The Tenants Harbor Baptist Church, also known as the Third Baptist Church of St. George, was an outgrowth of the two earlier Baptist churches at Wiley’s Corner and at the Ridge in Martinsville. A group was organized in 1842 and in March 1845 a meeting was held at the Clark schoolhouse for the purpose of “adopting measures to build a church.” A church was built at the cost of about $2,500 and it was dedicated in December 1847.
Talk about rebuilding the church began about 1883, but construction work did not begin until the fall of 1890. It took a year to complete, at a contract price of $5,800, with a dedication of the new building in October 1891. Church membership at the time was around 250.
A newspaper article from 1891 describes the church: “The church is commandingly located on a hill overlooking the pretty village whose name it bears. The structure is in the form of two right-angled wings with a handsome tower at the junction. The old church forms one of the wings.” The article goes on to describe the renovations in detail, noting the size and types of wood used, seating capacity and the beautiful stained glass windows. The church steeple is then mentioned: “It is 74 feet high and commands a wonderful view of the surrounding country and sea. It is used as a beacon for sailors off the coast, its commanding situation making it very useful for that purpose.” To this day, it is still referred to as the “Lighthouse on the Hill.”
At the dedication in 1891, the building committee reported approximately $2,000 of debt. Immediately several members stepped forward and made donations, followed by Capt Samuel Watts. A contemporary account said Watts addressed his friends and neighbors saying, “The church should be dedicated free from debt.” He reportedly then and there paid the balance of $1,750.
For many years the church was the site for the St. George High School’s graduation services. —John Falla