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This Day in Norwood History- September 22, 1938-First Baptist Church Steeple Blown Off by Hurricane of ’38

On September 21, 1938 New England was struck hard with the Hurricane of ’38, also known as the New England Hurricane of 1938. The Hurricane was expected to hit Florida but swerved to the right and headed Northeast up the Atlantic Coast. Instead of turning seaward again as was expected, it suddenly swung West into New York and New England. Hundreds of lives were lost and thousands of homes were destroyed.

Up to 6 inches of rain fell across the Western part of the state, which had received 4 inches of rain the previous week, causing widespread flooding. On the South Coast, the storm surge left Falmouth and New Bedford under 8 feet of water, causing two-thirds of the boats in New Bedford harbor to sink. A 50-foot wave was spotted in Gloucester, and Blue Hill Observatory in Milton registered the strongest hurricane-related surface wind gust ever recorded in the United States –  sustained winds of 121 mph (195 km/h) and a peak gust of 186 mph (299 km/h).

Tens of thousands of trees were blown down, knocking out power and preventing travel. Church steeples, which stood taller than most trees and buildings around them, were partially or totally destroyed across the state.

Many houses and buildings in Norwood were damaged, including the First Baptist Church. At that time the church was located near 686 Washington St, the current site of Byblos restaurant and Burn Boot Camp.

First Baptist Church Norwood Ma

The fall of the church spire was captured in a series of photos taken by Bond st resident Edward Pothier.

First Baptist Church Norwood Ma

The steeple and belfry had been admired for eighty years before the storm but came down suddenly in the span of one afternoon.

First Baptist Church Norwood Ma

Photo: Thu, Sep 22, 1938 – 7 · The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) · Newspapers.com

First Baptist Church Norwood Ma
First Baptist Church Norwood Ma
The replacement spire, seen under construction here, was a different, smaller style than the original.
First Baptist Church Norwood Ma
The new, smaller spire. Notice the addition in the rear of the Church.

The First Baptist Church of Norwood can trace its beginnings to July 19, 1858, when a meeting was held at the home of Addison Boyden to consider the advisability of forming the South Dedham Society, Baptist Church. At that meeting, and at one held July 28, plans were formulated for the new church society, with a committee appointed to procure supplies, for preaching services to be held in Union Hall (one of the rooms in the Everett School building and also in Hartshorn Hall in the old Norwood House).

On August 8th of that year, three public meetings were held and these services were conducted by the Rev. Joseph B. Breed of Woonsocket, R.I.

Later Rev. Breed accepted a call to serve the new church as its pastor, commencing his duties on October 1, 1858.

First Baptist Church Norwood Ma James Breed

On October 13, 1858, thirty-five members of the West Dedham Church (now Westwood) were admitted.

As early as December of 1858 a movement was started to erect a house of worship. Plans moved ahead rapidly and on June 7, 1859, the cornerstone was laid for the church on Washington Street. The area was known as “The Hook” in those days, named for the iron hook in front of Paul Ellis’ Tavern (Norwood house). “The Hook” is the center of Norwood today.

The service of dedication took place on December 1, 1859. In later years an addition was built on the rear of the church. After the September 1938 hurricane toppled the steeple, it was rebuilt with a smaller spire.

Over the years the Church appointed several committees to study the possibility of further additions to the property. The Shattuck estate on the corner of Walpole and Bond streets became available and ground was broken on the new church on March 11, 1951, with the cornerstone laid on October 7th the same year. Services were held in the Bond Street Parish House until the new Church building was dedicated with Dr. Everett C Herrick offering prayer on January 27, 1952.

First Baptist Church Norwood Ma

The old church, which stood approximately opposite of the Norwood Messenger on Washington street, was torn down to make room for a new block of stores.

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