First Baptist Church: Home of “Robert’s Rules of Order”

Constructed in 1829, the Greek Revival style 3-story white clapboard church was an expansion of the Tiverton Baptist Church established in 1685 by Mayflower passenger, John Cooke.

The steeple provided a landfall for whaling ships and is one of four prominent church steeples depicted in the City’s Seal, the only one still standing today.

Throughout the nineteenth century, modern amenities were added, and a two-story brick-clad educational wing was built in 1929. Roof and siding repairs were made in 1977, but the continuing maintenance was too expensive to sustain, and no significant improvements had been made since that time. By 2012, the deterioration was pronounced, and a decision had to be made about the future of the building.

Demolition was unthinkable since the church is far more than a cherished New Bedford landmark. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is a designated National Treasure, a rare honor afforded to only a few historic buildings by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Working with the Mayor’s office and a local community theater group, WHALE undertook a feasibility study focused on restoring the building for use as a theater venue. In 2012, a partnership between Your Theatre and WHALE was formed and agreement reached with the First Baptist congregation to move their operations into the building’s annex.
The Steeple Playhouse offers a large performance venue in the heart of downtown New Bedford, bringing new energy and vitality to the city’s continuing cultural renaissance.

First Baptist Church – Home to Roberts Rules of Order
In 1863, Army Lt. Henry Martyn Roberts was attempting to moderate a meeting at the First Baptist Church about port defense when bedlam broke out. Attendees became boisterous, arguing and shouting, interrupted intermittently by the city clock ringing inexplicably for long periods during the session. Altogether, the meeting is reported to have lasted over 24 hours!

Lt. Roberts vowed “never again” and set about creating a standard set of rules for meetings. In December of 1874, he took his manuscript to a pressman and the rest is history. “Robert’s Rules of Order,” a guide to parliamentary procedures, forever changed how meetings are run around the world, and the recently published 12th edition is widely used to this day.