First Baptist Church History
First Baptist was organized in 1866 under the leadership of Chaplain Thomas B. Van Horne and a small group of Federal Army soldiers who had served during the Civil War. The organization was called Shiloh Baptist Church and the services were held in a blacksmith shop; later, they met in homes. The membership increased rapidly and soon the Church leased a lot and built a church at Tenth and Lindsay Streets. Rev. Alan Nickerson, was the first pastor and was ordained by Chaplain Van Horne. He served for 19 years during a period of great growth before his resignation.
In 1885, Rev. A. B. Cross was called to serve as the second pastor. A division of the Church occurred during this period: St. James Baptist was formed. Rev. G. D. Olden was the third minister. Under his leadership, the present church site was purchased, the cornerstone laid, and Shiloh had a new home. Construction of the present church building was done by former slaves. They completed a magnificent Gothic-Cathedral building which had a seating capacity of 1000.
But difficulty arose again; many members left the Church and formed another church, New Monumental Baptist Church. According to the records, Rev. Michael Vann was the forth pastor. Rev. Vann changed the name of the Church from Shiloh to the “First Baptist Church.” He died soon after during the third year of his pastorate. Following his death, Rev. A. R. Griggs was called as the fifth pastor, but his tenure was brief. The sixth pastor was Rev. G. W. Parks who resigned in 1905 to accept a call to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Rev. C. A. Bell of Knoxville was the seventh pastor. He was called in 1905, retired in 1944, and named “Pastor Emeritus” after having served the Church in an exceptionally successful way for 39 years. The eighth pastor was Rev. W. H. Harris who remained only 15 months, followed by Rev. Percy Williams, who resigned
Rev. Herman H. Battle was called to the Church by unanimous vote of the membership on March 5, 1954. He served this Church, this community, and State in a distinguished manner until his retirement on December 31, 1995, at which time the Church named him “Pastor Emeritus.” As a tribute to his service to the community, the elementary school, “Battle Academy”, was named in his honor. During his tenure, the Church was remodeled to have pews of carved oak and crimson that accommodated the soft cream ceiling, brick walls, and magnificent stained glass windows. Rich in history and appearance, the Church was placed in the National Register of Historic Places on January 7, 1979.
In December 1995, the Church appointed a Pastoral Search Committee. After ten months of searching, the committee recommended six leading candidates that were evaluated by the Church. Rev. Joseph Harper assisted Rev. Battle and also served as the interim Pastor of First Baptist Church during the
1997 - 2002
On the first day of January 1997, Rev. Adam E. McKee III became the eleventh minister to serve First Baptist Church as Pastor. He instituted a contemporary early morning service and was instrumental in selecting the first female deacon to serve at First Baptist. His goal was “Through Jesus Christ, to have a ministry that transcends all barriers.” Rev. McKee left the Church at the end of 2002.
January 1, 2003 - August 8, 2004
During most of the pastoral search period, Elder Gene Mathis performed the function of interim pastor in an exceptional manner.
August 15, 2004 - May 31, 2008
Rev. Edward Lamar Ellis III served as the twelfth pastor of First Baptist Church. He will be remembered as a kind and compassionate pastor who inspired an increased effort to attract more young people to the membership. He left First Baptist to take on the responsibility of another pastoral assignment.
June 1, 2008 - March, 2009
Several ministers served as interim pastor while the search was undertaken for a new pastor. The church benefited from the variety of leadership and teaching styles during this period.
April, 2009 - Present
Rev. William Terry Ladd III became the thirteenth pastor of First Baptist Church. Rev. Ladd has had a varied and interesting past and we look forward to his leadership as he guides the church into an expectant and bright future. He is married to the former Terrilyn Hollings of Mobile, Alabama and has one son, Aaron.
Click on this line for more information on the church founding leader, Chaplain Van Horne