Central Sq Church

Welcome to Central Square Church

Welcome to Central Square Church

We are grateful that the stunning sanctuary of the Central Square Church (formerly First Baptist Church), built in 1881 will host the Welcome Gathering this year to kick off the 14th annual MLK DAY of service and learning.


A History

Sitting at the confluence of four streets, the church site, on the ancestral home of the Massachuset people, has witnessed neighborhood growth from a sleepy agricultural area to a bustling industrial and commercial center. At the time the current building was constructed, as the third Meeting House of the First Baptist Church of Cambridge, the area was home to residents who had immigrated from Ireland, Germany, Sweden and Canada, drawn to the area by employment in the developing industrial districts of East Cambridge and along the Charles River. The site, roughly trapezoidal, is a result of pathways, to and from, rather than a place on its own. Choosing this site as the home of a new parish of the baptist denomination, the first meeting house of 1817 provided a landmark and anchored the square as the neighborhood grew around it.

On a morning in February 1881, fire destroyed the second meeting house of the First Baptist Church of Cambridge, (fire had also destroyed the first meeting house some 17 years earlier.)  

Firef desroyc the church


The congregation moved quickly, hiring architects, contractors and craftsmen to begin a new, larger sanctuary in less than a year. They again chose the Gothic Revival style for the new building which was still popular for religious structures, but past its hot period as architectural fashions of the 19th century moved quickly.

Although passé, it was a style that suited the members of the parish of First Baptist – the oldest in Cambridge and the ancestor of Baptist churches from Brookline to Watertown to the [confusingly named] Old Cambridge Baptist church on Harvard Street. Gothic architecture was invented to house the spiritual life of medieval Christians. Emphasis of the space is turned up towards the mythic heavens as turrets, spires, and pointed arches drawing the eye upwards. – all of which our church possesses. 

For the members of First Baptist, the Gothic Revival style met their needs and satisfied their desires. The form of the building makes its mark and anchors itself in the chaotic intersection and jumble of buildings that was/is Central Square. A 184 foot spire could never be identified as anything other than a place of worship and fellowship.

But the architects of the third meeting house also faced a challenge by the gothic language. This is a city site and should be seen as part of a whole with the surrounding square. Architects Hartwell and Richardson chose brick (the earlier churches had been wood and then stone) which is echoed in the commercial and industrial buildings already in the square. In fact, the firm would go on to design two neighboring buildings in brick  – the YMCA and Odd Fellows Hall, now the Dance Complex. They created details simply through basket-weave brick patterns and terra-cotta leaf-cluster drops. Stained glass windows are simple geometric shapes within pointed arched windows.


In form, the church’s plan is pragmatic and functional, designed to suit a growing congregation. Built on the earlier church’s foundation, the entrance to the sanctuary faces north towards the heart of the square. A large parish hall forms the leg of the l-shape of the 24,104-square-foot building and the aforementioned spire, with handy features of weathervane and clock, anchors of the composition.

The sanctuary interior is a flourish of vast space and lavish but elegant detailing. Souring to 70 feet, covered by a magnificent wooden open truss system that emphasizes the scale of the space, it can seat 1000 congregants. Carved light ash trefoils, organ console, pews and railings complement the geometrical stained glass of the nave. The large rose window, at the center of the entrance gable is more elaborate than the adjacent windows, with clear brilliant hues of red, blue, green, and yellow.

Two churches with deep ties to the community merged to form Central Square Church in 2020. Today, the two churches shared a united vision to stay rooted in Central Square, to share the gospel of Jesus Christ, and to serve the people of Cambridge. The Church, with its brilliant window that illuminates the sanctuary, is listed on the National Register (1975) This historic 140 year old church continues to be a symbol of community, fellowship and service.

We invite you to experience the awe and joy of being inside this special place where Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke in 1960. Join us for the Welcome Gathering on MLK DAY, January 15th, to kick off our day of service and learning. Register here.




75th Anniversary of the First Baptist Church in Cambridge 12/25 1892

Cambridge Historical Commission, Survey of Architectural History of Cambridge: Cambridgeport

Rettig, Robert Bell, Guide to Cambridge Architecture (Cambridge, Mass., 1969), H21.

PHOTO CREDITS: Remembering Cambridge, City of Cambridge,Central Square Church

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