Description of Historic Place
Sandwich First Baptist Church, built by the Black community around 1851, is a one-and-a-half-storey brick structure that displays Gothic style features. It is situated on the north side of Peter Street, between Watkins Street and Prince Road, in the former Town of Sandwich (now part of west Windsor).
It is recognized locally for its heritage value by the City of Windsor By-law 12124. Sandwich First Baptist Church was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 2000.
Situated on the north side of Peter Street between Watkins Street and Prince Road, the Sandwich First Baptist Church is located on the outer edge of the historic former Town of Sandwich. It sits among a few other surviving homes that were once occupied by some of Sandwich's first Black settlers, and who were likely founding members of the church. Today Sandwich First Baptist Church stands as a reminder of the Underground Railroad and Black Community in Windsor.
The heritage value of Sandwich First Baptist Church lies in its connection with the Underground Railroad and the Black population that resided in Sandwich (the final destination for many freed or fugitive slaves from the United States), and also because it represents the Black border-town churches that were built to serve this growing Black community. The Black population in Sandwich has been participating in organized religious activities since before 1820. By 1847, a large church was needed as the congregation grew due to the influx of freed and fugitive slaves coming to Canada via the Underground Railroad. To serve this growing population, members of the congregation constructed Sandwich First Baptist Church on land donated by the Crown. While some members made bricks by hand using clay from the Detroit River and utilized homemade kilns, others, donated purchased commercial bricks. The church was completed by 1851 and the cornerstone was dedicated on August 1, 1851, the 18th anniversary of emancipation in the British Empire.
It is believed that Sandwich First Baptist Church is the oldest church built for the Black community in Canada, and it is purportedly only one of two handmade brick churches in the country. The church has undergone numerous alterations throughout its history. The flat-lintel windows which once adorned the church were removed and replaced with salvaged Gothic-arched sash windows in the 1880s; in 1912 the original modest gabled entry porch was removed and replaced with the current crenellated brick tower-like structure; and the original cedar shingled roof was replaced with asphalt. However, many original features remain including the handmade bricks, the limestone foundation, and the hidden crawlspace inside the church where fugitive slaves escaped from bounty hunters who often came looking for them during Sunday services.
As it stands today, Sandwich First Baptist Church displays many Gothic style characteristics. These include the Gothic-arched side windows with radiating voussoirs, the Gothic-arched entranceway, the three blind Gothic windows, and the tower-like structure that features a soldier course and is topped with a battlement.
Sources: Our History, Sandwich First Baptist Church; Building Analysis Form, June 30, 1993; Sandwich Baptist Church; Annette Lambing, 1978; The Sandwich First Baptist Church, Parks Canada, 2003 ; Report to WHC, Heritage Planner, Sept. 5, 2005.
Character defining elements that reflect the heritage value include its:
- one-and-a-half-storey structure
- Gothic-arched entranceway
- Gothic-arched side windows with radiating voussoirs
- three blind Gothic windows
- crenellated brick, tower-like structure that features a soldier course and is topped with a battlement
- red brick, some handmade by the church's first members using clay from the Detroit River
- hidden trap door and crawlspace used as an escape route for fugitive slaves
- location on the original plot of land donated by the Crown
- cornerstone, dedicated on 1 August 1851