Major Levi Peirce the founder of Central Baptist Church and Peirce Academy was born in 1773. He was one of thirteen children, including Peter H. Peirce, born to Captain Job and Elizabeth Rounsville Peirce. His boyhood home was situated at the corner of Main and Stetson Streets in what is now Lakeville. Captain Job Peirce, a veteran of the French & Indian and the Revolutionary Wars, was a man of deep and abiding faith in God. He was seldom absent from his pew in the Meeting House. Each day he arose early in the morning, before his household was awake, for his own private half-hour of prayer. He led family devotions daily and by example and teachings, instilled the same faith and devotion to his Maker into the lives of his large family. This devoted belief in Christ and His salvation was the firm foundation upon which this church was constructed.
Levi's brother, Capt. Job Peirce Jr., inherited many of his father's fine qualities. An exceptionally fine business man, he conducted a store in Assonet Village, built sea going vessels and engaged in the West Indian trade. He died a young man and with Levi as administrator of his estate and wit his father to guide him, the resolve was reached to use some of the money to build Peirce Academy - completed in 1808. Here hundred of young men received their education during a period of seventy years. Here also Baptists held services on the second floor.
As a youngster, Levi served as clerk in the store of his brother-in-law, General Abiel Washburn at Muttock. When he became of age his father gave him $1000 to start a business in the old Morton House at the junction of Prospect and South Main Streets. His store was located on the first floor, with the family living on the second floor. Levi Peirce held many public offices of trust in the town and served his country as a Major in the War of 1812. In 1824, Levi and his wife Sally were baptised as members of the Fourth Calvanistic Church of Middleboro, - now Lakeville. He was made a deacon in 1826. They were dismissed to Central Baptist Church on August 10, 1828 where they continued through life.
Central Baptist is the fifth of this denomination to be organized within the bounds of the town as known in 1828. The first, Backus Memorial Church in North Middleboro was organized in 1756 with a possibility of earlier date through documents of 1749. While the Fourth Church (or Pond Meeting House) does not now exist, its life continued in this church, for eight of the original ten members were of that old church on the shores of Assawompsett Pond. The other two members came from the Third or Rock Church.
These ten constituent members forming Central Baptist Church with Levi Peirce as their leader, recognized the need of a new church building at the so-called "Lower Four Corners" - as the Academy rooms were inadequate for the growing congregation. They met on the evening of August 9, 1828 at the home of Levi Peirce on South Main Street, just east of this church's present location. Each related his Christian experiences and decided to form a new and distinct church. Here a declaration of purpose, articles of faith and the church covenant used today were adopted. Material provision had already been provided, with Levi Peirce as the donor, by the erection of a beautiful colonial type Meeting House in 1827, - built the same year as the First Congregational Church at the Green and with the same architect, Deacon James Sproat. The cost of the Meeting House as recorded in Major Levi Peirce's treasurers book was $4,575.55.
By 1834 it was necessary to add twenty feet to the length of the building and in 1851 it was raised seven feet, a new front was added and the steeple increased in height, at a cost of $3,000. On Sunday morning, January 22, 1888 just as Rev. William H. Bowen had completed his sermon and as Sunday School was in session, the beautiful colonial church was found to be on fire - the result of a defective chimney. Within a few hours the first church was utterly destroyed except for movable furniture and the organ, which suffered some water damage.
The second house of worship copied after an English Gothic church, of wood rather than stone, was erected at a cost of $24,000. The corner stone was laid May 6, 1889 and the dedication was on January 22, 1890 - just two years after the burning of the first church. William Rounsville Peirce, not a member of the church, but a regular attendant and member of the "Society", gave as his contribution to the community the "Town Clock", and the "sweet toned bell" that rang from the belfry.
A most difficult decision was reached in 1962. Because of the wear and tear of time, disintegration through dry rot and in a few instances questionable construction - experts advised church authorities that extensive repairs would be neither advisable nor practical.
