At Watsontown Baptist Church we have focused on family and community for over 175 years. To get an idea of who we are – here is our history:
During the 1800s, a traveling Baptist missionary, Elder Thomas Smiley, would preach at various places along the Susquehanna River. One of the places his boat stopped at was Watsontown. Many of the residents in the town would listen to him, whenever he preached.
Several of these persons decided to start a Baptist congregation and among these were Robert Lucy and Joseph Everett, H. Delaney and his wife and A. S. Anderson. In 1840, these men were successful in organizing a Baptist church in the area.
They hired the Rev. William S. Hall, assisted by a W. B. Bingham, to be their pastor. The meetings were held at one of the earliest schools and Watsontown at the Swamp Schoolhouse at Bald Eagle and Sinking Springs Road, now Fifth and Liberty Street. He also traveled by horseback to Sterner’s Grove, about four miles above Watsontown in the present area of the Delaware Run Pilgrim Holiness church. Here he preached every few weeks in a wooded Grove, where they later built a church. Members came to the services by boat (down at the small run) by horseback, wagons or on foot and stayed most of the day, listening to the sermons.
In 1841, the church was organized, and was called The Union Baptist Church. There were 32 members. The following names appear on the charter: John Snyder, John Oyster, Joseph Everitt, Robert Everitt, Samuel Dougherty, Lansing and William Burrows, Tom Crawford, Amos Anderson, Benjamin Oyster, Mary McCoy, Lucy and Elizabeth Everitt, Mary Macky and Mary Burrows.
The church was accepted into the Northumberland Baptist Association at a special meeting in the Madison Baptist Church, Moreland County, August 12, 1841 the membership grew to 60 members in 1843 and they continued at Sinking Springs Swamp Schoolhouse and at Delaware Run until the church was built in a wooded grove along Delaware Run in 1847. Members were baptized in the run.
Meetings continued to be held at the church with J.G. Miles as one of the preachers, until members decided to purchase a lot in Watsontown in 1868, the site of the present location at Fifth and Main streets. The lot was purchased from George Burns for $687. The name was changed to the Watsontown Baptist Church. The white frame building was erected in February 1870. The members met in the basement, until the rest of the church could be finished. Members brought their own oil lamps to the meetings. The preacher at this time was A.C. Wheat and the river was used for the baptisms.
Although the membership became larger, funds became scarce and the church had quite a struggle for the next ten years. The building was even put up for sale, but the community assisted financially by using the church for school classes. In 1884, the church united with Turbotville, with the Rev. C.M. Catheral as the regular pastor.
The frame building, two stories high, was completed, but the inside was still not finished. Ladders were used to get to the second story and to the basement.
In 1896, the Rev. D.M. Lennox became the pastor and the congregation decided to build a brick church. Part of the frame building was torn down and the present building was started. The cornerstone reads: 1870 – rebuilt 1897.
A big revival was held in 1899 and funds were raised to furnish the new building. It took 30 years to finish. A baptistery was added in 1901. This was so large that the people had to stand on boxes to be baptized. It was located just under the present pulpit.
The church united with White Deer Valley in 1917, and in 1924, when the Rev. Golightly came to serve as pastor, the building was completed inside. The sum of $3,524 was raised to complete the church and the pews, which are still in use in the church, were donated. A new baptistery was built in the front of the church and the old one was covered with a platform for a pulpit.
A number of pastors served in the years after the Rev. Golightly left. Some of these were students from Bucknell University. Many improvements were made to the church and finally in 1958, the first parsonage was acquired on Elm Street, from the Renn sisters (which is still the parsonage today). A large oil painting of the Good Shepherd was added to the back of the baptistery.
Serving as pastors from 1935 to the present time were: the Rev. James Lewis, James Middleton, Robert Berger and C.D. Caffey, Rev. Fred Ames, Pastor Steve Reynolds, to the present Rev. James R. Ritter.
Watsontown Baptist Church holds the distinction of being the oldest Baptist organization in the northern part of Northumberland County and one of the first churches built in Watsontown.
In recent years, the stained glass sections have been restored, the basement has been remodeled for our Children’s Church and kitchen, and we’ve reinforced our baptistry area.
At Watsontown Baptist Church, the church building and its history are important, but it’s truly the people inside who make the church.