Friday, February 19, 2010

Brief History of First Presbyterian Church of Niagara Falls

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On April 3, 1824, five citizens met under the leadership of the teacher-educator Rev. David Smith to form the First Presbyterian Church of Niagara Falls. The persons who were the actors in this scene were Mr. and Mrs. Isaac Smith, Mrs. Isaac Smith Jr., Mrs. Stephen Childs and Abraham Mesler.

The original Board of Trustees of the First Presbyterian Society of Niagara included some of the area's most prominent citizens and founders of Niagara Falls. In addition to the original five organizers were Augustus Porter, Samuel DeVeaux, Ira Cook and Ziba Gay.

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Judge Porter was the first permanent European settler of the area, and along with his brother General Peter Porter, owned Goat Island and all the lands in the area. The famous Native American Orator, Chief Red Jacket and General Lafayette were frequent visitors to the Porter household.

After building a wooden church where "Old Falls St." now runs, the present church was erected at its current location out of native stone in 1849 at a cost of $8,000, including the cost of the lot. Judge Porter donated the land and much of the furnishings for the new church, that sports 2 foot thick walls. The original bell still rings in the bell tower today.

The original church building had a steeple and in 1850 a clock was installed in said steeple. It was known as the "town clock" and had it been allowed to run down, the whole village would have been thrown off schedule. Therefore, Max Elbe, the son of the village jeweler, was hired for a dollar a month to climb up every week and wind and oil the clock. Once the church wanted a lamp post installed in front of the building to light up the doorway, so they advised the village officers that they had the use of the clock free, therefore, the least they could do in return was to install the lamp post. Later, the village appropriated $52 per year for the clock, but this was eventually cut from the budget and the clock allowed to stop. It never ticked again after 1896 and was taken down with the steeple in 1914.

In 1879 a large addition was constructed at the rear of the church to house the ever-growing Sunday School. Said Sunday School was begun by Judge DeVeaux in 1827. DeVeaux, an Episcopalian, transferred to that church when one was formed in Niagara Falls. A growing congregation necessitated the enlargement of the Sanctuary in 1889 when a large addition was constructed on the south side of the church.

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Members of First Church have been instrumental in founding several of the other churches in Niagara Falls. Among those was the Presbyterian Church at 10th St. and Niagara Ave. in 1853; and other members also founded the Congregational Church at 822Cleveland Ave. In 1893, Pierce Ave. Presbyterian Church was founded, and in the late 1920's the spirit again moved First Church to mission work at home and led to acquisition of property in the DeVeaux and Evershed sections of the city for branches of First Church. Third Presbyterian was merged into First Church and the new facility on 59th St. was named Bacon Memorial Church, in honor of Rev. Albert S. Bacon, who was pastor of First Church from 1890-1925, the longest serving pastor in in the church's history.

In 1970 the church was scheduled to be demolished as part of the city's Urban Renewal program. Fortunately, the congregation's fight to save the building was successful and this magnificant facility
still proudly stands as the symbol of Niagara's oldest church.

(Submitted by JB)


KodysGrandma said...

My childhood church and I didn't know all that background.

Stephen G Jackson said...

I've been a member fir about 5 years, and a elder for 3 . We recently meet with NY State Historical Society . I'm proud to say that First President will soon be part of Niagara Falls history . As it should be . God Bless First Presbyterian

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