First Baptist Church, Lexington

Historical Significance

A number of African Americans worshiped in three of Lexington's white churches: Manley Memorial Church, the Episcopal Church, and the Presbyterian Church. On September 22, 1867, these members were permitted to withdraw and organize as the Lexington African Baptist Church. Meetings were held in many locations, led by the Rev. Milton Smith, who was reared in the community and baptized in the Manley Baptist Church in 1841. About 25 years later, the membership purchased the lot next to their church, with the intention of erecting a new building. The cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1894. Friends and laborers gathered after working all day to dig the foundation. The women held lanterns to provide light as there was no electricity in Lexington. Masons from the Moore family of Amherst, Virginia came later, and local residents helped with the carpentry. On April 16, 1886, the local weekly newspaper, the Rockbridge County News, published this account: "On last Sunday, about 75 converts of the First Baptist Church (colored) were baptized in the North River. It took one hour and was witnessed by at least 1000 people."
On September 29, 1905 the record states that 1400 persons attended services. The mortgage was paid and the bonds were burned by the bondsmen and by Sadie Lewis, while former pastors and local town leaders discussed race relations in Lexington. First Baptist Church remains an active congregation. 

Physical Description

The church is a two-story brick structure. All windows in the sanctuary are stained glass, and the interior features a cathedral ceiling, chandeliers, and the original pews.

Geographical and Contact Information

103 N Main St
Lexington, Virginia
24450
Phone: 540-463-4854
Fax: 540-464-4445

Cite this Page:

Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, “First Baptist Church, Lexington,” African American Historic Sites Database, accessed October 22, 2017, http://aahistoricsitesva.org/items/show/139.

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