When you drive west across the bridge from Fairhaven toward New Bedford, you will see on the hill to your right a white High Victorian Italianate church spire, while the downtown New Bedford skyline stretches to your left.
This spire had not been built when the 1848 Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World' was painted but by the mid-19th century, but the city was rapidly-growing northward and the attention of New Bedford’s citizens increasingly turned to textiles. In 1860 Mill No. 3 was added to the first two Wamsutta Mills located on Third Street (now Acushnet Avenue).
Mrs. Elizabeth Coggeshall, member of the William St. First Baptist Church, perceived that the mill workers moving into Acushnet Heights needed a neighborhood church. Her will of 1867 left $2000 towards that project. During the months First Baptist was considering plans for this new church, the Wamsutta Mills added Mill No. 4 (now apartments) to its first three.
On Oct. 17, 1873, 30 members who had received an official letter dismissing them for that purpose, voted to constitute a church of Christ under the name of the North Baptist Church of New Bedford. One such member was prominent City Councilor Augustus A. Greene who had been educated as a housewright.
Newly retired from his lumber yard business on Leonard’s Wharf, he located a favorable lot for the new church and parsonage in Acushnet Heights at the top of Merrimac Street on the corner of County, donated a considerable amount of money himself, and supervised the construction of both buildings. Its graceful spire is based on a square tower topped by an octagon tapering to a point. This gleaming white spire can be seen from both the Fairhaven bridge and Route I-195.
The interior of the church was well-designed to house a variety of activities. The front of the sanctuary had room for a choir, a baptistry, and the golden-toned mechanical-action pipe organ added in 1901 by Charles E. Chadwick. As useful a structure today as it was when it was built, there was a balcony above the worship space; the fellowship hall, kitchen, office below and space for Sunday School classes on all three floors.
Down at the riverside, Wamsutta Mill No. 5 was soon added. Then production of percale fabric began and New Bedford became known at the first city in the United States to make fine cotton.
In 1878, St. James Episcopal Church was built three blocks farther north of North Baptist on the corner of County and Linden Streets providing two churches in walking distance of the Wamsutta Mills.
Historian Leonard Ellis’s summarized North Baptist’s mission thus: “It believes that the principles contained in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, when preached in the true spirit, and practiced in their lives will bless men in this world and cause them to stand forever to the glory of God.”
The North Baptist Church has continued its mission for the past 150 years. It was active in founding South Baptist Church on Brock Avenue and Immanuel Baptist Church on Whitman Street. It reaches outside its doors as an active member of the Inter-Church Council, Church Women United, The American Baptist Churches as well as the American Baptist Women of Massachusetts.