The Oneida Baptist Church was founded on Valentine’s Day in the year 1843, when 11 original members met at the Oneida Castle Schoolhouse. Interest in this group grew to 50 members by 1850. Needing a bigger building and wanting to establish the church in Oneida Depot (later to become The City of Oneida), they bought land for $150 on the corner of Main and Mulberry Streets (Mulberry Street is known by us today as Lenox Avenue, where the Wagon Wheel Restaurant now stands). They then built a stone building with a space underneath for a horse and wagon, paying $2800 to construct their new church. Upon completion of this new stone building, the Oneida Baptist Church was dedicated on January 3rd, 1850. The Oneida Indian Reservation Choir sang at the dedication.
In 1857, the Rev. J. Smitzer, who was general secretary and agent of the New York State Baptist State Convention, made his home in Oneida.
As the congregation grew, they added sheds for horses and carriages, painted, made repairs, and eventually came to the point of needing to remodel. At the time of this needed remodel, their outstanding bills were $1600, a large amount for that time. Nevertheless, in 1860, a new session room (sanctuary) was built, and the sheds for horses and carriages were rebuilt. The church continued to grow, 31 new members by 1863. In 1864, a tower with a bell was purchased and added to grace the building, and by 1865, 35 more members were added, all by baptism. Between the years of 1872 to 1878, after many meetings, exemplified by what was described as “wonderful power,” 33 more members were added by baptism and 15 other members were added by “letter,” which verified their previous baptism in another location In 1873, a pipe organ was purchased and added to the church.
In 1883, the Rev. W.G. Rogers of Niagara County was called as pastor. For three years, his service continued and scarcely a meeting was held that was not marked by a confession of faith. Then, needing to further expand for increasing church members, the horse and wagon house under the church was demolished to enlarge the session room (sanctuary) and double the former capacity. Soon, this too was insufficient, and the members talked about building a larger church. So, on January 4th, 1887, after two years of discussion, an agreement was reached to build again. In 1888, thirty-eight years after the church was founded in the Oneida Castle Schoolhouse, the present lot was purchased at what was then the corner of Main and Cherry Streets, that is now known as the corner of Main Street and Washington Avenue. Plans for the new church were developed by architect M.H. Hubbard, who was a church member. The new church building used to worship today took two years and 5 months to complete. At the time of its completion, it was the largest building in the area. The bell and tower of the church and the 1872, George A. Andrews Tracker Pipe Organ were transferred from the old to the new building. The church was dedicated in 1889.
The chimes of the bell tower with clock on all four sides were deactivated in 1910 so not to disturb the patients at the new hospital that was built next to the church. The 1872 Tracker Organ is still used today and has had few changes from its original installation. It is one of the most unmodified instruments of its kind in the area. When installed at the old church building, it was pumped by the organist’s children for use. In this building, it is powered by a compressor housed in what we call the “Flower Room” off the kitchen. This room was cool enough to store flowers for use by the church. The organ’s paneling, keys, manuals, and many of the pipes are original. It has been viewed by the National Organ Society and students of music from Syracuse University have often been sent to view and play it, as well as present day organ builders and enthusiasts.
The church has 16 stain glass windows; 12 “Rounded Arch Windows” and four “Rose Windows.” The windows were made by Charles P. Davis of Utica, New York, who was born in Alcester England. He was Utica’s first stain glass maker and learned his craft at Strafford Upon Avon in England. The windows are named: Open Bible; Cross & Crown; Rock of Ages; I am the Resurrection and Life; This Cup; I am the Vine, Ye Are the Branches; The Mercy Seat and Crown, and Cross and Anchor. Three of the windows were repaired in the 1900’s.
We have a copy of the church’s birthday celebration bulletin from February 14th, 1893. It has three pages and is entitled “50 Links of god’s Golden Chain.” It holds the history of the church as presented at the semi–centennial anniversary. On the back it has pictures of the two church buildings. The subjects listed are: Introduction; Change of Name; Building a Church; General Development; The New Decade and Our New Church. On the inside back page there is a list of the 13 Pastors after the church build on Mulberry street. On the same page is a chart that lists the number of new members by decade from February 1843–1893, 50 years. The bulletin is 128 years old. The original ribbon rotted and broke and is replaced by a similar one. This is our oldest surviving historical document.