Thanks to the research of Jessica Hilburn, the Historian & Head of Reference at the Benson Memorial Library in Titusville, we now have some new information to share/preserve about the church's history, in particular the opening of the building in 1904 as related by the Oil City Derrick newspaper. Below is the transcript of that article, the link to the scan of the original is the title below:
Baptist Church Dedication
Impressive Ceremony Before an Audience of More Than Twelve Hundred
Franklin, March 13 – (Special)- After many tedious delays, tiresome waits and annoying disappointments experienced by the officials and members of the First Baptist church, extending over a space of more than three years, they have finally reached the day when they could say, “At last, we have a church.” March 13, 1904, will be a great day in the annals of the First Baptist church, and what a church for a town the size of Franklin. The entire plant, consisting of church, Sunday school building and parsonage, is not equaled by any denomination in the State, except in several of the larger cities. Just prior to the turning over of the keys, Treasurer Hart read a valuation of the property as follows:
Sunday school department complete..................58,000
Organ and furniture…………………………....12,180
A grand total of $113,530 for the entire plant. The estimate made is considered too conservative, but so it stands on the books. The ground for the new buildings was broken in July, 1900, and had it not been for the many vexatious delays, the new church should have been dedicated a year ago. The outward appearance of the buildings is both stately and imposing and would attract attention on account of size and the large area of ground covered. The seating capacity of the new auditorium is about 500 and when the large sliding doors, which form the lower part of the partition between the church and Bible school building, are raised the capacity is increased to 1,250. This takes in only General Miller’s class room, which is only one half of the auditorium of the Bible school building. Another set of sliding partitions are pushed up and another 1,000 is added to the seating capacity and when all is thrown open, presenting one grand arena, the preacher can be seen and heard by 2,700 if it is so desired. The buildings include 35 distinct rooms, besides spacious halls and corridors.
The interior of the new edifice is a marvel of artistic beauty and arrangement. It is constructed somewhat on the cathedral order of architecture. The room is octagon shape and the walls arise to a height of possibly 50 feet. Four walls are each 30 feet wide, with the corner walls about 15 feet wide. The wide walls run to a gothic paint (point?), the narrow walls are inlaid at the top with the dark finished oak wood that reaches down from the ceiling a distance of 20 feet. The entire ceiling is finished in dark oak. From the center is suspended a magnificent electroller of 150 lights; another of 25 lights hangs over the space occupied by the choir. The wall towards Liberty street and the one towards Eleventh street each contain a magnificent leaded-glass window about 12 feet wide and 25(35?) feet high; these windows are wonderfully artistic in their composition of cathedral glass. On the other two large walls are pictures painted in oil directly on the plaster. This innovation for a church in a town the size of Franklin is what made the occupant of the pews today marvel. The paintings are 50x38, filling in the entire space in width and up to the ceiling in height. Both pictures are after Gustave Dore, the one, being “Christ’s Triumphal Entry Into Jerusalem,” the other “The Dream of Pilate’s Wife.” The former picture has more than 100 faces in it and is a wonderful study. Both are technically true copies and are done by well known New York artists.
These paintings are the gifts of Hon. J.C.Sibley, who, when in Franklin last summer and while in one of his generous and artistic moods, asked the privilege of decorating the walls, which he saw, during the construction, were going to be very large and blank. The paintings are the outcome. After the artists were here and had finished them during the winter, he thought that it left the other two walls rather bare on each side of the big window, so he had four canvases painted by the same artists and these are mounted on the wall on either side of the window. They are 8x12 in size and are: “The Annunciation,” by Plockhorst: “Christ Blessing Little Children,” by Plockhorst: “The Descent From the Cross,” by Rubens, and “The Ascension,” by Hofmann. So that altogether, it makes one of the grandest church interiors that can be found anywhere in the country.
The large new organ of the latest construction, with electric stops, is the gift of General Miller. The pews, finished in cathedral oak and upholstered with cushioned seats in maroon colored goods, are free to all comers and were paid for by the classes of the Sunday school.
The carpeting was a donation from some of General Miller’s kind business friends, every other furnishing was paid for through different ways, so that the church was dedicated today without a dollar’s indebtedness hanging over it. Dr. Maurice Penfield Fikes’ own suggestion and design. There is an arched opening in the southwestern wall under the painting of “The Triumphal Entry.” The arch is possibly 12 feet wide and 20 feet high. The front of the opening is built up eight feet with gravel rock in a sort of hit and miss way for rustic effect. Back of the wall is the receptacle for holding the water, which can be heated to any desired temperature. Set in the arch as a background theme is a miniature mountain of the same kind of stone, built to a point, the crevices filled in with moss. Back of this is a painted scene, representing a mountainous valley, with the rays of golden sunshine streaming down over the hills making at once a most striking effect. The pastor and the person to receive baptism come in from the rear, as if they were coming down the mountainside, and by a gradual decline, step into the water tank and out on the other side of a similar gradual incline. The effect is so realistic that it makes the scene all the more impressive during baptism.
At the morning services more than 1,200 people sat for two hours, during which time the formal dedicatory service took place. After the dedication sermon by Dr. Fikes, Hon. Joseph C. Sibley, as chairman of the board of trustees; General Miller, as chairman of the board of deacons, and D.J. Hart, who took the place of H.E.Swan as chairman of the committee on construction, and Deacon Morgan were invited to take seats on the pulpit platform. Mr. Swan being sick and unable to attend, Mr. Hart read a report as to the value of the church property, Mr. Sibley then, supposing to have received the keys from Mr. Swan, made a most impressive address, passing the keys to General Miller, who then, on behalf of the trustees, made a most touching address, paying a marked and glowing tribute to the pastor. The pastor then received the keys on behalf of the First Baptist church. Dedicatory responsive readings then followed, after which several musical selections were rendered, when the people were dismissed.
At the Bible school today the attendance broke the record, 1,214 people occupying seats, which makes March 13 the banner day. The meeting was a most enthusiastic one, because, as General Miller said, “It is a great day.”
At the evening services the attendance was much larger than this morning, although there were no particular services incident to the dedication. At each of the three services during the day there were baptisms, some 30 persons being baptized. All in all it was a most notable day for the First Baptist church of Franklin. Special services will be held each night the coming week in the new church.