In November, 1788, a company of pioneers from New Jersey and Pennsylvania, led by Major Benjamin Stites came down the Ohio river and landed near what is now Lunken Airport. They established a settlement and called it Columbia. Several Baptist families were included in the company. On January 20, 1790 these families met in the home of Benjamin Davis and organized the Columbia Baptist Church. Rev. Stephen Gano presided over the meeting and Isaac Ferris was chosen as the first deacon. This was the first official protestant church of any denomination in the Northwest Territory.
Rev. John Smith of Pennsylvania was called as the first pastor. Major Stites donated a plot of higher ground at what is now known as pioneer cemetery (most of the original pioneers, including Major Stites are buried here). The frame church constructed on this site is pictured above.
During the late 18th century Columbia Baptist Church experienced a great revival, adding nearly 150 new members. Unfortunately, this revival was short lived. Around the turn of the century the majority of Columbia’s members moved northward and established the Duck Creek Baptist Church. This left Columbia so enfeebled that services were held intermittently and eventually abandoned. The building was left to decay and was finally demolished in 1837 (a metal cross survived the demolition and is on display in the current building).
Within half a century of the demise of the original Columbia Baptist Church, the Little Miami Railroad brought new life to the old village and Columbia again became the field for a church.
On January 4, 1865 the new Columbia Baptist Church was formed with the Rev. B.F. Harmon as pastor. By February 8 the church had 24 members and was recognized by the Miami Baptist Association. By September of 1865 the church had expanded to 57 members and plans were soon under way to build a church. The lot on which the current church stands was purchased for $1,600 and the building was dedicated on September 29, 1867. Pastor Harmon continued his work here for four years. His son, Judson Harmon would eventually become one of the greatest governors the state of Ohio has ever known and competed with Woodrow Wilson in the Democratic Presidential Primary Election.
In February 1876, Rev. W. E. Stevens was ordained and became pastor of the church for the next 23 years. During early 1877 a large percentage of members living in Mt. Lookout withdrew to form the Mt. Lookout Baptist church. Fortunately, the Lord gave an outpouring of His Spirit that made our church stronger and in 1879 the church experienced a revival. The chuch used the blessings of the Lord to erect an addition to the building and help establish a mission on Delta Avenue to serve the indigent in the community. In 1883 the Linwood branch became a separate church with some of Columbia’s most prominent members withdrawing to form this organization. This resulted in a partnership between Columbia Baptist and Linwood that continues to this day.
The community suffered greatly from the floods of 1883 and 1884. With the help of the Lord, the pastor, and the congregation, many of those rendered temporarily homeless were able to rebuild. The support the church gave the community and the support the community gave the church caused a great awakening and by 1896 total membership was up to 405. Sadly, after seeing the church through so many years, Pastor Stevens resigned to “work in another part of the Lord’s vineyard.” During his pastorate church membership increased from about 100 to over 400. Indeed both church and community owe much to his life for the splendid work he did and the sacrifices he made.
The church continued to prosper and during the first week of October, 1915 it celebrated its 50th anniversary. The church was continued to enjoy the Lord’s blessing and added 79 members to its roll in 1917. These were the years of WWI and the church was the need to establish a community service area. Due to these efforts, the church became the temporary home to those displaced by flood or disaster. The church contnued to grow, with an all-time membership high of about 600 recorded between 1933 and 1937. After the great flood of 1937 which covered Eastern Avenue and invaded the church basement, a period of gradual decline set in when families moved away to escape future floods. WWII saw all of our young men in service to their country and a large number of inactive or non-resident members as a result. This resulted in a drastic decrease and by late 1944 church membership fell to 307 active members. After the war, the evangelistic efforts of the pastor and congregation began to attract people and by August of 1958 we were again serving the spiritual needs of 465 members of the community.
During the 150 years since the re-establishment of the Columbia Baptist Church, major improvements have been made at approximately 30 year intervals. The first house of worship became inadequate within 30 years of its erection and the current building was completed and dedicated in 1895. Like many old churches, we eventually found ourselves in a community that has slowly undergone change. Columbia Baptist has given freely of its life blood both in members and in substance, both by helping to found new churches including Duck Creek, Mt. Lookout, Linwood, and Mt. Washington, and also in the families which have left to strengthen other churches in other communities. Conversely, we have not received such an influx from outside of our community. Our strength has been primarily derived from those born to the newness of life and developed within our own church. This has been good for us, and in times of trial and discouragement it is well to remember that the Lord has always led us through when we have trusted him.