Whitelaw Avenue Baptist Church
Friday, September 17, 2021
Glorifying God...Expanding His Kingdom

Church History

"I Love to Tell the Story"

Whitelaw Avenue Baptist Church History


On May 27, 1934, our 18 Charter Members:  Hoyet Beggs, Verda Beggs, Vernon Beggs, A. M. Dutch Bell, Leta Bell, Nellie Curtis, Gladys Ketchie, W. M. Ketchie, Dottie Mason, Mary McVey, Mrs. A. Shields, Aileen Smith, Rev. Glenn Smith, Ida Ruth Smith, Carroll Smith, Oma Smith, Rosa Veach, and John Wagemann, met in a house which had been used for a General Baptist Mission to organize under the name of Wood River Calvary Baptist Church and was headed by Rev. Glenn Smith.  Our Church Covenant and the The New Hampshire Declaration of Faith held by Baptists (18 Articles of Faith) was read and approved.  Our Church affiliated with the local Baptist Association and also with the Illinois State Baptist Association.


In June, 1935, Rev. Smith resigned and we hired Rev. Arba A. Capron as Pastor on August 4th of the same year.   The population of Wood River was growing fast in the 30's with the increase of employees at the Standard Oil Refinery and people were beginning to find our little Church at the end of Marguerite Avenue.  Sunday School attendance was 53 and Church attendance was 48. 


By October, 1935, everyone was experiencing hard times during the Great Depression but with $1.85 in offering, $142 in our Church Treasury, assets of one used piano and 75 song books, we stepped out in faith and voted to purchase the building at 87 Marquerite from George F. Smith, Jr. for $1,800.  The little Church did not have a baptistry, so we performed our baptisms at the First Baptist Church of Granite City.  Membership grew and all of our expenses were paid.  A few renovations and updates were made to our Church including a small baptistry, lighting and window treatments. 







On May 6, 1936, our Church membership agreed to begin sending our weekly birthday and anniversary offerings to the Baptist Children's Home in Carmi, Illinois.  On November 1, 1939, our Church membership also agreed to send a percentage of our offerings to the Illinois State Baptist Mission Cooperative Program, to fund missions around the World. Since then, we have continued to provide financial support and pray for both those ministries.


By 1940, our membership grew to 91, and we had 135 enrolled in Sunday School.  We could see we were going to need a larger place of worship, so we made the decision to try to reach more people for Christ by looking for land to purchase.  Shortages and events stemming from World War II put a hold on those plans, but in 1948 we were able to purchase land on Whitelaw Avenue from Anna Haller Chessen.


In June 1940, we held our first Vacation Bible School and enrolled 57 children.  Every year since, VBS continues to be one of our largest children's ministries.  We believe this is one of the best opportunities to let children know that God and the people of our Church really care about them.


In October 1948, donated labor from our Church membership was used to construct the basement at 800 Whitelaw Avenue in Wood River.  Members worked from early in the morning until 10:00 at night with a big turnover of workers because of their shift work schedules. 


In March 1949, we moved our services to the basement of our Church at Whitelaw Avenue, with the plan to worship there until the funds could be obtained to build the Auditorium.   We also voted to sell our property on Marguerite to The Church of Christ.


 On April 6, 1949, we became legally incorporated and the name of our Church was changed to Whitelaw Avenue Baptist Church, hoping more people could find us by using the street address in the name of our Church.

The street, Whitelaw Avenue, was named after Mr. Arthur Keith Whitelaw, who came to Wood River in 1907 and moved up the ranks quickly at the Standard Oil Refinery.  He was known as a very prominent man in Wood River, holding many board positions as the City was being formed.  Whitelaw Avenue was also the first concrete road in Wood River and was a very well traveled road. 


In November 1949, we stepped out in faith once again and began construction on the Auditorium with much dedication and hard work by our members.   Ray Williams was the Contractor and Worcester and Bell was hired for the brickwork. Thousands of hours were donated by our members for the construction with the exception of the flooring in the Auditorium and the roof.   


On December 18, 1949, a Ceremony was held commemorating a cornerstone being laid containing a time capsule which holds Church records to be opened by our Church on December 25, 2025.  


On August 6, 1950, with a Church membership of 163 and 171 in Sunday School, the Auditorium was finished.  Our first service and a Dedication Ceremony were held in our new 325 seat Auditorium.






On Oct. 3, 1954, we held an Organ Dedication Ceremony and because we were very blessed to be able to quickly pay off our mortgage, we also held a Mortgage Burning Ceremony on that same day.


