The turn of the century was a decade of growth for Ada County. The 1900 census indicated a total of 47 “colored” in Ada County, growing to 135 in 1910. Among the “wave” of new citizens was Rev. William Riley Hardy, who arrived in Boise in 1904. Rev. Hardy was to become the founder and first pastor of St. Paul Baptist Church, Boise’s first African American Baptist Church.
The St. Paul congregation began as a “house fellowship,” with people meeting for Sunday worship in different homes. As Mary Buckner detailed in the church’s 35th Anniversary Souvenir Program:
As a child growing up here in Boise, there was no colored church. A group of older people knew and realized a great need for the work of God in the city, and the children required religious training. Services were started by meeting from house to house. We enjoyed the services and our leaders.
The meetings quickly outgrew people’s homes, and church leaders began to look for a building to rent. The first mention of it in public record can be found in the 1909 Boise City Directory, which indicates that the congregation met in a small building at 6th and Front Streets. Between 1911 and 1917, the congregation worshipped in a home on Boise’s east side. In 1917, they met in the rear room of Gottlieb Lach’s Blacksmith Shop at 306 South 8th Street. The next year, they worshipped in the GAR Hall behind the Capitol. Then, in view of Boise’s continued growth, the leaders decided to build their own church.
Mrs. Narcisa Gestal of 124 Broadway Avenue heard of the congregation’s desire to purchase ground to build a church. Mrs. Gestal and her daughter contacted Rev. Hardy and offered her lots. Mrs. Gestal took the bold step saying, “I love to do good, so I’m offering my lots for the colored people of Boise.” The congregation purchased the lots.
A building permit was issued, and work on the frame church building was begun in 1921. The church’s first pastor, Rev. Hardy, by trade a skilled carpenter, did most of the heavy work, assisted by church trustee, Louis Stokes, Rev. Hardy’s father-in law, and other local carpenters.
Can’t you hear the congregation singing?Lord keep me day by day In a pure and fervent wayI want to live, I want to live, Lord,In a building not made by hand.
Lord keep my body strong So that I may do no wrong.Give me faith, to run this Christian race, Lord,To a building not made by hand.
Rev. Hardy persevered to lead the congregation for almost two decades, the longest tenure of any of St. Paul’s pastors, to date. Leadership upheavals between 1925 and 1928 included three pastors serving in quick succession. The Rev. D.D. Banks is credited for retrieving the property in 1928 and getting the church on more secure financial footing. Rev. W.P. Johnson implemented many structural improvements to the building, replaced the church’s chairs with pews and facilitated the rebuilding of the parsonage, which had been destroyed by fire.
In 1993, when attendance at St. Paul had reached capacity, we were truly blessed when the congregation of Capital Christian Center offered their building at 14th and Bannock to the St. Paul Baptist Church.
Upon accepting the offer of the building at 14th and Bannock, the St. Paul membership agreed to donate the historic building at 128 Broadway to a committee charged with preservation and restoration of the building. The historic church building, placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, thanks to the efforts of then pastor, Dr. H. Lincoln Oliver, now houses the Idaho Black History Museum. http://www.ibhm.org
On October 9, 1994, a joyous congregation gave thanks to God for His rich blessing and with great celebration moved here, to our new home at 1320 West Bannock.
During its history, the congregation of St. Paul Baptist Church has extended its ministries to the Boise and surrounding communities, sharing its theological influence, music and culinary talents. St. Paul has stood proudly, a testament to God’s grace - worshipping, praying, singing, and shouting - sharing the great news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
It is fitting that today we acknowledge and honor those who have labored, provided leadership and vision to St. Paul. Early pastors include Revs. Bird, Baker, Lee, D.D. Banks, Clark, Nixon, A.A. Banks, Long, Johnson, Williams, West, Burkett. More recent pastors include Rev. James S. Hubbard, 1966-1972, Dr. H. Lincoln Oliver, 1972-1988, Rev. Ellis Robinson, 1989–1992, Rev. Bobby Ashley, 1993-2000. And stands strong today, “continuing to press toward the mark of the higher calling” under the direction and guidance of our shepherd, Rev. Michael J. Ross, Sr.
We, members and friends of St. Paul Baptist Church, are a living witness to miracle after miracle and heirs of blessing upon blessing. We have seen the Lord make a way out of no way. Truly, we have come this far by faith.
Historical information thanks to:
Mary C. Hardy Buckner Dr. Mamie O. Oliver