With heavy hearts, for many cherished memories centered around that church building, the decision was made to demolish the structure and erect a brick colonial type edifice. Demolition started in August of 1963 and in September of the same year construction of the new church was begun. The firm of Broker, McKay & Associates, Inc. of Concord, New Hampshire was selected as the architects and DeLoid & Gomes, of Acushnet, Mass. as the general contractors. The weather assisted materially in the progress of work through the winter months, permitting the corner stone laying service to be held on Sunday, April 26, 1964 - "to the Glory of God."
The Services of Dedication were held on June 14, 17, 18, 19 and 21, 1964 with prominent ministers bringing messages appropriate for the occasion. Dr. Gordon C. Brownville, Pastor of Tremont Temple, Boston brought the sermon of Dedication on Sunday June 14, 1964. At the same time the ceremony of presenting the keys of the new church from the Architect and Builder to the officials of the church signified that the end of a long and prayerful endeavor was consummated. The building was completed at an approximate cost of $241,000.
It is of interest that during the period of demolition and construction, services were held in the Town Hall and the old Episcopal Parish house. The bell in the steeple now announcing the hours of day and night is the one which hung in the tower of the old Peirce Academy (built by Levi Peirce in 1808 and demolished in the 1930's for the Post Office) and summoned students to classes just a few feet from where it once again rings out its message.
Townsfolk aided generously by contributing toward the new "Town Clock" in the steeple. Two of the stained-glass window motifs from the former building add beauty and sentiment to the decor of the auditorium and narthex. Four antique chairs closely associated with the first and second churches have taken their rightful places in the auditorium and chapel.
In the 138 years of ministry the church has had but twenty Pastors, all of whom have contributed their rightful part to its success in bringing God's message to the people.
Rev. Avery Briggs, one who was instrumental in helping form the first church, was offered the first pastorate but declined to accept. In Levi Peirce's treasurers book Rev. A. Briggs was paid $40 in 1828 for "8 Sabbath preachings", which might indicate that he supplied as Pastor prior to Rev. Nicholas Medberry's acceptance as first Pastor. Rev. Medberry was paid the munificent sum of $475 per year as his salary and he received it but once a year. The story is told that in prayer meeting, while thinking f good Pastor Medberry, one worthy deacon prayed, "Lord, you keep him humble and we will keep him poor."
Much time could easily be devoted to the Pastorates of those who have served this church and community so fully and so well over the years. Looking backwards over these many years, it is known there have been many hundreds who found Christ within this fellowship of believers. Many of them went out into full time Christian service, as Pastors, as Missionaries and Christian workers - so their lives were not only saved in this place but because of their dedicated efforts countless others have found Christ as their personal Saviour.
Central Baptist is grateful for those who in recent years have taken their rightful places within the church family and are aiding in carrying out the hopes and desires of the founding fathers for a Gospel Witness here in Middleborough. During this period the most notable step forward in the church has been its spiritual growth. In a day of weakening standards, of winking at the Ten Commandments, of liberal religion, of shocking Court decisions, desecration of the Lord Day and of church apathy - we find Central Baptist still a lighthouse in the fog - remaining true to her trust as a Bible believing, Bible practicing church. This spiritual growth has not only resulted in increased membership but shows also by a recognized devotion to missions and missionary giving, in the sustained radio ministry, in more practicing tithers and by a growing interest in prayer meeting attendance.
It is sincerely believed that Central Baptist Church has carried out the wishes and desires of the founders and that Major Levi Peirce and his father Captain Job Peirce would approve the endeavors of the past and of the present. Because of the consecrated lives of these men back in 1828, the lives and careers of hundreds of men and women have been altered and saved - a glowing tribute to real Christian men of action. May this church lift high the banner of the Cross and faithfully continue preaching The Gospel - Gods' "good news of Salvation" - to all generations.
G. Ward Stetson. Central Baptist Church, Middleboro, Massachusetts: History. Unpublished manuscript, April, 1966.