In July, 1838, the Reverend James McDonald of Georgia came to Jacksonville and established the first Baptist congregation in the city. The history of the Bethel Baptist Institutional Church of Jacksonville, has been intimately connected with the development of one of Florida’s principle settlements and later metropolitan areas. After the separation of the congregation in 1868, the Bethel Baptist Institutional Church has continued to be the principal influence on the spiritual life of Jacksonville’s black community and the city of metropolitan Jacksonville and surrounding areas.
Completed in 1904, from a design by New York architect M. H. Hubbard, the sanctuary built after the Great Fire of 1901 is dominated by an ornate bell tower and octagonal steeple that defines the main entry behind which is a central mansard roof with detailed cupola. Bethel Baptist was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on April 6, 1978, and was designated a local landmark on March 11, 1997.