How was Chestnut Street Baptist Church started?
In the year 1808, a group of nine people met in a private home in Camden village to organize a church. They continued to meet, pray and worship in private homes and schoolhouses for about 30 years to organize what was then known as the Second Baptist Church. Its membership was up and down during this period, until 1836 when the Maine Baptist Convention sent Elder Kimball to both inspire and help them. He was successful in gathering the flock together and adding new members. Encouraged by their new awakening they set about to build a house of worship in 1837, overlooking the lovely Camden Harbor where it still stands today.
The building itself was to be 52 feet by 40 feet and divided to contain 60 pews, which would cost about fifty dollars apiece more or less “according to location or situation”.
By the year 1846, Rev. Nathaniel Butler had become the pastor and remained until 1868 except for a brief time during the Civil War. During the winter of 1864 - 1865 he went to Washington DC, as the private secretary to the then Vice President Hannibal Hamlin.
A fine pipe organ was installed in 1881 and served faithfully for seventy-one years, replacing a melodeon.
A baptistery was installed in 1890. Previously baptisms had been held at the head of Sherman’s Cove or occasionally at Megunticook Lake.
Several memorial windows have been added from time to time, the most prominent being the lighted scene of the “Good Shepherd” which has given the church the name of “The Church with the Lighted Window”.
The present parsonage was built on Belmont Avenue in 1896. This charming home for the pastors of the church for many years to come was built largely from legacies left in the estates of two dear members, Darius Sherman and Mary E. Thomas.
The church’s spire, a visible landmark ever pointing the way to God, was taken down in 1853, when many planks of wood rotted out and the structure was deemed unsafe. Unfortunately it was necessary to remove the beautiful spire again in 1887 for many of the same reasons.
“For twenty years its lofty height had made it a landmark for the many ships navigating the bay and river”.
It was again replaced in 1980, when an aspiring Eagle Scout from Camden, Billy Young, determined to replace the spire to earn his Eagle Scout rank. Architect Christopher Glass designed the new 34-foot spire. The spire has held the town clock since 1868.
In 1926, four summer families purchased the property left vacant when the Old Bay View Hotel burned down. They gave it to the town for the purpose of a village green. In 1928 the church was painted yellow at a cost of $245. The following year, Mrs. Edward Bok offered to pay for the paint and labor to have the church repainted white to provide better harmony with the village green.
The church has ordained, licensed, and sent into Christ’s ministry several of its own young men throughout the years. It has also had the privilege of seeing others of its youth in Christian service in Mission fields and Christian outreach within our own country.
Thirty-six pastors have served the Chestnut Street Baptist Church since its beginning including Pastor Adam Kohlstrom serving as current Pastor, having been installed on June 15, 2008.
On the occasion of its 126th birthday, Pastor LeRoy Campbell wrote in his book, The History of the Chestnut Street Baptist Church:
“It must be remembered that the church has contributed more to the community than can ever be described on paper. Through storm and stress it has ever pointed the way to the better life and has imparted to its members comfort and hope however short of perfection it may itself at times have fallen. After five years of worldwide depression and social revolution, it still faces the future with faith in its mission and courage to carry on”.
In 2008, two hundred years after the dream of nine people was realized, The Chestnut Street Baptist Church looks to the future with renewed hope and faith in its mission and the courage to carry on for a “future greater than our memories”.
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