The History of Calvary Baptist Church
Calvary Baptist Church had its beginnings in 1866 in Bradford, Massachusetts when Thomas Jones, a gentleman from Virginia made the transition north. After two years Thomas convinced his brother, Richard along with friends Randall Broadnax, Coleman Parker, and their families to move north to Massachusetts. This was the great time of southern migrations to the North They settled in the industrially bustling Merrimack Valley. Holding to their Southern tradition, the group held prayer services in their homes. The first years saw the bonding of ten families whose bond was not only cultural and racial but also and most importantly, a bond of strength in their love for the Lord.
In 1871, circuit preacher Rev. Edmund Kelley came to Bradford, Massachusetts after hearing about this small group and their prayer cottage. Rev. Kelley organized the members into a church in December of 1871. Sydney Mason, a prayer service attendee, hosted the first official church service at his home on Elm Street in Bradford. As the number of members grew, the need for more space was evident. Having just built a barn in his backyard located on Elm Street, Thomas Jones suggested services be held there. The First Baptist Colored Church of Bradford, as it was named, held its first official church service on December 18, 1871.
As Haverhill’s African American community grew, so too did the membership at The First Baptist Colored Church of Bradford. In April of 1874, the church moved from Bradford to a space above the Post Office on Merrimack Street in Haverhill, MA. At this time a decision was made to change the church’s name from The First Baptist Colored Church of Bradford to Calvary Baptist Church.
In 1882, church members raised money to buy land on Ashland Street. Architect C. Willis Damon designed the new church which seated 300 people, had a coal furnace, and gas lighting. The total cost to build the church was $1,600. In 1923 the church was renovated. These renovations included raising the building, building a kitchen and social hall under the sanctuary, a minister’s study in the rear of the church, and ladies parlor.
In 1925 a choir loft was built over the pulpit.
On November 10, 1977 arsonists set fire to the Calvary Baptist Church. The church had sustained over $100,000 worth of damages to the pulpit, choir loft, Pastor’s study, and Ladies parlor. The Universalist Unitarian Church offered its house of worship to Calvary Baptist so that Calvary could hold worship services. Services were held at the Universalist Unitarian Church from November 1977 to January of 1981.
In February of 1981, Calvary’s members were once again able to worship at 13 Ashland Street. It was a joyous, communal triumph, with the help received from so many in the Merrimack Valley and beyond. Calvary has not only continued to grow spiritually and in number, but physically as well. In more recent years, the church purchased an adjacent lot which is now the church parking lot and a building behind the church to hold Sunday school classes, the church archives room, meetings, and the Food Pantry. Other improvements include handicap access and exterior updates.
It is evident that from its very beginning, God had His hand on Calvary Baptist Church. As the fire of 1977 proved, what made and continues to make this a special place, are the people who serve and worship God at Calvary Baptist Church.