Churches have always been important in the life of Plain City. One of the earliest in the area is the Big Darby Baptist Church in Canaan Township. Elder John Thomas of Mechanicsburg in Champaign County came to the area in December of 1810 and organized seven settlers into a church. They were David Garten, Rachel Clark, Mr. and Mrs. Isaac Fuller, William Harris, William Casto and Elizabeth Casto. Elder Thomas established the church and preached the first sermon on Dec. 10, 1810.
As was usual in those early days, at first the church met in the homes or barns of members. Later a log school house was used as a meeting place, another common custom of the time. Eventually a small frame building was erected on the same lot where the present building stands, on Plain City-Georgesville Road facing Price-Hilliards Road. Within several years the congregation had outgrown this building. It became customary when the weather was pleasant to meet outside, with the minister conducting the service from a wagon.
From 1847 for over a quarter of a century, Brother James Simpson served as pastor. It was under his guidance in 1861 that a new frame building was erected, the same one in use today. On Feb. 1, 1862, Brother Simpson preached the first sermon in the new church.
It was also during this time that the church cemetery was dedicated. Thurzia Reece, wife of Abram Reece, was the first person buried in the cemetery, on Sept. 2, 1860.
Reverend S. Ross became the pastor in February of 1884. His was the first family to occupy the new parsonage, and it was also during his pastorate that the belfry and bell were installed over the front entrance of the church.
In the early 1900s Reverend V. D. Willard oversaw the building of an addition to the east end of the church. It was also during his ministry that the Baptist Young Peoples Union, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Missionary Society were organized.
Reverend W. M. Turner was pastor during the centennial celebrations in 1910, which lasted for three days. Some 300 people attended services each day. A few years later, under Reverend W. W. Crabtree, an addition was made to the north side of the church and a new floor and pews were installed.
Between 1943 and 1945 the Reverend John Vance of the New California Presbyterian Church served as a part-time pastor.
In 1960 Reverend Fred McKnight arrived, and before the year was out, ground was broken for a new brick addition. (At the time, there were no indoor toilet facilities in the old building.) The new facility also gave the church 12 Sunday School rooms, a crib room and a library. Reverend McKnight served until 1969, and returned in 1995 to act as an interim pastor, leaving in 1997.
Big Darby Baptist Church was one of the founding churches of the Mad River Baptist Association in 1812, and was a member of the Association for all of its 153 years. When the Association was disbanded in 1964, Big Darby became part of the Columbus Baptist Association.
In 1981 a new parsonage was built. The church bell was removed from the steeple for safety reasons in the 1990s, and was dedicated on its new brick platform beside the church in 2005 during the church’s 195th anniversary celebration.
Throughout its history, Big Darby Baptist Church has been active in the mission field, supporting missionaries and sending members out to all parts of the world, as well as aiding refugees. Under the leadership of Reverend Eric Swenson, it continues on this path of service, fulfilling its stated purpose: “… we seek to teach, equip and encourage each other to mature in our faith and worship, and thus honor our God.”
Rosemary Anderson is the vice president of the Plain City Historical Society.
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