Port Norris Baptist Church

1672 Main St, Port Norris NJ
founded c.1856, built 1881

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Port Norris Baptist Church

There are several interesting elements about this 1881 wooden frame church. It is basically a rectangular plan meetinghouse with the tower and entrance vestibule set off to the side, part way back. A projecting bay sits in the place where the entrance would normally be found on earlier churches, and the windows are Gothic, rectangular and octagonal, but the screen in the belfry has a round arch. The top of the steeple has been truncated, and in its place is a little balustrade railing, while the cornice boasts the double brackets of the Italianate school. In other words, there is no coherence to this design, which is its charm—marred only by the aluminum siding.

Port Norris, originally known as Dallas' Ferry for an early settler who operated a ferry service here, was named for Norris Jones, a son of Joseph "Coffee" Jones of Philadelphia, who bought the land in 1810. The timber industry provided a living for its early settlers, but by 1870, a thriving oyster industry existed.

Early History of the Port Norris Baptist Church

About the year 1855 a few Baptist families lived scattered throughout this vicinity and held membership principally in the Dividing Creek Baptist Church. As it was very inconvenient attending services so far away, in the year 1855 and 1856 they got together to see if it was practicable to get land and erect a house to worship in and also to hold school; the nearest school being over two miles from most of the families.

The land for this purpose was donated by Levi Robbins, Sr. The building was erected and dedicated on New Year’s Day, 1857. Soon after, the Rev. George Sleeper, pastor of the Dividing Creek Baptist Church, held evangelistic services in the new building, which resulted in a harvest of souls.

We must picture Port Norris as it was then, no trolley, no railroad and probably not over a dozen families within a radius of two miles. The principal industry was farming, but some were engaged in the oyster business.

In 1857 a Sunday School was organized with Deacon Richard Robbins as Superintendant.

It is very unfortunate that either no record was kept, or, if so, was lost, but we find that preaching services were held every other Sunday afternoon and continued in this way until July 1880. Sunday School and prayer meetings were also maintained.

As Port Norris grew and the house used for church purposes was small and also used for a school, it was apparent that a regular Baptist Church was needed here. The ladies of the church became busy in raising money and in this they became very successful. A lot was purchased, being in good location and then the good work of erecting a Baptist meeting house, commensurate with the needs of the rapidly growing town began. The lot was paid for with the money raised by the ladies. Great praise should be given them for their labors on behalf of this church.

It might be well to observe here that Richard Robbins impressed upon us the propriety of using the church only for the purposes for which it had been dedicated, that no admission should ever be charged at the doors, but must be free for every service held therein; this has been always lived up to. On Sunday morning, March 27, 1881, after preaching service the following resolution was formed and adopted; Resolved, that all Baptists living in the vicinity of Port Norris be requested to bring their letters of dismission, to be united with a Baptist Church to be instituted in the church at Port Norris on Saturday, April 16, 1881, at 2 o’clock. P.M.

On the above date, the brothers and sisters met in the new church pursuant to the notice thereof, for the purpose of constituting themselves into a regular and independent Baptist Church.

The following letters of dismission were read: One from the Dividing Creek Church, dismissing sixty; one from the Cohansey Church Dismissing one, and a letter from the First Church, Bridgeton, dismissing two. The following resolutions were offered by Deacon Fayette Newcomb and adopted: Resolved, that we do now hereby constitute ourselves into a regular and independent Baptist Church, adopt a confession of faith, and also adopt a corporate name and to elect officers thereof. The following were elected as our first officers: Deacons, Richard Robbins, George Robbins, Fayette Newcomb; Church Clerk, E.J. Cook; Treasurer, Henry Robbins. Pastor Finch then read and explained the New Hampshire Articles of Faith, which were unanimously adopted as our Church Covenant. At this meeting a call was extended to Bro. Finch to the joint pastorate of this Church. And what a glorious start for the new church- one week later Pastor Finch led twelve into the baptismal water, the first being Henry Berry, Sr.

On April 30, the following trustees were elected: Levi Robbins, Henry Lake and Samuel Lake.

Our church then called a Council of Recognition, inviting twenty-five churches to meet with us on August 25, 1881. This Council met and after due examination, they recommended that we be recognized as a regular and independent Baptist Church. Our delegates to this Council were Richard Robbins, George Robbins and Fayette Newcomb.

We owe a deep and lasting debt of gratitude to God for giving us such men as Bro Finch, Richard Robbins, George Robbins and Fayette Newcomb. They built better than they knew, for God surely added his richest blessings on those early days of our church.

