Tri-Counties Genealogy & History by Joyce M. Tice
Tri County Churches and Church Records
Chemung County NY
2004 Southport Baptist Church Burns

Note Steeple lying on left side of roof.  Bell was not saved.
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It was a sad night, Saturday, January 10, 2004 when we heard on the scanner that the Southport Baptist Church was on fire. The church building is the oldest wooden structure in Chemung County.

Going back in history, the first church to be erected in Southport was a frame building called a "meeting house" near the present Fitzsimmons Cemetery on Maple Ave. (formerly know as the River Road). History states that it appears to have been built as early as 1815. It was erected primarily for Presbyterian use, yet, when not so occupied, other denominations were allowed free entrance for their service. The church was officially organized on October 31, 1821 and was called the" "Second" Church in Elmira". The original members numbered 15, six of whom came from the First Church in Elmira; John Fitzsimmons, David Griswold and Jane, his wife, Milly Smith, Sarah Baker and Philo Jones. Three came from the Church of Chester, Orange County, NY;. Partial Mapes, Bethiah Kinner and Amy Holmes; Betsey Brown was from the Church of Caldwell, NJ; "Rhitty" Wing from the Church of Smithfield, Pa,; Hannah Comfort from the Church of Middletown, Orange County, NY, and William Welles, Richard Comfort and Sabra Jones were received on exam.

The land the church was built on (Maple Ave) was donated by Elijah Griswold, one of the town’s early settlers. But soon, members did not agree peacefully and dissension was strong. Then on top of that, the meeting house was destroyed by fire in 1832. The elders decided that since that area had not fulfilled an early promise of becoming the center of growth in Southport, a decision was made to move to a better location. Hence a site was selected, what was then called the "Seeley Creek Road"(then the Plank Road) at Southport Corners, now the intersection of Pennsylvania Ave. and Southport Street. So there the Presbyterian Society bought land from the heirs of John L. Smith and erected their church.

Some major renovations have been made to the original church throughout the years One major change was that a pipe organ was installed, (something the early Presbyterians would never have approved). The early settlers would sing nothing except the Psalms set to "meter" and sung with no accompaniment except a "tuning fork" for the pitch.

The Southport Presbyterian Church was instrumental in establishing the Franklin Street Presbyterian Church in 1882 and one in the Village of Wellsburg in 1853 (which was know as the Second Presbyterian Church in Southport) and later one in Wells, Pa. (now Mosherville, Pa.)

On July 16, 1955, a fire broke out in the Southport Church that caused $15,000. damage. Again renovations were made and in November, 1955 the South Church was rededicated with a new bell tower.

During the succeeding years with the improvement of transportation, a survey of the Presbyterian Churches on the southside was made. From that, a decision was made to merge the South and Franklin Street churches . Land was purchased and on April 4, 1961, a new church was organized, creating the Westminster Presbyterian Church on Maple Avenue.

The South Presbyterian Church and parsonage at Southport Corners was sold in 1962 by the Westminster Church to a group that had been meeting in various locations and were seeking to find a church to buy. With the purchase of the building, it became known as the Southport Baptist Chapel with the Rev. Paul Becker as its first pastor.

The Southport Baptist Chapel congregation was thrilled to have a church of their own and services were begun there on November 1, 1962. The church has remained a beacon light on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Southport Street ever since.

The church was completely destroyed by fire the night of January 10, 2004, leaving only a pile of rubble and a century of memories. The fire fighters tried to save the steeple and bell, but were hampered by the weather, which had dropped down into the single-digit temperature. The Rev. Duane Arnold Sr., church pastor, is confident that the congregation will stand strong together and be able to rebuild their church building.

Source: Historian Archives:

Notes from South Presbyterian Church records

Nelda Holtons Article 1991

Reformatted by: Virginia McElroy

Southport Town Historian

January 17, 2004

Chemung County NY

Published On Tri-Counties Site On 30 JAN 2005 
By Joyce M. Tice

You are our welcome visitor 30 JAN 2005