A Brief History Of First Presbyterian Church


A Brief History Of First Presbyterian Church
A brief history
of First Presbyterian Church
Settled predominately by Ulster-Scot Presbyterians, Mecklenburg County was home to several
Presbyterian churches when Charlotte incorporated in 1768. However, for about fifty years this little
village had no church. Preaching was held when a minister was available, with services in the courthouse at the crossroads.
In 1815, the town commissioners set aside a plot of land to be used for a town church. It was to be
built by the townspeople and used by all denominations. While construction was begun about 1818,
but the public venture failed, leaving the commissioners to complete the building. To do so, they had
to borrow $1,500 from the Charlotte branch of the Bank of New Bern. The church was dedicated in
1823 and was called the Brick Church or the Town Church, but most often, the Presbyterian Church,
as it was the predominant denomination meeting there.
In 1835 the bank note expired and the remaining balance of $674 was due. John Irwin, a Presbyterian and commissioner, paid off the debt and was deeded the property in trust for the Presbyterians.
Irwin held the deed until 1841. He then deeded a clear title to the trustees of the church “ . . . for the
members of the Presbyterian Church in the aforesaid Town of Charlotte.” The Presbyterians of Charlotte had been officially recognized as a church on September 5, 1821, by the Concord Presbytery in
session at Hopewell Church.
The cemetery was and continues to be town property. A number of the early church members and
one minister, Dr. Cyrus Johnston, are buried there.
First Presbyterian Church | 200 West Trade Street | Charlotte, NC | 28202 | 704.332.5123
The first building was outgrown and a second building erected on the site in 1857 at a cost of about
$13,000. Its Gothic Revival style of architecture has been retained through all subsequent additions.
The facade, narthex and tower, with the rebuilt spire of 1883-84, remain as part of the present building.
Although Second Presbyterian Church was formed in 1873, growth of First Presbyterian Church soon
called for additional construction. With classes meeting in the sanctuary, there had been a need for
many years for additional Sunday School space. In 1894-95 the Sunday School building was added
on the east side. At that time the side walls of the sanctuary building from the facade back were rebuilt and extended toward Fifth Street to include the transept, pulpit area and choir loft.
The Sunday School building was doubled in size in 1916-17. Fellowship Hall and additional classroom space were added in 1952. At this time a part of the old Sunday School building was remodeled into the Orr Memorial Chapel. The office-educational building was constructed in 1960-61 on
the site of the old manse built in 1876. The Jones Memorial windows were placed over the sanctuary
entrance in 1970. In 1993 construction began on the 16,500 square foot building to house children’s
ministries and administrative offices.
The earliest relics of the church are: the first bell used in 1826-1861, a pulpit Bible given in 1853, a
pew used from 1857-1894, and a communion set and baptismal bowl presented in 1857. Other gifts,
including the stained glass memorial windows, have been given through the years. Too numerous to
include here, they add to the beauty and usefulness of the church.
First Presbyterian Church has been the scene of many special events from its earliest days. The first
of these was the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence,
held on May 10, 1825. Two women have been honored with military funerals in the church, Mrs. Julia
Jackson Christian, August 30, 1889, and Mrs. Mary Anna Morrison Jackson, on March 26, 1915. They
were the daughter and wife of General “Stonewall” Jackson, and the granddaughter and daughter of
Dr. Robert Hall Morrison, first pastor of the church.
The General Assembly has met in the church four times: 1864, 1897, 1920 and 1958. Nine ministers,
regular or supply, and laymen connected with the church have been moderators of that body.
Beginning with Dr. Morrison, who became in 1837 the first president of Davidson College, the church
has had a succession of able ministers and laymen. Dr. James Robert Howerton, pastor, and Philip E.
Howerton, elder, were the first father and son to serve as moderators of the General Assembly. The
Celtic Cross in the sanctuary honors them. Dr. Howerton was the first president of the Montreat Association. A son of the church, Dr. Walter William Moore, was the first president of Union Theological
Seminary after it was moved to Richmond. Dr. Charles E. S. Kraemer was president of the Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond, Virginia, for twenty years.
First Presbyterian Church | 200 West Trade Street | Charlotte, NC | 28202 | 704.332.5123
Through the years the church has been closely associated with Davidson College and Queens College, Alexander Children’s Center, Barium Springs Home for Children, Union Theological Seminary,
Presbyterian Hospital and other institutions. A Child Development Center, begun in 1947, is housed in
the church building. It was a pioneer in the field and has served as a model for other churches. Having at one time housed the Loaves and Fishes Program, the church still offers strong support for and
involvement with the program.
The dedicated men and women of this church, from all walks of life, have sought to be faithful servants of our Lord in work here and throughout the world. We give thanks for them and for the heritage
that is ours.
First Presbyterian Church | 200 West Trade Street | Charlotte, NC | 28202 | 704.332.5123