In September, 1955 - December, 1956, our Church sponsored a Mission in Troy, Illinois.  It was constituted a Southern Baptist Church in December, 1956. It is now known as the Bethel Baptist Church of Troy.


In 1956 through 1957, with Sunday School enrollment growing, a two story, 41ft. by 98ft., Education Building at the rear of the Auditorium, was completed and dedicated. Worcester and Bell built the frame and exterior of the building and the entire Church interior was built with donated labor by Church members once again.  We have always been a Church that loves people.  We built it to receive more people and they came! 


By 1959, our Church membership increased to 362 and Sunday School enrollment to 485.   To accommodate our growing Youth and Children's Ministries, an 11 room dwelling on a lot northwest of our Church was purchased.  The property was known as the "Church Annex" and it provided space for the Youth and Intermediate Sunday School Departments and it was also used for recreational activities.  






By 1960, and within one year our Church membership increased to 399, Sunday School enrollment increased to 530 and Vacation Bible School, which had been held all but one year had an enrollment of 260.


In 1964, our Church was credited with conducting a Mission at the College Avenue Nursing Home in Alton, Illinois.  We have been a missions-minded church locally by conducting annual Backyard Bible Clubs and other community ministries  We have also traveled to many states in the US and Canada to help other churches and ministries.


In 1967, three lots were purchased adjacent to our Church to be used for a parking lot and in September of the same year we were able to pay off the mortgage for our Education Building.


On December 31, 1968, our Church accepted with regret, the resignation of Rev. Arba Capron after 33 years of faithful service.  Our Church experienced its largest growth under his leadership with 566 members at the time of his retirement.


By 1970, our membership grew to 635 during the height of the largest population increase of the City of Wood River.


In 1981, with our Church being debt free, our Church Annex was sold and we have since purchased a property at 817 Wood River Avenue, known as the "White House" for additional space for our Youth Ministry.


On May 27, 1984, a 50th Anniversary Celebration service was held.  A picnic buffet lunch was served afterwards on our Church lawn at Noon.  The Celebration continued with all former Pastors speaking at an afternoon service.


In 1986 through 1987, the members were busy donating their time and labor installing a truss roof and remodeling our Education Building.


In 1988, a steeple on the front of the Auditorium and an electric sign at our Edwardsville Road entrance was added.





From August 1990-September 1992, our Church sponsored a Mission in Bunker Hill, Illinois.  It was constituted as a Southern Baptist Church in September, 1992 and is now known as the Bunker Hill Baptist Church.


In 1992, we were fortunate enough to be able to update and improve our Church Sanctuary including a new Baptistery, a new sound system which also provides help for the hearing impaired, remodeling of the Fellowship Hall and enclosing the exterior front entrance of the Auditorium.  The new Auditorium was dedicated February 28, 1993 with an Open House Service.





On February 25, 2001, we held a Dedication Ceremony for our newly installed elevator, which helped make all floors accessible.


In 2006, we made a decision to continue our commitment to reach more people for Christ in the community we serve.  The Bridge to Tomorrow Renovation Campaign began where we raised enough funds in three years to renovate the Education Building.  To protect our Church Budget, the Bridge to Tomorrow Campaign began to raise enough funds to provide greater use of our classroom space, while addressing safety and special needs concerns.  Our building and renovations have helped our Church fulfill its calling to be God's people in mission, right here in Wood River, Illinois.  


In 2009, God continued to bless our Church and its people as we celebrated our 75th Anniversary.   


 We look forward to another celebration in 2025, when we open our time capsule commemorating 75 years at our current building on Whitelaw Avenue in Wood River.  "The road is difficult but the path to eternal life is open to everyone who asks" .  We are continuing to tell the story of God's Love.


During our Church history, we have been served by 8 Pastors:


Rev. Glenn Smith             1934-1935

Rev. Arba Capron            1935-1968

Rev. Arthur Fray              1969-1970

Rev. Jim Doom                 1970-1974

Rev. Elven Hensley          1974-1979

Rev. Norman Jameson    1980-1985

Rev. Kenneth Spires        1986-1998

Rev. Richard Newcom    1999-Present


We were blessed with the following Associate and Interim Pastors:


Rev. Calvin Reynolds, Associate Pastor          1976-1977

Rev. Paul Hall, Interim Pastor                         July 1979 - December 1979

Rev. Richard Farrow, Interim/Associate        1986-1988/1999-2002

Rev. Leroy Smith, Interim Pastor                     1998-1999