In March, 1883, we realized that as our town was growing, God’s work here must also grow, and while Pastor Finch worked hard, we needed a pastor here on the field, so on April 1, 1883, Deacons Richard Robbins, George Robbins, Fayette Newcomb and E. J. Cook and S. C. Hand were appointed a committee to meet a like committee from the Dividing Creek and the Newport Baptist Churches to present to them our needs and to consider what could be done. This Committee met in Dividing Creek Church and after thoroughly discussing the subject, the following report was adopted: “That we, believing it to be for the glory of God and the good of His cause that there be a separation; we therefore do mutually agree and recommend to our respective churches that the Port Norris Baptist church be allowed to withdraw and to have their own pastor.” On June 11 of the same year, Bro. Finch handed in his resignation, which was a very sorrowfully accepted. We realized that we would not be acting in a Christian manner by taking Pastor Finch from our mother church. So on July 1, Pastor Finch preached his farewell sermon, after having instituted this church with 68 members, baptized 20, received 7 by letter and experience.

During July and August our pulpit was supplied by Rev. A. W. H. Hodder, a student at Lewisburg University. His preaching being very acceptable, the church prevailed upon Bro. Hodder to consider a call to this church and on August 14, Bro. Hodder accepted the call for one year, commencing September 1. The good work went on and God’s blessing rested upon us. In December evangelistic services were held, Bro. Hodder being assisted by Rev. A. W. Hand. We had a glorious revival with a number of conversions, eight being baptized.

But in the midst of our prosperity God saw fit in His infinite wisdom to afflict us. On January 13, 1884, a few minutes after 3 o’clock, while our Sunday School was in session, our church was discovered to be on fire and in 50 minutes not one stick was left standing. We very keenly felt the blow, but Pastor Hodder being possessed by great recuperative powers at once laid hold of the “horns up the altar,” and feeling that the good work must go on over the ashes of our beautiful house of worship, invited all the members to meet the next night at the old school house to proceed at once to make arrangements to rebuild. Our new house of worship was built and dedicated to the worship of God on November 9, 1884. Bro. Finch presided over the services and Brother Hodder preached the dedicatory sermon. In the afternoon stirring addresses were made by Bros. Finch and Hodder, and Bros. P. Corson and G. Fisher of the Methodist Church. This was a red letter day for the Port Norris Baptist Church, the congregation frequently singing. “Praise God From Whom All Blessing Flow.” At the morning service Bro. Robbins stated that we needed $450 to complete paying for the church, the insurance and other expenses; a voluntary offering was taken and over $700 was raised and laid on God’s altar before the dedicatory prayer was offered.

On September 1, Bro. Hodder resigned as pastor, to resume his studies and Rev. Lorrimer Applebee was called to the pastorate on March 8, 1885, and continued one year and 8 months. We had quite a revival and 23 were baptized and 13 united by letter and restoration.

In the following two months, very many fervent prayers went forth for a revival and for the advancement of His Kingdom here. God answered our prayer and revival broke forth. We had no pastor, but we were fortunate in securing Bro. E. C. Romine as an evangelist and God truly blessed us. 56 were added to the church by baptism and 4 by letter and restoration. In the midst of our revival we called Rev. J. M. Scott to the pastorate, on February 27, 1887. He remained with us until June 17, 1888, when he preached his farewell sermon. Baptisms: 18.

Brother Charles F. Hahn followed and was pastor one year. Baptisms three, letters two.

Brother Wm. H. Humphries entered upon his pastorate June 5, 1891 and continued with us nearly three years. Baptisms 26, letters 5.

Pastor Humphries’ resignation took effect February 4, 1894, and was followed by Pastor C. P. P. Fox, who entered his pastorate here March 1, 1891. Bro. Fox was a man of power and God truly blessed his efforts and granted us a rich revival and 34 were added to our membership. Pastor Fox preached his farewell sermon amid the keen grief of his people on June 3, 1897.

He was followed by Rev. A. C. Gearhart, who was called to the pastorate and preached his first sermon October 15, 1902, and continued over three years. The Lord of the Harvest again signally blessed us with a great outpouring of His Holy Spirit, many crying what they should do to be saved. He preached his farewell sermon November 12, 1905. Baptisms 55, by letter and experience 7.

Bro. Gearhart was followed by Rev. S. A. Perrine, who entered upon his duties as Pastor July 24, 1906 and continued two years and nine months. God greatly blessed us again during his pastorate, and 36 were added to the church by baptism and 7 by letter and restoration. Bro. Perrine preached his farewell sermon May 9, 1909.

He was followed by Rev. C. W. Deibert, who entered upon his pastorate here, September 16, 1909. God truly answered our prayers and we had a great outpouring of His Holy Spirit. Bro. Deilbert labored hard for the advancement of His Kingdom, and was privileged to baptize 123 and add eleven by letter and experience. Truly during the 31 years of our church history. God has dealt very gently with us and granted us many outpourings of His Spirit.

The church was instituted with 63 members and 105 have been added by letter, experience and restoration, while 469 have been added by baptism. Think of it, 469 souls saved.

(Written by E. J. Cook, Clerk of the church in 1912