Founded on May 13, 1808, York Street Baptist Church has a rich and storied past. Spiritually, the church grew out of a renewal of the Great Awakening. Benjamin Randal (1749-1808), the founder of the Free-Will Baptist movement, provided early encouragement and counsel to the residents of York who became the church’s first members. Our church was first gathered under the direct influence of a minister named Elias Smith (1769-1846). Among his many accomplishments, Smith founded The Herald of Gospel Liberty, the first weekly religious newspaper in the United States.
Smith was also the man who ordained the church’s first pastor, York native Peter Young, on September 7, 1808. A well-traveled itinerant preacher, Young’s testimony was a dramatic one. His harrowing deliverance from leg injury that required a dangerous amputation procedure had gained notoriety. In 1809, Young published his Autobiography, and another edition followed in 1817. Harvard and Bates College own copies of this work, which vividly describes the church’s early days.
Young was not the only one among our early pastors to have published his life’s story. In 1852 the Autobiography of Elder Mark Fernald, the church’s third pastor, was published posthumously in Philadelphia. This was a tribute to his prominence and influential spiritual legacy. The publishers of this work note in their preface that Fernald “always stood ready to aid in every reform…He firmly loved and labored for the slave, and from the first was outspoken against the fugitive slave law.” They note as well that he was a missionary pioneer and did much to aid the poor.
In 1816, the church had been incorporated as the First Baptist Society of York. Its first building stood near the junction of Route 91, the Cider Hill Road, and Route 1. It was built about 1820, the year that Maine entered the union as America’s 23rd state. This building, which subsequently served as a school, survives today. It was moved to a lot adjacent to the present church site on York Street and is now a private home.
In 1866, the name of the First Baptist Society of York was changed to the York Christian Society. Two years later, a large lot on York Street was purchased from Charles A. Grant and a parsonage built at a cost of $2,200.
For about 25 years, the first church building continued to be used for services. Then, on January 22, 1890 it was voted to build a new church on the Grant lot near the parsonage and to no longer use the old building.
The years immediately preceding this important vote were a time of spiritual renewal and church growth. A highlight of this period took place on May 9, 1887. On this day, the New Hampshire Gazette reported that fully 400 people gathered at the York River to witness the baptism of 20 people who became new members of the church. Elder B.S. Maben officiated during the service, one described as moving and beautiful.
Edward Blaisdell, a designer associated with many fine homes built in and around York during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, drew up architectural plans for the new church. It was dedicated on May 13, 1891, and construction completed in 1894 at a cost of $10,000.
The onset of the Great Depression marked a difficult period in the life of the church. In April 1931 the church was closed. It was not re-opened until 1940. Following its re-opening the church, now known as the York Christian Church, enjoyed a period of steady growth.
On May 13, 1958 the church marked its 150th anniversary. Pastor Edward H. Glennie officiated during this special thanksgiving service, and Professor C. Milburn Keene from Gordon College delivered the anniversary address. An anniversary theme hymn, “Count on Me,” had been commissioned and was performed that night.
The 1960’s and 70’s saw several changes in the life of our church. In 1964, its name was changed from the York Christian Church to York Street Baptist Church. A new and substantial addition was added in 1970 to provide for more classroom space. In the early 1990’s further renovations took place, including the construction of a new gymnasium, the expansion of the church sanctuary and the creation of Gove Hall as a multipurpose fellowship room.