Altona Baptist Church
In 2015 the Altona Baptist Church, in Sargood Street, celebrated 100 years of worship. Like so many other institutions, clubs and organisations, it owes its beginning to the determination and endeavour of our early pioneers.
In early September 1914 Mr and Mrs Lawrence Fleming and children Larry, Tom, John and Alice, moved from Newport to what is now 30 Blyth Street Altona. After they had settled in Altona the Fleming couple saw a need for Sunday School activity for children in the district, including their own.
Only a small number of families lived in the area at that time, about eleven houses and 20 people from the coal mine. However, numbers swelled over the Christmas holidays with people flocking to the beach and living in tents along the beach front.
Mr. Fleming being a Sunday School teacher organised for the Newport Church of England Minister to come and hold beach services at Altona, but because people attended in their neck to knee bathing costumes, he said it was the wrong place to start a Sunday School and he would never come again! He also asked the Methodist Minister but again he would not come unless people could dress properly!
The beginnings of what was to become Altona Baptist Church (elsewhere referred to as ABC) occurred in March 1915 when Mr. Lawrence Fleming asked a fellow workmate, Mr. George Loft (who was also a Sunday School teacher at the Baptist Church in Newport) to come and start a Sunday School class. Both George and Lawrence worked in the Signal Branch at the Railway Workshops at Newport. These services were held in the Fleming’s home.
The first service was held in the Fleming’s front room on 1 February 1915. The Harrington and Stuber families joined them by the end of February, so the group began to grow. In order to add music accompaniment to the singing of hymns during the services, the services were moved to the Stuber residence where there was a piano that Mrs. Stuber would play.
In 1915 the Fleming family built a hall in their backyard measuring 30 feet by 11 feet 6 inches. Meetings were held there until the end of 1917 when the hall became too small. The following year the church services were moved to the Progress Hall which was situated on the corner of Blyth and Sargood Streets with the hall facing Blyth Street.
Four years later Mr Loft was able to acquire the Baptist church building in Tylden (near Kyneton, also known as ‘Woodside’, which was used by the Rev Ingram Moody, the Baptist Association’s first ‘bush ministry’ in 1859), as it was not in use and the believers in Altona were told they could have it.
The ‘Tylden’ church building was loaded onto a trailer and pulled to Altona by a steam tractor. It was placed in Sargood Street on a block of land next to the Progress Hall, donated by Mr Spencer, a member of the church (the site where the church hall now sits).
During the depression years the ‘Tylden’ Church building was getting too small and in March 1929 Rev W W Baird made arrangements with a Mr Brooks to buy the Progress Hall. In the 1930’s the Progress Hall was converted to look more like a ‘church’ building complete with a spiraled tower and a fellowship room out the back under the supervision of Mr L E Warner. Its look is reminiscent of American Hometown Churches, and that was intentional.
The Progress Hall which originally faced Blyth Street was ‘rotated’ in 1946 to face Sargood Street so a Manse could be built next to it during the ministry of Rev R Steele, up until then the Minister lived in rented premises.
By 1960 the Tylden Church building was in poor condition, it swayed in the wind and there were carpet squares covering the cracks in the floor. It should have been demolished long before but it was full of happy memories, first baptisms, then socials and concerts for many who were there from the beginning. In 1954 the church celebrated its 26th anniversary in the Tylden Hall. Sunday School was also held there prior to its demolition around 1960. It was hard for the congregation to do it. This was done and a new Hall built on the same site by the ‘new comers’ to the church, in the early 1960’s.
In 1978 a stained glass window was added to the church building (ex Progress Hall) in memory of the Fleming family and the Sunday School origins of the church.
In 1998 an extension was made to the side of the church, which added 40 – 50 seats and a new foyer connecting the church building to a walk way along the brick (Sunday School building). During the Dedication Service, Rev Ken Danes discussed a plan of enlarging the church building including the demolition of the present building but the idea was shelved as the idea was considered too expensive.
In 2008 the internal orientation of the church was rotated to face Blyth Street with a removable adjustable stage.
More information on the Altona Baptist Church is detailed in their 100 Years Celebration booklet published in 2015:
Research: Graeme Reilly (ALHS 2020)