Genesee Baptist Church History
The intersection of Genesee Street and Brooks Avenue was once known as Castle Town. It was established by two brothers whose names were James and William Wardsworth. In Castle Town, the place where Brooks Ave. met the Genesee River was known as the Rapids. This was the place where most settlers crossed the river. As the Rapids became a very busy place, it was realized as a future metropolis. By 1800 William Wardsworth had built a tavern. It was said to be the first tavern in the Genesee Country, and the habitants started drinking early. The stress of trying to settle brought about death to many. The first community cemetery was placed on Congress Avenue in 1812.
In 1818 a new village was organized under the leadership of Col. Nathaniel Rochester. This village was called Rochesterville. It became the greater commercial thoroughfare with the construction of the Erie Canal. But the Rapids continued to strive.
Home and school went hand in hand. The children went to the school that was located on the corner of Brooks and Maxwell until 1869. In 1869 Seward School (#19) was built at Reynolds and Magnolia. This was the major secondary school of the Rapids until the Lewis H. Morgan School (#37) in 1913. By 1905 West High School was built. It was so filled to capacity that in 1922 the Madison High School was built.
Those days were marked by drunkenness and vice in the Rapids. It had become known as one of the most notoriously immoral communities in western New York. So Otis Turner decided that something had to be done. It was in his house with the assistance of his daughters Helen and Charlotte that this church had its beginnings. The Turners’ home was located on Brooks Avenue across from Kron Street. In 1859 August Hopkins Strong was persuaded to preach for a time at the Rapids Sunday School. He was a student in the Rochester Theological Seminary and his preaching was marked by the conversion of a number of people. (Later, Strong became one of the distinguished preachers of the Northern Baptist Convention and was president of what is now the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School from 1872 – 1912.) A succession of students from the divinity school followed Dr. Strong.
The Sunday school in the Turner home became a mission of the First Baptist Church of Rochester. In 1868 a church was built at Genesee Street and Terrace Park on land donated by Edward Frost. The great event of this church came on October 29, 1871 when 25 members of what was known as the Rapids Mission petitioned for dismissal from First Baptist Church of Rochester in order to form the First Baptist Church of the Rapids which was incorporated as Genesee Baptist Church in 1915. St. Monica Church was established in 1898, and the Third Church of Christ, Scientist moved into a building on Marsh Street in 1926.
In 1922 construction began on the present building at 149 Brooks Avenue and was completed in 1925. The already existing church on Terrace Park was moved to the new location and is now the Memorial Parlor.
The first long-term pastor was the Rev. T. Byron Caldwell. He was succeeded by Rev. R. LaRue Cober, Rev. R. Claibourne Johnson, Rev. Bruce M. Lambert, Rev. Folke Ferre, Rev. John Elliott, Rev. Dr. Jesse Brown, and Rev. Dr. Vera E. Miller. Under the leadership of its pastors, Genesee Baptist Church has continued to be a leader for the service of the Lord.
“We will move forward through the ages.”