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A Bit of History…the Beginning of Calvary Baptist Church of Norristown
The year was 1885. Norristown was prospering as a mill town and as a seat of the county government with a population of 22,265. Many of these residents were worshipping in five churches clustered near the present-day court house located between Airy and Main Streets on Swede Street.
The oldest church in Norristown, St. John’s Episcopal Church (1812), located diagonally across from the post office on Airy Street, is still active today, as is First Presbyterian Church at the corner of Airy and DeKalb Streets.
First Baptist Church, was built in 1833 across Swede Street from the present-day court house. First Baptist Church eventually moved to Burnside Avenue and the building on Swede Street was demolished in 1972 to make room for the office building called One Montgomery Plaza.
In 1885 the members of First Baptist Church decided to start a mission Sunday school in the West End. The corner of Marshall Street and Haws Avenue (then called Cottage Avenue) was deemed a good location to reach those living in West Norristown, which was growing rapidly with prosperous families. At that time on this corner stood a house, a shed and a stable.
Church gatherings were initially held in the old stable. The hayloft was converted into a room for the 40+ children. By 1889 the stable chapel was overflowing with worshippers and a new chapel was planned and built. The first electric lights were installed in the chapel during the time of Rev. Levi W. Hainer who was pastor for 27 years and was instrumental in many of the innovations of the time. The chapel, called Hainer Hall, has become the venue for community concerts as well as many other events throughout the year.
By 1902 the membership had outgrown the chapel and a new church building was planned to replace the chapel. On a trip to the Holy Land, Rev. Hainer had arranged to ship stone from Mt. Calvary in Palestine to be used for the cornerstone of the new building. The remaining stone was inlaid on the communion table. This new space became the sanctuary with its beautiful stained-glass windows that depict scenes from the life of Christ. “Second Baptist” was then renamed “Calvary Baptist” Church.
The corner lot next to the chapel had been cleared, and the new foundations were rising out of the ground. Rev. Hainer prepared a list of the contents, approved by the deacons, to be placed in the cornerstone. Unfortunately, the list was never copied into the minutes, a cautionary omission for all future recording secretaries. * That cloudy Sunday afternoon, the cornerstone was laid in place. On Sunday afternoon May 25, 1902, “…despite skies threatening rain, a large, fashionably dressed crowd filled the street and sidewalk, obstructing the Marshall Street trolley."
Today the congregation continues contributing to the history of Calvary Baptist Church of Norristown recognizing and honoring the faith and dedication of our church founders as we celebrate more than 100 years of ministry in the West End of Norristown.
Our outreach programs include providing meals for our weekly soup kitchen called WELCOME (= West End Lunch at Calvary On Mondays for Everyone) as well as for CHOC (Coordinated Homeless Outreach Center) several times a year. We also participate in Community Interfaith of Central Montgomery County which supports the Interfaith Choice Food Pantry. We are proud of the Calvary Baptist Children’s Learning Center which has been caring for and educating children from Infant to Pre-Kindergarten since beginning in 1980.
Calvary Baptist of Norristown is an American Baptist Churches USA congregation and a member of the Philadelphia Baptist Association.
*Calvary Baptist Church – Turning a Century in Norristown by Warren Mild, page 36; published 1987.