First Baptist Church of Orangeburg had its beginning in December 1858. At that time public land known as the Old Jail Lot was conveyed to Paul V.McMichael and Benjamin F. Simmons in trust for the Orangeburg Baptist Church Society. A year and a half later, on the third Sunday in July 1860 a group of Baptists and ministers met at the Orangeburg County Court House to organize the Orangeburg church. They adopted a church covenant and articles of faith along with rules of government. The Rev. W. B. Carson, the church’s first pastor, delivered the organizational sermon, and the charge to the new church was made by the Rev. T. W. Mellichamp. Fifteen men and women joined as charter members, and three other women were added after their baptism.
A red brick church with steeple was built on the site and was dedicated on November 7, 1863. By 1865 the church membership included 38 whites and 14 persons of African descent. When General Sherman’s army marched through Orangeburg in 1865 the original church deed was destroyed when Sherman’s troops burned the Orangeburg Court House. The troops used the church facility to house stable horses and supplies.
During Reconstruction from 1866 to 1871 the church had “supply” pastors. By the end of Reconstruction in 1877 the Orangeburg Church had 97 members with 61 enrolled in Sunday School as teachers and pupils. Growth was slow, by 1880 the church had about 100 members .
The early church had difficulty meeting its expenses. During the Rev. R.M. Galphin’s pastorate from 1881 to 1886, those delinquent in supporting the church had to explain before the church membership why they did not or could not support the church.. Each member was assessed a fee, quarterly notices were sent to non-payers, and non-payers were excluded from the membership if they did not comply.
The church grew gradually. A pipe organ was purchased in 1897, membership in October 1898 totalled 273 and the contributions through October of that year were $1,834.82. Also in 1898 the parsonage was built. Sunday School time was moved to 3:30pm on Sunday afternoon and that continued until it was changed back to 10:00am in early 1911.
One of the longest serving pastors in First Baptist history was the Rev. George E. Davis who served the church from 1908-1929. During those years, the parsonage was moved adjacent to the church and the church was renovated. At that time the steeple was removed despite opposition. A new annex building was built on the west side of the sanctuary and the iron fence was erected around the church. The cost of the renovations was $20,000. Later, a three story building known as the Davis Memorial Sunday School was erected on the southwest corner of the property . When Rev. Davis came to First Baptist in 1908 the membership numbered less that 250 members. By 1928 that number had increased to about 1,400. The Baraca Class, taught by Rev. Davis, had 200 members.
Another long-serving pastor was Dr. J. C. Welsh. During his tenure from 1929-1944 the church continued to grow. On the eve of the Depression in 1929 church contributions totalled $15,551 of which $6,000 was designated for missions. On the first Sunday in May 1939 a fire gutted the church sanctuary. Dr. Welsh oversaw the building of a new sanctuary with a back balcony and the installation of a new Mohler pipe-organ for a total cost of $90,000.
In the late 1940’s the church established a building fund to erect an education building and a new parsonage. A year after Dr. Roy O. McClain became the pastor in 1950 he moved his family from a rented house into the new parsonage on Brookside Drive. The old parsonage on the church grounds was used for Sunday School. A three-story educational building was also completed during Dr. McClain’s pastorate and was named the McClain Building. This was an exciting time for the church. Church attendance increased and to accommodate this growth two balconies were added on the sides of the sanctuary. In the three years that Dr. McClain was the pastor in the 1950s, 813 people joined the congregation for a total of 2,013 members. The Sunday School also experienced a rapid increase with an average attendance of about 1,000 each Sunday. The total budget was $100,000.
The “Church on the Square” was firmly established in downtown Orangeburg when it celebrated its centennial in 1960. Its membership numbered 2,145 with seven staff members, and the parsonage had been replaced with a new education building.
Since that time the church has continued its growth with emphasis on missions. It helped establish the Rivelon Baptist Church on Edisto Drive and sponsored individual missionaries. It also developed a child development center, a mission action center, a soup kitchen and built a family life center. Today First Baptist has about 1742 members with a budget of over 1.2 million dollars.
(Information from A Century of Achievement:The First Baptist Church by Kate Test Davis)