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The Borough of Lansdowne Pennsylvania The Borough of Lansdowne Pennsylvania

Lansdowne Baptist Church’s Year-Long Centennial Celebration

(Reprint from Fall 1987 Borough News Letter)

Excerpts from "Church History" by George 0. Phillips

Second Building (November 15, 1887)

The Lansdowne Baptist Church, first organized as the Bethabara Baptist Church of Lansdowne in 1887, has been celebrating its Centennial throughout 1987. The church, shown here in 1887, was built at the corner of Lansdowne and LaCrosse Avenues. The original stone building remains as the church sanctuary. The lot presently occupied was purchased for $2,000 from Homer C. Stewart, and the cornerstone was laid May 24, 1887.

Before the arrival of Pastor Milton Westphal in 1923, the physical limitations of the edifice were a continual challenge to efficiency. The Sanctuary had to serve as a Sunday School building, a dining hail, and a recreation room. The Sunday School convened at 12 noon, after the worship service. The Sanctuary was then converted into a Sunday School space by assigning a certain pair of pews to each class. Thus, six to eight classes were meeting simultaneously in a single auditorium.

The leaders in the congregation were eager to have the new pastor direct a vigorous drive for an addition which we now know as the educational building. The addition between the Sanctuary and Lansdowne Avenue was built for $36,000 and dedicated March 14, 1926.

As the Pastor began his second decade in 1933, a strengthening fellowship undertook new tasks and widening responsibilities. The mortgage on the educational building had been reduced, but then refinancing became necessary because the closed Lansdowne Bank and Trust Company held the old mortgage. Under the resourceful leadership of the Trustees, the Church issued and the congregation bought interest-bearing bonds to pay off the mortgage, and in 1945 all the bonds were repaid to the bond holders without missing a single interest period.

In 1950 extensive plans for alterations, additions and rebuilding of the educational plant, sanctuary and narthex, were developed with the counsel of T. Norman Mansell, Architect. By 1955 these plans were completely carried out and the resulting indebtedness paid. The next project was the financing of an Aeolian-Skinner Pipe Organ which was purchased in 1963.

The next physical addition was the purchase in 1962 of the three-story single residence and garage at 17 East LaCrosse Avenue, contiguous to the east boundary of the original church property. The plan called for the first floor to be used as a church office and conference rooms and for the second and third floors to be used as a parsonage. Extensions, alterations and repairs were necessary and it was primarily through diligent, untiring efforts of a group of talented men of the congregation that the extensive work was completed at minimal expense.

The Rev. Nelson M. Griffiths served a very successful ministry of 12 years from January of 1969 to the end of 1980. During his pastorate the Nursery School was established in 1971 and has been an outstanding success. He instigated the creation of the Executive Board which has been another successful addition to church leadership.

The present Pastor, the Rev. Clifford M. Gilson, came to the church on March 14,1982. About two years later, on March 14,1984, disaster struck in the form of an explosion and fire in the church office and parsonage building. Thus in a few minutes’ time the pastor had no home and the church had no office. The building was adequately insured, and the church had the option of a cash settlement or having the insurance company rebuild the structure. The church elected to take a cash settlement and raise the building in the belief that the Cooper Room could be adapted to a church office and the insurance money invested to produce income sufficient to pay the pastor a housing allowance instead of a home. The idea of using the Cooper Room as a church office turned out to be impractical and unworkable, so that it became necessary to enter into a new building project which added two new offices, two bathrooms and renovation of the Cooper Room at a cost of $68,096 plus volunteer work for interior decorating. This project, completed in 1986, cost nearly twice as much as the entire educational building built of stone 60 years earlier. Such are the ravages of inflation.

A perusal of the records would justify the conclusion that the congregation has always recognized the importance of music in the services. In fact the very first expenditure recorded by the clerk was for the purchase of an Estey Organ in March 1887. The organ depended upon a hand pump for its flow of air and the Sexton pumped from a hidden nook when music was required. When he fell asleep during a sermon there was no organ music for the closing hymn. A high point of the choir’s history came when we had vocal students from the Curtis Institute of Music. Two of them, Benita Valente and Florence Quivar are now Metropolitan Opera principals.

As the Lansdowne Baptist Church commences its second century, the members honor their founders by vigorously promoting their aim to "tend to the moral and spiritual good of the community…"

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