In 1925, Calvin Coolidge was President of the United States, Louis Armstrong made his first records, the first commercially successful 35 mm camera made its debut, and New York City became the largest city in the world. In April 1925, St. Paul’s Baptist Church made its debut into the annals of history. Driven from their homes by unsatisfactory economic opportunities and harsh segregation laws, many of our family members migrated to cities and towns in the North to escape the oppressive conditions of the South---unfair legal system, lynching’s, inequality in education, and denial of suffrage. Others were recruited by companies who sent labor agents to recruit industrial workers. The Alan Wood Steel Company was one of those companies in need of laborers for the steel industry. As a result, the town of Conshohocken was among the destinations of choice for many of our family members who migrated from South Carolina in search of a better life.
Many of the men who were recruited lived in camps on the Alan Wood premises. Upon learning of their being in Conshohocken, the late Reverend J. F. Shepherd, Pastor of the Conshohocken Presbyterian Church, felt that he should extend a welcome to the community, and speak to them about the Lord. When he visited the Schuylkill Iron Works and Steel Mills where many of the men were, he was accompanied by Reverend Marshall W. Lee who at that time was a licensed minister at Siloam Baptist Church in Norristown and a student at Temple University in Philadelphia. It is written that “the men were very attentive to the preaching of the Word and sang many hymns.’’ After one of the meetings, the late Walter M. Woods, a laborer in the mills who lived on Colwell Lane, spoke to Reverend Lee and suggested that “We should have a Baptist church here.” Reverend Lee responded by saying that “We have one colored church here and perhaps that may be sufficient, but if you think it is necessary to have another, go ahead. “Because of a need to respond to the spiritual needs of people struggling to adjust to life in a new community, meetings were held in the home of Mrs. Demmie Hill Milton. Reverend Lee secured the old James Hall Mill in West Conshohocken from the Alan Wood Company to hold services and invited different ministers to preach. A minister named Reverend J. Farrell attempted to organize a church, but failed. The late Reverend Phillips, former Pastor of the Balligomingo Church and Mr. Rush Barr, a teacher of the Conshohocken Methodist Church Men’s Bible Class, encouraged Reverend Lee to “take this work over. ”Reverend Lee indicated that “if the people want me they will let me know.” Reverend Lee was invited to “take over the work in 1924.”
On April 29, 1925 Reverend Marshall W. Lee invited Mrs. Demmie Hill Milton, Walter Woods, Stephen Solomon and Mrs. Mattie Smith to meet with Reverend J. B. Pratt, Pastor of Siloam Baptist Church of Norristown, PA and three delegates (Deacon J. M. Meade, Deacon Franklin, and Deacon James N. Livers) to join Siloam and procure letters for the purpose of recognizing and properly organizing a Baptist Mission in Conshohocken, PA. ”During this historic meeting, the Reverend J. B. Pratt was selected to serve as Chairman, Sister Mattie Hill was selected as Secretary, and Brother Walter G. Woods was selected to serve as Treasurer. Brother Walter G. Woods was elected as Deacon. During the course of the meeting, a call to the pastorate was extended to Reverend Lee to become the Pastor of the St. Paul’s Mission and he accepted. Reverend Pratt provided him with instructions in his “duty.” Reverend Lee was instructed “not to marry, serve communion, baptize, or preach funerals.” Brother William Johnson, Sister Mamie Johnson, Brother Ira Butler, Brother James Hill, Sister Frances Green, and Sister Ruby Hill came forth and joined as full members of the St. Paul’s Mission (Meeting minutes dated April 29, 1925).At the close of the meeting, Reverend Pratt proclaimed that” this St. Paul’s Baptist Mission had been properly organized and whenever this mission get ready it could call the various Baptist churches together to recognize it as a church.”
