In tracing the Baptist beginning in Fowler, we should mention the First Baptist Church of Gouverneur. This church was the center of Baptist faith in south-western St. Lawrence County and may be regarded as the mother church of the region. From her membership sprang the Fullerville and Richville Baptist churches.
It was in December 1822 when 13 members, formerly of the Gouverneur church, met and organized the Baptist Church in Fullerville under the leadership of Elder Jonathan Payne. This church was the first Baptist church in the town of Fowler.
Institutions center around leaders and young Elder Payne was a notable one. A farmer, he had first been a deacon of much promise in the Gouverneur church and later had been ordained at a council of churches by the ancient rite of the laying on the hands. He was the first pastor of Gouverneur Church from 1811 to 1816. During his ministry in Gouverneur he was a prime mover in organizing the St. Lawrence Baptist Association, traveling through the sparsely settled country to Stockholm in order to meet the delegates from five Baptist churches. Another dynamic leader was present to assist, Elder Haskell, who was also the prime mover in founding Colgate University, the Baptist theological school in 1819.
At the Stockholm meeting Elder Payne was chosen as the first moderator of the Association. Later to become the minister of the Baptist Church at Ogdensburg.
After a year the Fullerville brethren called Reverend Noah Barrel of Gouverneur Baptist Church to conduct services a quarter of the time. Since he was pastor at Gouverneur at this time until 1828, this seems to have been a yoked parish with the Gouverneur church.
The coming of the Fuller brothers to the settlement we call Fullerville occurred ten years later in 1832 and they made Fullerville the center of the town’s industry. The brothers, Sheldon, Stillman, Heman, and Ashbel came from the Rossie Iron Works, and they were experienced iron workers. They built a blast furnace at Fullerville, also a grist mill and a store. The brothers were staunch Baptists and with their generous aid the Baptist church was erected in Fullerville in 1835.
In the year 1826 in West Fowler a group of Free Will Baptists was established and in 1852 they built a meeting house.
The village we know as Fowler had been settled in 1811. The village was christened Little York, after one of the few decisive American victories in the War of 1812 when we landed and captured York, the Canadian capital, now Toronto.
In 1878, a historian had written of Fowler, “This little settlement can hardly claim the dignity of a village,” but he goes on to admit that town meetings were usually held here and that for years the town’s only post office was in Little York.
It was the home, too, of the enterprising Simeon Hazelton who came from Upton, Massachusetts. He had built a sawmill nearby on the outlet of Sylvia Lake and his interests included a tavern and a store. His sons took an active part in the town life; Asa served a term as town supervisor in 1842, and Thomas also served in 1850 as well as postmaster.
Our present church stood on a knoll that had been part of Simeon Hazelton’s farm. It was built about 1841, the meeting place of a flourishing Universalist Church Society of 73 members. The building was aided by a donation from the town’s founder Theodosius Fowler. Simeon Hazelton was a trustee and he was a leader in the work of building. The completed edifice is said to have cost $1200.
Meanwhile the Free Will Baptist Church of West Fowler has suffered a serious loss of membership which resulted in the closing of their church. Their last regular minister was Reverend B. F. Jefferson.
The year 1877 marks the beginning of our Fowler Baptist Church when on March 17, a group banded together under the name of The Free Will Baptist Church of Fowler. Reverend B. F. Jefferson was called as the first pastor. While details are lacking, it would appear that this pastor, on leaving the West Fowler church, had decided to make a fresh start in Baptist work here at a more central location. Some of the remaining members of the closed church joined the new Society. The members of the newly organized church met first at the one-room brick school house.
Looking for a permanent meeting place, the new Baptist Society promptly negotiated with George Hazelton, Simeon Hazelton’s grandson and the administrator of his estate and purchased the former Universalist Church building.
The new Baptist Society found an attractive church building but one calling for some repairs. The interior had been designed after Christ Church in Alexandria, Virginia, where George Washington had attended services. In the colonial design, the treatment was spare and depended on a rightness of line and space. The result was a sanctuary of austere beauty.
Originally, there were two entrance doors, a common feature of church buildings of the period when women sat on one side of the meeting house and men on the other.
In renovating the church, the interior was much changed. The central window behind the pulpit was removed along with the high pulpit. The baptistry, a char-cleristic feature of many of our churches, was installed. The two entrance doors were replaced by a single door harmonizing with the old style. Modern bench pews take the place of the original box pews and the gallery has been closed off.
The clear glass windows offer picturesque views of our matchless North Country landscape and the graceful vaulted ceiling, an unusual feature, was part of the renovation.
The faithful were called to worship by the bell in the church tower, given to the church by Willard Grazier in 1885. It is inscribed “Presented to the Baptist Church of Fowler, St. Lawrence County by Willard Glazier, in memory of his sisters Elvira and Marjory 1885.” The bell was from the foundry of Henry McShane of Baltimore, Maryland.
From the fall of 1887, we have, with some omissions, a record of the meetings of the members of Fowler Church. They are chiefly reported of Covenant meetings, when the Church Covenant was read, testimonies given, and church business conducted. Here we can sense the spiritual life of the church at work among its members. Sometimes the clerk of the meeting entered comments of his own as, “A good social meeting, a good spiritual meeting, or one, Surely the Lord is with His people.”
There was an earnest effort to live Christ-like lives as in a Covenant, meeting in 1905, when the members decided by standing vote, with a single exception “to be more careful of our talk and action.”
The last Covenant meeting on record was held on February 22, 1919. Like the custom of many of our present-day churches, the Covenant is usually read preceding the Communion Service.
In the fall of 1891 there was a notable spiritual awakening in Fowler under the evangelistic preaching of Reverend H. Payne and others. Seventeen persons were converted and baptized in Sylvia Lake. There was another baptism of sixteen more candidates as late as November 8, that year.
In 1913 the American Free Will Baptist Church merged with the United States Northern Baptist Church, now known as the American Baptist Church. Accordingly, the Fowler church dropped the term, “Free Will.” Baptists have long recognized that each church is a unit of itself and though doctrine may very we have unity in diversity. Our only creed is the New Testament.
Fowler Baptist Church joined the St. Lawrence Baptist Association in 1913. Our Association, during Reverend Herbert Hunt’s ministry joined the Black River Baptist Association to form the North Country Association.
As early as 1887 the Fowler church had met for quarterly meetings with sister churches at Spragueville, Harrisburgh, New Bremen and Depauville.
In 1919 the Fowler church began a yoked ministry with Gouverneur Baptist Church.
The year 1876 marked the closing of the Fullerville Baptist Church and the village declined; the last iron furnace ceased running in 1882. There have been attempts to reopen this church, but now some remaining members have united with Fowler Baptists.
Fowler Baptists have taken devoted care of their church home and recent gifts include the cross in the rear of the pulpit and another surmounting the spire.
The White Church on the Hill, a silent reminder that Christ is willing and waiting to receive all who will enter through her door.