180 Years of History: 1835—2015
History begun by Juanita Lehman, updated by Kathy Brockway.
Our founder was Curtis Brigham, who supplies a good bit of information in a diary he had kept through the years.
Curtis Brigham was born May 1, 1793, in Westborough, Massachusetts, the oldest of six children. At the age of 14 years he took a job on board a ship going from Boston to Maine, in an era of pirates raiding the eastern seaboard. His faith was tested and proved in one of these raids. As he guarded a captured pirate, He felt the hand of God on him. After leaving the sea, he started a shoemaker and repair shop, then met and married his wife Lydia. They moved to Schutesbury, built a house and started a family.
In 1833 Curtis traveled to Michigan Territory to see if he could discover a suitable place to raise their family. With a traveling partner, they first arrived at Gull Prairie (now Richland) and stayed for the winter. Curtis looked over the area and found “The Plains” to his liking, so he returned home for his family. The following year they prepared to leave, but first their church had a farewell gathering for them where Curtis was given documents stating that “Deacon Curtis Brigham is fully capable to hold religious services for his Lord.”
Upon arrival, they rented a house and in short order he invited five neighbors to join him for a religious service in a crude school nearby. Others became interested and soon they were meeting in the homes, too.
First Baptist Church of Plainwell’s history started in 1833 with the church being organized in 1835, the Methodist Church in 1836, and the Presbyterian Church in 1837.
On Dec. 26, 1835 they met to form the first church of Allegan County. On Feb. 4, 1836, they officially become the “Baptist Church of Plainfield” (as the town was then named).
Recently ordained Jeremiah Hall, a minister at Bronson (now Kalamazoo) who witnessed the minutes, offered to help the new church. Curtis hired him to come one Sunday a month (usually having to walk the trail) and Brigham preached the other Sundays. Rev. Hall ministered to various churches nearby.
By 1839, revival meetings with the Presbyterian Church were conducted at a school north of town.
After the revival, new believers were baptized in the Gun River and later some were baptized in the Kalamazoo River in January! As more people heard of the religious services, they began to come from all over: Otsego, Cooper, Allegan, Hopkins, and Trowbridge areas.
In 1842 it was suggested they permanently locate in Otsego, as it seemed to be a fast-growing town and the central location of those attending, and it was an accepted vote by those in attendance that they would build a church there. Deacon Brigham had been ill and said if he had been there he would not let that happen, as he preferred it to be in Plainfield, as our town was then called.
In 1857, a request was made for Plainfield to be set off from the Otsego group, but instead they started a Sunday School. An informational note is that a church building had been built, but not paid for in Otsego. If the group should leave at that time would have caused financial difficulties for the church, so the Plainfield group remained long enough to subsidize the building. Through the early years they had Sunday Schools in a number of country schools, such as Silver Creek and Bellingham.
In 1864 they did come back to Plainwell (which was the name now) and met at the White School.
In 1865, Rev. John Fletcher had just retired as Chaplain with Sherman’s Army at the close of the Civil War. He was called to come as the new minister with his wife Alla and a young son, so they established their home in Plainwell. Alla died in 1886. He married Elizabeth in 1887 and she died in 1913. He married Vesta in 1914, who survived him.
From 1871—1898 the church operated the Woodhams Chapel out east of town with volunteers going out each Sunday for those there who could not make it in to town.
The first pipe organ was obtained in 1874, with the bellows in a room behind and had to be pumped by hand. This began a strong musical ministry that remains today.
The Ladies Missionary Society started in 1873. In 1890 the Baptist Young Peoples Union (BYPU) started.
In 1896, the Baptist State Convention was held here, with many from the community involved by attending the meetings, as well as inviting out-of- town guests to stay in their homes. A bigger kitchen was built to prepare meals.
In 1897, a Colporteur Missionary Wagon was sponsored as the first of about seventy wagons sent out to distribute Christian materials. First here in Michigan, then to other States, too. All equipment was donated in this first Missions effort for First Baptist of Plainwell.
In 1914, the Woman’s League first met.
When Pastor Fletcher retired after 50 years in ministry, he was named Pastor Emeritus and remained seven more years, speaking every now and then, including on his 90th birthday in 1922 just before his death. A number of Fletcher’s sermons were published in little booklets.
Before Fletcher died, there were plans to build a larger Educational Wing, so upon completion of the project, they named it Fletcher Hall, which was used by the community too, as other churches blended on Sunday evenings for worship services and other occasions. It had a big room upstairs with high ceiling to use as a gym, or for banquets. There was a dumbwaiter to bring food from the kitchen. It was good for programs, as it also had a stage. In the basement area, they built a small bowling ally. They had many social times with the folks of the community.
