History of Baptists in the Salt Lake Valley
To discover the roots of Baptist’s in the Salt lake Valley, one must look not to the ordained clergy, but to Mr. and Mrs. James E. Berkeley, Baptist Laypersons from Ohio, who were a part of the very first gatherings of Baptists in the Valley and were instrumental in helping the Baptist Church lay down roots in Utah. Baptists first began to gathered for services in homes when a Minister named Rev. George W. Dodge was stationed here as part of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1871. The Berkeley’s were among this fledgling community. The church had high hopes but soon after Rev. Dodge was reassigned, the church disbanded in 1875. It wasn’t until 1881 when the Baptist Mission Society sent Rev. Dwight Spenser that the Baptists organized again. Rev. Spencer sought out Baptists in Salt Lake and found James and Annie Berkeley, the only remnant of Rev. Dodge’s flock, who opened their home and in July of 1882, held the first service of the new Baptist church in their Parlor. They soon moved to Pendleton Hall which was above a Blacksmith shop on Second Street the cornerstone of a permanent edifice was laid on August 26th, 1883 thus establishing the permanent presence of Baptists in the Salt Lake Valley and beginning many decades of faithful ministry to the people of Salt Lake City in the name of Christ.
The new building was dedicated on March 16, 1884, along with a two story school building. The new church was strongly committed to mission in the community. It established several missions, including East Side Baptist Church. In 1908, First Baptist Church merged with East Side Baptist Church, creating a new church called Immanuel Baptist Church. The combined congregation met in a Jewish synagogue until the completion of a church building at the corner of Fourth East and Second South streets. The cornerstone for the “church with the columns” was laid on October 23, 1910. Four hundred seventy-four persons transferred their membership to Immanuel Baptist Church. In 1947, the congregation voted to change the name of the church to “First Baptist Church of Salt Lake City” reflecting their long heritage in the valley.
In September, 1949, pledges were taken to build a new building. Many members mortgaged their homes, provided “sweat equity,” or both to help build the new facility. In January, 1950, L. S. Skaggs, a prominent local businessman, donated $20,000 for the purchase of land on the corner of 1300 East and 800 South Streets. Work on the site began in fall, 1950; the cornerstone was laid on Thanksgiving Day, 1951. On January 4, 1953, over 1,000 people worshipped in the sanctuary for the first time, even though the stained glass windows had not yet been installed and their openings were temporarily covered. The congregation dedicated the Skaggs Memorial Chapel, named in honor of L. S. Skaggs and his wife, on February 24, 1954. Finally completed, the new First Baptist Church building was dedicated on April 25, 1954. Since its beginning, First Baptist Church has been an important part of the community in Salt Lake City. We have seeded several “mission churches” in the valley, opened a Child Care Center, started a Credit Union, been home to many music and community groups and have been a church home for thousands over the years. We look forward to many more years of faithfulness and ministry in this great city.