The Salem Baptist Church of Jenkintown was founded in 1884 at 506 Division Street in the home of Henry and Jane Porter. Under the leadership of the Rev. J.D. Brooks, pastor of the Enon Baptist Church in Philadelphia, the church was given the name Salem, which means a place of peace. The Rev. J. D. Brooks assisted the establishment of Salem until it was able to provide for the needs of a regular pastor. As time went on, Salem outgrew the Porter's home and began worshiping in the Lyceum Building on Old York Road.
The Rev. Clayton Coles served as Pastor for a short time and in 1889, the present site of the Salem Baptist Church was purchased for $1,800.00. The Rev. H. G. Lee was called as Salem's first pastor in 1890. Under Pastor Lee's leadership, Salem's first church building was erected on that site. The membership grew to 150 by the time of the Rev. H.G. Lee's death in 1900.
The Rev. F.P. Diggs was called as Salem's second pastor and he served until 1902. He was followed by the Rev. S.J. Jones and during this period, Salem's first parsonage, at 202 Cedar Street was purchased for $3,000.00, in the Borough. Jones resigned in 1907 and the Rev. J.C. Jackson was called. During his tenure, Salem's first masonry church building was erected in 1909. He served until 1914.
In 1915, Salem extended a call to Dr. J.A. Pinson. Under his administration, a $5,000.00 mortgage was paid off as well as a $1,800.00 mortgage on the parsonage. Dr. Pinson resigned in 1922 and Rev. J.A. Jordan was called. Under his leadership, the church was completely remodeled at a cost of $18,000.00. Jordan served until 1930.
In 1931, the Rev. Dr. William J. Lucas was called as pastor. Dr. Lucas, a renowned scholar and preacher, had a long and distinguished pastorate at Salem. Many renovations were made during his tenure and many new programs and ministries were added. After 24 years of service, Dr. Lucas died in 1955.
In 1956, Salem extended a call to the Rev. Robert Johnson-Smith, Sr. The Rev. Smith, Sr. would serve Salem for forty years. During this time pastor Smith would lead Salem through three building projects. First, a new church facility would be built. At a cost of $250,000.00, Salem would build a facility that housed a sanctuary, a multipurpose room, a kitchen, nursery, pastor's study, business office and ten classrooms. After being turned down for funding by twenty banks, Salem secured a mortgage from the PSFS bank.
During the eighteen months of construction Salem worshiped at Beaver College, the LaMott Community Center, the LaMott A.M.E. Church and the American Legion Post in Jenkintown. Salem entered its new facility on Easter Sunday, 1959. The fifteen-year mortgage was retired in eight years.
In 1963 the church purchased a parsonage (new construction) in an all white neighborhood in Elkins Park. Threats were made on Pastor Smith's life when he and his family moved in. The congregants of Salem marched from the church to the parsonage to demonstrate their solidarity and resolve.
In 1972, after years of struggle, setbacks and frustrations, the construction of the SALBA Apartments was completed at a cost of $400,000.00. This seventeen-unit building providing housing for the elderly and those with lower incomes, is a Section 8 Housing Facility.
In 1980, the Robert Johnson-Smith Educational Center was completed. It includes four administrative offices, seven classrooms, a conference room and two board rooms. The cost of this project was $450,000.00.
In 1991, Rev. Robert Johnson Smith, II was called as Salem's first Co-Pastor. Under his leadership, a ten-year Strategic Plan was created to usher Salem into the new millennium. The objectives of this plan include the construction of a Family Life Center (in process), a nursing home facility and a third worship service.
In 1996, Salem purchased neighboring property at a cost of $500,000.00 to be used for the construction of a Family Life Center. It was also during this year that Dr. Robert Johnson Smith, Sr. retired from the pulpit of Salem. In 1997, Dr. Robert Johnson Smith, II was called as Salem's ninth Pastor.
In September 2001, Pastor Emeritus, Dr. Robert Johnson Smith, Sr. was called home to be with the Lord. It was also during this year, after years of struggle with the local municipality, Salem was granted zoning approval to build its Family Life Center. Salem now stands poised to fulfill its dream.
On October 4, 2004, the Lord saw fit to call home to glory our leader and friend, Reverend Dr. Robert Johnson-Smith II. Pastor Smith made his sudden transition at his home amid his family, which he so dearly loved.
Through the years, Salem has welcomed into its ministries: Martin Luther King, Jr., Samuel Proctor, Leon Sullivan, Jesse Jackson, Wyatt Tee Walker, Rosa Parks, John Lewis, Andrew Young, William H. Gray, III, Michael Eric Dyson, Pricilla Evans, Susan Johnson Cook and Louise Williams Bishop.
Excerpted from the book The Salem Baptist Church of Jenkintown: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, by Genester Nix Wilson.
For the complete history of the Salem Baptist Church of Jenkintown, order the official history book,
"The Salem Baptist Church of Jenkintown: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow."
by Genester Nix Wilson