The following list is of the Pastors from 1865, when we re-organized back in Plainwell. Rev. John Fletcher began as a young man who drew upon the experience of Deacon Curtis Brigham.
In 1915, Rev. Littel succeeded him.
Rev. Macintosh from Canada became our third pastor. He earned his US Citizenship and said it is “…easier to get into God’s country, then the United States.”
From 1927-35, our fourth Pastor was Rev. Kendall (a friend of Macintosh). First, he was asked to fill in as Rev. Macintosh had been in an accident and went to California to recuperate. Then, as it was taking longer than he thought, Rev. Macintosh decided to resign. Rev. Kendall was asked to remain.
Mrs. Kendall filled in one Sunday when her husband wasn’t feeling well. The people liked it so well that she started to give five minute “sermonettes” before the Pastor’s sermon each Sunday. Usually, it was a Bible story or background information to go along with the sermon.
From 1935-37, our fifth Pastor was Rev. Hamilton. Horse barns were no longer needed, as most people had a car now. The Evening Missionary Society was started. As Rev. Hamilton left, then Rev. Frook filled in as interim pastor. (no picture of him).
From 1939-41, our sixth Pastor was Rev. Engel, who came with his wife and son.
An old building on this corner became a Gospel Mission. (Now it’s the site of Plainwell Ice Cream).
Folks would go to meetings here, but would not go to church. It was very well attended, as the church people would go too, even when they were not helping with the meetings.
From 1942-46, our seventh pastor was Rev. Gotas. During the War years he wrote regularly to the twelve young men from our Church who were in military service. Also at this time, the area churches had a contest to see who could have the most people to come to Sunday School. Plainwell Baptist won with 606.
From 1946-52 Our Pastor was Ray Hien, a young 27-year-old fellow just out of college. During these years we helped to get the Orangeville Church restarted with some of our people going out to teach and lead worship services. We praise God that this church remains as a strong witness for Christ today.
Our membership increased in these years.
Neal DeKort came to work with the youth as they had a very big, active group. Orchestra and Choir was every Sunday night. At this time we had monthly Singspirations with area churches and also Youth for Christ at Kalamazoo every Saturday night.
From 1952-55 was our ninth Pastor, Rev. Johnson.
We built a new parsonage next to the church which remains.
From 1955-57 our tenth Pastor was Rev. Watts. The first to use the new parsonage, he was here only a couple years due to failing health.
From 1957-68, our pastor was Rev. Gordon Blossom. He started the “This I Believe” Class and we had an active group of young adults called the “BYADS” which are now the “Senior Pioneers”.
In 1964 a new sanctuary replaced our 100-year-old building. The last service in the old sanctuary was well attended. Services were held at Starr School on Sundays and at the Presbyterian Church on Wednesday nights. Dedication Sunday was well attended, even the balcony was filled.
From 1969-73, Rev. Hawthorne was our twelfth Pastor. (He spoke from the Book of “Sams.” At least that was what it sounded like with his Irish accent.)
1974-94: Rev. Robert Rushing was our thirteenth Pastor.
Ron Lane was Associate Pastor and Steve Swope was our Youth Leader. The Awana program was begun as a very active children’s ministry. It continues, as does our Vacation Bible School ministry.
We purchased the King property next door for a parking lot, but it was used as a Youth House for a few years with an active attendance.
In 1984 old Fletcher Hall was replaced with a new Educational Wing and gym.
In 1985 we had our Sesquicentennial—150 years —with a program of slides and skits of our history.
In 1994 Pastor Rushing retired after twenty years of service.
Interim Pastor Dr. John Lillis from Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary filled the pulpit for nine months.
From 1995-2013 we welcomed fourteenth Pastor Keith Heyn and wife Margaret.
Scott and Heather Cohoon are currently doing a great job with the Youth. Heather also helps on the piano. Scott maintains an active schedule of events for the youth to participate in.
It is good to have memorabilia to study and hold to help us recall the various ministries of our church.
It’s a good history stemming from the days when even the State of Michigan was in its infant stages.
Even getting here by horse or oxen and in a wagon took determination. Times when a river had to be crossed to attend worship services and baptisms were in that same river in the winter. These were formative years, where people were truly serious about living a life of faith to follow their Lord.
Life now is simpler in some areas, but the church is still challenged in so many ways. But the people—the real Church here in Plainwell–—still have that fervor to proclaim the gospel and to minister to our community.
We have always had a heart towards missions, whether home or abroad. Praising God in music is a particular joy. Where various musical styles are represented, the lyrics are true to the Word.