala. Jefferson Davis arrived in Richmond,
Va., on June 30 and Richmond was made capital of the new Confederacy.
The border state hesitated, but Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri
staid in the Union. The upper Mississippi Valley states were loyal;
they wanted no custom houses between themselves and New Orleans.
Fort Sumter, S.C., was
fired on April 12, and fell April 14. The flag of the United States
of America had been fired on: April 15 President Lincoln called
for 75,000 volunteers to join with the regular army in putting down
the rebellion. The North expected the war to be over in months.
The South also felt that
is had reasonable expectation of a speedy victory. The South did
not have to conquer the North in order tow win: all it had to do
was convince the North that the North could not win. Many regular
army officers, including Robert E. Lee, had gone over to the Confederacy.
The spirit of Southern men was more martial. England and France
were expected to sympathize with the South. The Northwest would
want to settle the quarrel quickly in order to keep the Mississippi
River open for its commerce. Lincoln agreed that the Federal Government
could not interfere with slavery in any state, and wanted a constitutional
amendment to settle that question. Lincoln would enforce the Fugitive
Slave Act, because it was the law.
News from the front was
bad. July brought the monstrous defeat for the North at Bull Run.
Men’s hearts were failing them from fear. Yet this was the year
in which Epsom people built the house in which we worship today.
What kind of men were
they who built this house? The same sort of men whose loyalty, courage
and devotion saved the Union and preserved for us this “one nation
under God, indivisible.” Your grandfathers and great-grandfathers
were the men. It is dangerous to single out a few for mention, but
there are three whose position and prominence must let them stand
for many worthy of mention but unnamed.
Of William Goss, the
Merrimack County History says: “In the building of the new church
in Gossville too much credit cannot be given Mr. Goss for the energy,
perseverance and persistence with which he advocated and assisted
the enterprise. When others were discouraged and ready to abandon
the matter altogether, he took the leadership and bore, for the
time being, the burdens himself, and carried it forward to completion.”
William Goss was born
July 13, 1820, received June 10, 1848 to become a member of the
church after baptism, which took place June 25, 1848. He was a member
of te Society also an ardent Democrat. He built many of the houses
in Gossville, and died May 2, 1887.
Thomas Tripp kept clear
and informative records of this period, sensitive to the human and
the spiritual aspects of the life of the church. He was clerk from
1845 to 1871 and deacon from 1855 to 1871.
Many names which appear
in the church records are still represented in town. Doubtless family
tradition preserves the memory of the worthy service and staunch
character of men and women who labored as they lived, for God and
country during the stern times of the War Between the States.
Pastoral leadership when
this house was built was in the hands of the Reverend Moses A. Quimby,
whose four pastorates of this church included some of the most fruitful
seasons in the work of Christ in this community.
Elder Quimby was pastor
from September 1850 to April 1858; from April 1860 to April 1863;
from November 1869 to January 1872; and from April 1885 to April
1887; a total of fourteen years and two-thirds. For a pastor to
serve the same church twice is rare; four pastorates with intervals
between probably constitute a unique record, and a more eloquent
testimony to the worth of the man than an even longer continuous
pastorate would be. Each of his pastorates was marked by revival
from beginning to end. Revival among the brethren stimulated interest
among the unconverted, resulting in conversions, and the Suncook
River often witnessed the baptismal confessions of new-born souls.
Such were the men who
built this church. You whose family traditions include them may
profitably indulge imagination in picturing the sturdy men and women,
boys and girls who filled this house in its earliest days. May the
memories and associations stimulate us all to like devotion to the
Lord Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, that the sacrifices and
the successes of 1861 may be renewed in 1961.
This building cost about
$2,200, besides donated labor and material. Pews sold for $50, and
some families needed two. There was no vestibule; instead of the
present central door, two doors led immediately from outdoors. Between
them was a raised platform for the choir, high enough to house the
Sabbath School library underneath. Among benefactors of this library
is the Reverend Bartholomew Van Dame, who, though pastor for only
year, 1837-38, when he was a young man, many years later left by
his will $100., the income to buy books for this church.
The congregation turned
around to face the choir when singing the hymns. At one time a melodeon
was used, then a reed organ, until the present pipe organ was installed.
The windows were plain, and smaller than the present windows. The
pews were white, with brown tops, and painfully straight-backed.
But one could bring his own cushion and a cricket for the feet,
if desired. At the front on wither side were facing seats for deacons,
who were active in assisting the pastor with the administration
of church affairs. Heat was furnished by large wood stoves at the
rear, with funnels the length of the room. Perhaps the habit of
sitting as near the rear as possible was thereby promoted. Belfry
and bell were later additions, with the vestibule.
The vestry was added
in 1888, through the efforts of the women. Memorial windows were
installed during the pastorate of the Reverend J. Woodbury Scribner
in the 1890’s. With the installation of a furnace, first for wood,
and now converted to oil, and the addition of electric lights, the
story of major changes brings us up to date. Last winter the church
interior was painted.
As we sit in this house
today, the pews are more comfortable, the lighting better, the instrumental
music more abundant. Stained glass windows turn our thoughts inward
rather than drawing them outward. Our clothing is different, and
our thoughts are far different, for the world has changed in a hundred
years, changed more and more rapidly than in any previous century
of human history. Yet the same human needs remain; the same heart-cry
for compassion, forgiveness, love and understanding. And the same
divine power to meet these needs is available today in Jesus Christ,
who is the same yesterday, today and forever.
For me, there is no place
of worship quite like the Epsom Baptist Church. It is a “place of
quiet rest, near to the heart of God” rich with my memories of more
than a third of its long century. I think that many of you feel
the same way about this house. Let us cherish it, keep it clean
and beautiful, filled with the sincere praises and fervent prayers
of earnest men and women, and the glad songs of our boys and girls,
resounding always with the compassionate voice of faithful preaching
of “the full-orbed beauty of the Word of God” until Jesus comes