On July 7, 1925 “In pursuance to the call of a company of brethren and sisters who had organized themselves into a Missionary Baptist Church known as the St. Paul’s Baptist Church, eight churches met on July 7, 1925 to “consider the propriety of recognizing St. Paul’s Baptist Church as a regular and independent church of Christ.”(July 7, 1925 Meeting minutes of Recognition Council of the New England Baptist Missionary Convention, Inc.). In November 1925, a Council of Baptist Churches was called to ordain Reverend Marshall W. Lee, and after being examined, he was ordained into the gospel ministry. St. Paul’s Baptist Church became incorporated under Pennsylvania law in March 1926. The members of St. Paul’s Baptist Church authorized a building committee on August 27, 1927, consisting of Reverend Marshall W. Lee, Chairman Watson Hill, Secretary Willie Jackson, Charles Beatty, and Jesse Nash to have erected for them a church building situated on the northeast corner of Third Avenue and Hallowell Street in Conshohocken. The structure of the building was made possible through the fundraising efforts of 45 dedicated members and the stone for the church was donated by the Alan Wood Steel Company in Conshohocken. On August 16, 1948, a properly executed Satisfaction of Mortgage was presented to Reverend Lee from the American Baptist Home Mission Society. Under Reverend Lee’s leadership, the first annex to the church was completed in 1950; the parsonage was purchased and renovated in 1955; and the upper social room was furnished and decorated in 1959. The construction of the existing choir loft started in 1960.
A team consisting of Rev. Marshall W. Lee, Deacon James Groves, Sr., Deacon Joseph Vereen, Deacon Randolph Banks, and Brother Robert Graham, a son of St. Paul’s and student architect, were limited to the outside expansion based upon the zoning code side yard requirements. An ingenious plan was instituted to excavate the outside by building below the ground leaving the space above the ground clear to comply with the code requirements of the side yard distances. On weekends when everyone was available they would hand excavate the soil out of the side of the building to make sure that when they opened the stone wall from the inside the space would line up to balance the interior and provide enough space to seat the entire choir. A new piano was purchased and Sister Elizabeth Herbert, one of the daughters of Reverend Lee, served as church organist for 52 years. The planning of the new addition to the church fellowship hall began in Rev. Lee’s home in 1964 with Reverend Lee, Deaconess Olive Banks (youngest daughter of Reverend Lee) and Brother Robert Graham. Brother Graham was given the responsibility to develop the drawings. He recalls that “he persuaded Reverend Lee to connect his house with the new addition. ”The building was designed with the help of Deaconess Olive Banks who had experience in drafting. Construction was completed in 1967.
Reverend Marshall W. Lee served as pastor of St. Paul’s for 51 years until his death in 1976. Upon his death, Reverend James A. Groves, Sr., his assistant, was ordained and installed as the second pastor of St. Paul’s in 1977. We are proud of Reverend Groves because St. Paul’s is the church where he received his early Christian training. Under Reverend Groves’ leadership, the Inspirational Choir was organized in 1980. In 1981, the sanctuary was renovated and a balcony was erected in the rear of the church in 1981. Reverend Groves served faithfully for 20 years until his sudden death in 1997.On June 22, 1997, Reverend Leon Lowry, an Associate Minister of the church, was installed as the third pastor and served for seven years. Upon Reverend Lowry’s departure, Reverend Myrna E. Graham, an Associate Minister of St. Paul’s was ordained in 2004 and served for six years as Acting Pastor until her retirement in 2010. Under Reverend Graham’s six-year leadership, a new piano was purchased, the Male Chorus was organized, and the Sunday school continued to grow. She also formed a Women’s Fellowship that met on Monday evenings. R reverends Walter and LaFrance Johnson came to St. Paul’s in 2006 and assisted Reverend Graham until the time of her retirement. Reverend Johnson served as Guest Minister until March 2014. Under his leadership, the Praise and Worship Team was organized.
On May 18, 2014, Reverend Dr. Marjorie Duncan Reed was installed as the fourth pastor of St. Paul’s Baptist Church. Under her leadership, church ministries have been reorganized. Renovations to the parish were made including on the first floor a new kitchen with new appliances , new carpeting , living room furniture was replaced and a conference table and chairs were added as well as a Church School office. The second-floor bathroom was completely remodeled, and the other rooms were transferred into the Pastor's office, Finance office and Archived office. There was also re-establishment of collegial relationships between St. Paul’s and other churches in the surrounding communities. This included the renewed participation with the Suburban Baptist Association of which Pastor Reed is now the moderator. While St. Paul’s has had its challenges, the Lord has never left our side, and we stand tall in the Conshohocken community as a testament to what the will of God can do when His people accept God’s will and follow him. We can take comfort in the knowledge that there is a rich tradition made so by faith, determination, courage, and the character of those who founded our church in 1925.
“We’ve Come This Far by Faith”
Dr. S. Jean Wilson, Church Archivist