First Baptist Church celebrates 70 years
Bridge City may be named for its bridges – but Prairie View got its name from a church.
First Baptist Church celebrated 70 years Sunday but its religious roots go back to the 1877 one-room school house that became an outpost for worshipers on the coastal prairie that is now Bridge City.
Gravett School – near Turner Cemetery – was visited by circuit rider preachers once or twice a month for prayer and Sunday School. By 1894 a small, predominately Baptist congregation was organized. The founders named it Prairie View Church.
The name stuck and the settlement between the Neches River and Cow Bayou became known as Prairie View. The namesake church, however, did not survive the hurricane of 1915. Church members met in homes and later used Prairie View School until July 11, 1940, when a series of sermons by visiting Rev. O.D. Martin moved worshipers to build a new church.
Seventy years later a large gathering that included many descendants of founding church members celebrated the birth of First Baptist Church. Gospel music trio New Day performed during the 70th anniversary service. The special event was a tribute to the congregation’s long history in the community and a rededication to the principles which has sustained it.
Rev. Bob Boone currently pastors the growing congregation of 792 resident members. Rusty McRight is Music Director and Patti Burton is Children’s Director. Student Pastor is Joshua McDonald.
According to documentation by church historian Sally Waddell, First Baptist Church, originally named Blandale Baptist Church, was constructed on land provided by Mrs. Fara Bland Kibbe, a descendant of the town’s early settlers. Mrs. Kibbe helped the new congregation by cutting the cost of an acre to just $100.
Rev. J.B. Perry was chosen to guide the small flock of 27 charter members. Upon inception the church held baptisms off the shores of Old River Cove in Sabine Lake. Bessie Lou Howard, 8, became the first. Soon afterward Colene Ardoin and Catherine Young were also baptized.
Support for the new church came from membership and other local congregations. First Baptist Church of Orange donated the first hymnals. First Baptist of Port Acres provided burlap for classroom divider curtains. The first annual revival was put together with the help of W.W. Kennedy, pastor of Cove Baptist Church and Jaroy Weber, pastor of North Orange Baptist Church.
The first year was precarious but never hopeless for the faithful new congregation. By April 1942 meeting financial obligations had become urgent. Pledges were asked “for carrying on the Lord’s work at Blandale Baptist Church.” Four members made weekly pledges that combined was $5.50. Monthly pledges brought the total to $48.85, but even after cutting the pastor’s monthly salary from $50.00 to $30.00 there was still a $13.65 deficit in the operating budget. Part of the $62.50 needed to keep church doors open was the $25.00 church note and $1.00 for electricity.
Later, following the dedication of the Cow Bayou Swing Bridge in 1941, the town and the church took on the name Bridge City. Bridge City Baptist Church changed it’s name again in 1948 to First Baptist Church claiming the significance of its establishment.
The current sanctuary was built on the original site in 1953 under Pastor C.S. Miers. Today, the congregation is made up of 792 resident members.
Rev. Perry served as pastor until 1944. Maurice Aguillard, Wallace Lee and Jimmie Gray served until 1949. Miers led the church until 1961 when Bullard Jones took over. Robert Holt became pastor in 1967 until 1977; Charles Walton from 1977-91; and John Locklear from 1992-2003. Robert Boone became pastor in 2004.
Little has been documented about the 1877 Gravett School. P.B. Pilly was the school teacher and a Methodist preacher.
New Day was recently nominated for New Excelling Artist in the upcoming SGM FanFair Awards. The Texas-based gospel music trio consisting of husband and wife teams Bob & Pam Reeves and Jim & Kelley Matthews.
The SGM FanFair Awards are awarded by the readers of Christian Voice Magazine and fans of the SGM FanFair. The category of New Excelling Artist honors new artists who have seen a significant increase in their ministry over the past year.