The Maple Street Baptist Church

The early 1880s was a time of great expansion for Manistee. With the “discovery” of salt and the subsequent addition of the salt industry combined with the already lucrative lumber industry, Manistee become a destination city for many people seeking employment.

The Maple Street Baptist Church was formerly located on the corner of Maple and Third streets.

The Maple Street Baptist Church was formerly located on the corner of Maple and Third streets.

As the population began to grow, so did the infrastructure which included the construction of more commercial buildings, homes, and churches. One of the churches built around this time was the Maple Street Baptist Church which continued to house a steady congregation through the early 1940s.

With the “no-frills” sentence published in the Manistee Times, “The baptist people have commenced to build their church on Maple Street,” a sect of the Baptist denomination in Manistee began the construction of their (literal and figurative) foundation on the corner of Maple and Third streets in early December of 1881.

The church structure began to take shape throughout much of the coming year through the efforts of the pastor Rev. J. Snashell who, with various congregants as well as many contacts outside of Manistee, constructed the building at a cost of approximately $6,000.

Work continued on the building until it was finally complete in the spring of 1883. On May 12, 1883, the Manistee Standard reported on the opening of the new church. The article provides a detailed account of the structure and describes much of the work that went into building it. Portions of the original article follow:

“How a few persons, not wealthy, could in one year, with a very little help, erect a church so attractive and convenient, is certainly marvelous. The building is 40 by 60 feet. Style of architecture, and the interior is amphitheatrical in the arrangement of seats.

“In the front of the building are two vestries, between which is a lecture room, connected with the main audience room by sliding doors, which when opened the entire first floor is as one room. Over the lecture room is a neat gallery. At the east end of the building is a pulpit, in the rear of which is the gallery, accessible by doors at the side.

“The ceiling of the church is beautifully finished in cherry and Norway wood inlaid, and the walls are protected with wainscotting of the same woods.

“The finish is different from most churches and the work is so nicely done that one is favorably impressed upon entering the building.

“All the inside carpenter work, except about 30 days, was done by the Rev. Mr. Snashall.

“The building is heated with a furnace donated by Mrs. Wm. McMaster, of Toronto, Ont. The friends of Rev. Mr. Snashall residing abroad have contributed liberally towards the erection of this building, among the number being the First Baptist Church and the Baptist Church of Lafayette Avenue; Detroit; the Baptist Church of Owosso; the Sabbath School class of D.T. Root, of the Baptist Church of Grand Rapids; citizens of Benton Harbor, to each of whom stands a memorial window.

“There is also a memorial window in memory of Rev. Jas. Scott, the means to procure which were principally donated by citizens of Bay City.

“At the first service $1,050 was subscribed, which will, within $400, pay the outstanding indebtedness, Mr. Snashall stating that the church would not be dedicated until free from debt.

“The Free Press well says:

“‘Rev. Mr. Snashall has labored under many embarrassing circumstances. His society was small, and the winter long and cold, but he had many friends, who admired his perseverance, and who responded to his calls for pecuniary aid. Not only has he succeeded in erecting this edifice, but his society has grown to a membership of 24, with a prospect of accession, and his congregations are of the average size.’”

For six decades, the building remained a staple on Maple Street and over the years, grew to have over 100 parishioners. In addition, organizations in the church included a Sunday School, a Ladies Aid Society, and a Baptist Young People’s Union.

On the evening of March 27, 1941 tragedy struck the congregation when the church was destroyed by fire. A description of the evening’s events was published the following day in the Manistee News Advocate:

“Fire of undetermined origin last night destroyed the Maple Street Baptist Church at Maple and Third streets. despite efforts of firemen to check the blaze which raged for more than five hours.

“Firemen were first summoned at 7:35 p.m. and employed four hose lines throughout the remainder of the night attempting to check the flames which, having crept up through furnace flues from the basement, spread rapidly to the building’s roof, constructed in such a way as to make isolation of the fire impossible. The roof consisted of a matched-lumber sub-ceiling with an air space between it and the roof, comprised of cedar shingles over which asphalt shingles had been placed.

“Hoses were trained on all parts of the building’s roof, both inside and out, but due to the air space between ceiling and roof, and the tinder-like condition of the church, the fire could not be checked before the building was virtually destroyed. This morning only a small section of the roof remained and inspection showed interior damages heavy from fire, smoke and water. The loss was not established.”

The next day, an announcement was made by the pastor of the church, Dr. E.A. Shulls, that for the time being services would be held in the American Legion Hall which was located inside the then city building at 78-80 Maple Street.

With the Maple Street Baptist Church a thing of the past, several of its members permanently joined the congregation of the First Baptist Church, formerly located on the corner of Cypress (today’s US-31) and Fourth Street. Years later, the congregation, which had been established in Manistee in 1872, began to experience its own set of problems including an overhaul of their aged building as well as the re-routing of US-31 onto Cypress Street which made the church less accessible to its growing congregation.

To that end, in 1952, the First Baptist Church purchased the Church of Christ Scientist building (formerly the Unitarian Church) located on the corner of Fifth and Pine streets. As that church was dedicated as the new First Baptist Church in 1955 , their former building on Cypress Street was sold to the smaller Assembly of God church.

By the early 1970s, the First Baptist congregation was seeking out other properties in Manistee with the hopes to construct a modern church. Eventually, property was purchased off of Lakeshore Road and it is here that the First Baptist Church began construction of their new church which was dedicated in May of 1979.

A doctor’s office was later constructed on the corner lot where the Maple Street Baptist Church was once located. Today, the Lighthouse Pregnancy Care Center occupies that building.

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Posted by Mark Fedder

Mark Fedder is the executive director of the Manistee County Historical Musuem. He can be reached at (231) 723-5531 ormanisteemuseum@yahoo.com.

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