The Ruggles Street Baptist Church was organized from two mission Sunday Schools in Roxbury in 1870 and formally incorporated into the American Baptist Church in 1878. It drew its name from its address at 159 Ruggles Street, named after a Revolutionary War hero. The church has a history of evangelism and a strong sense of civic purpose and responsibility. A 1915 announcement in the Boston Globe reported that, in addition to Sunday services, the church offered an employment bureau, a free lunch room for the unemployed, a free dispensary with three doctors in attendance, grocery and clothing departments, and free distribution of milk for babies in needy homes.11 The church’s commitment to public health and welfare led it to found the Boston Baptist Hospital in 1893, later to become New England Baptist Hospital.
Daniel Sharp Ford (1822 – 1899), wealthy publisher of the Baptist weekly newspaper, The Christian Watchman and Reflector, and The Youth’s Companion magazine, was a Ruggles Church member and benefactor, and founder of the Boston Baptist Social Union. He contributed generously to the union, leaving a $1.25 million bequest with a large earmark for his childhood church. Ford underwrote a European tour for the Ruggles Street Church male quartet, increasing their fame nationally and abroad.
The church thrived in Roxbury through the 1930s, serving a heavily populated area of low and middle income families and welcoming more than 1,200 a week to its Sunday School. The church building, an old meeting house remodeled twice to accommodate the growing congregation, was destroyed by fire in 1925. The congregation moved into the Old Swedish Baptist Church, eventually constructing a new building in 1934. Membership exceeded 1,100 in 1940 at the church’s 70th anniversary, but slowly declined thereafter. The 1940s saw dramatic change in the neighborhood that Ruggles Street Baptist Church served, with families moving to the suburbs in the wake of an ethnic and economic shift. Buildings were abandoned and demolished, crime increased, and by the late1950s areas around the church were slated for urban renewal. Making matters worse, the government laid plans for a new highway, the proposed southeast expressway that would run directly through the church office building. Most of the congregation was commuting into church from the suburbs by the early 1960s.
Plans were made to move the church to a site that met the three requirements of the Boston Baptist convention – one that was in Boston proper, served a congregation made up of “working people”, and was not near another Baptist church. With the assistance of the Boston Baptist Social Union, the church owner-trustees, land was acquired in the Heath Street-Mission Hill area of Jamaica Plain, where New England Baptist Hospital and the Lahey Clinic planned to build a hospital. When plans for constructing a church in Jamaica Plain stalled, and as arrangements were being made for a temporary church location, it was discovered that the Second Church was available for sale. The Ruggles Street building was sold to the St. Francis de Salles Catholic Church and the Ruggles congregation moved to Audubon Circle in 1970.