Underwood Church was born out of the struggle for justice. In 1843, a group of members of the Greenfield Baptist Church (now First Baptist) in West Allis separated over the question of slavery. Initially the Hart’s Mills (Wauwatosa) church was part of a circuit of four churches served by the Greenfield pastor, Elder W. R. Manning. On October 11, 1845 the Wauwatosa Baptists became an independent church.
One of the new church’s first acts was to deny membership to anyone owning slaves or supporting slavery. The church members also worked to elect antislavery candidates to public office, helped to fund an abolitionist newspaper, The American Freeman, and gave refuge to fugitive slaves. Harriet Denny Underwood’s family was among the first to engage in this illegal but righteous activity.
In 1842, the year Harriet married Enoch Underwood, her mother and step-father, Lucinda and Samuel Dougherty, hid Caroline Quarelles for several weeks on their farm in Pewaukee. Caroline had fled slavery in St. Louis and was the first person conducted by the Underground Railroad through southeastern Wisconsin to freedom in Canada. Harriet and Enoch also kept a station of the Underground Railroad in their house in Wauwatosa to shelter fugitive slaves.
Enoch Underwood became the first permanent pastor, serving for almost forty years. His ordination in December 1849 was not recognized for several years because of the slavery issue. In 1853 the congregation changed its name to First Baptist Church of Wauwatosa.
The second edifice, erected in 1888, is now home to the Latvian Lutheran church whose members fled the Soviet invasion and occupation of Latvia. Our present building, across the street from the old church, was dedicated in 1954. All three buildings were designated as Milwaukee County historic landmarks in 1991. The elevator was installed in 1998, making the building handicapped accessible.