Editor’s note: Portions of this nugget of Carpinteria history were written by David Griggs and originally published in the Summer 2007 edition of Carpinteria Magazine.
Many landmarks in the Carpinteria Valley have been lost through the years to redevelopment, freeway construction, fires, or simple neglect. A towering exception to this trend is one of the most historically significant and beautiful structures preserved in Carpinteria—Carpinteria Valley Baptist Church.
As the oldest Protestant church building still in use in Santa Barbara County, it has been home to a Baptist congregation for the last 50 years, but had previously served Methodist congregations in both Carpinteria and Santa Barbara.
Methodists had put down roots in the valley in 1862 when circuit riding ministers delivered sermons to pioneer families under the massive spreading limbs of a magnificent oak tree on the Caldwell ranch. Dubbed the Sunday School Oak, it survives today as a county historical landmark.
Carpinteria Valley Baptist Church, with its huge redwood beams, hand-cut sandstone block foundation, exquisitely ornate stained glass windows and tall, Gothic steeple has stood on the corner of Maple Avenue and Eighth Street for 113 of its 118 years.
This classic Victorian originally was built in 1888 by J. W. Allen at Alisos and Yanonali streets in Santa Barbara for a cost of $2,000. This was when the large congregation of the Grace Methodist Church in Santa Barbara split and established a second fold.
Meanwhile, the Carpinteria Methodists also had established two congregations, although for vastly different reasons. The split here was based on where one’s sympathies lay during the Civil War—with the Union North or the Confederate South. Carpinteria First Methodist South established itself in 1872 in a small building among the oaks off Santa Monica Road.
Now back in Santa Barbara the Methodists were thinking perhaps they could not support two churches after all, and the Eastside M.E. Church decided to rejoin the Grace Methodists. This left the beautiful little redwood building without a congregation by 1892.
When Carpinteria First Methodist South was offered the edifice for a mere $600 they quickly accepted. All they had to do was move it! Thomas B. Fish offered the lot at the corner of 8th Street and Maple Avenue, and he, along with local ranchers and devout Methodists Gideon and Bernard Franklin and Samuel Treloar, undertook the formidable task.
It would have to travel nearly 12 miles along the narrow Coast Highway, through woodsy Montecito, up and over Ortega Hill, down through the sparsely populated spiritualist settlement of Summerland, around the extensive Carpinteria salt marsh and onto the lot on Maple Avenue.
No small task! But strong faith in their mission, determination, and ingenuity would see a near miracle performed. First, the men contracted skilled carpenter Josepho Rodriguez to cut into sections the sturdy redwood beams and flooring and dismantle the stone foundation at a cost of $300. Next, special beds were constructed on two large wagons which were pulled in tandem by a team of 20 horses. In all, 24 trips were required to bring the dismantled church to its new home and anxious congregation.
For an additional $400 Mr. Rodriguez carefully reconstructed the building block by block, board by board, down to the last shingle. So tuned to his craft was this artisan that one could not discern his finely sawed and rejoined seams except upon the closest examination. The hymns of the Carpinteria Methodist Episcopal Church South filled her sanctuary by November of 1893.
The congregation split in 1929 when a majority joined with the local Presbyterian congregation and formed Carpinteria Community Church, which is still active today. The remaining small Methodist congregation finally disbanded in 1968.
For the next several years the church served as a private residence for the spiritual and unconventional White family. The White’s were very generous to those in need of shelter, and their open-door policy regarding their home led to rumors of a hippie commune living there.
By the time the Baptists purchased the church in 1971 it was sorely in need of repair. Leaking roof, crumbling plaster, sinking steeple and broken stained glass were all attended to by the energetic Rev. Caldwell.
But age continues to take its toll, threatening the sparkling stained glass jewels of this Victorian treasure.
Whatever lies ahead for this local landmark, it must be remembered that a church is not just the building, but the people who worship there. The beauty of the Carpinteria Valley Baptist Church is a reflection of the spirit of love and caring by the many generations of Carpinterians who have made this sanctuary their spiritual home.