Niagara Gazette


December 8, 2013

HIGGS: A closer look at First Presbyterian Church


Niagara Gazette —

The First Presbyterian Church has the honor of being the oldest building still in use as a church as it dates back to 1849. Its congregation has been among the leaders of religious life in Niagara Falls. The Historical Preservation Commission website traces the early history of the founding of the church back to Manchester (later Niagara Falls) when it was initiated in 1824 by the original five members: The Rev. David Smith, the Isaac Smith family, Mrs. Stephen Childs and Abraham Mesler.

“On Nov. 28, 1826, a public meeting was held to officially organize the “First Presbyterian Society of Niagara.” They met in the schoolhouse at Falls and Mechanic (later Prospect Street) until 1831, when a new wooden church was built at the corner of Falls and First Streets.” The Union Chapel as it was named was a small building built by General Whitney for the use of all denominations including the Methodists and Episcopalians. The church bell was hung outside as this structure had no steeple. It is believed this may have been the first church building in the community of Manchester.

An article in the Niagara Falls Gazette edition of Feb. 17, 1962, by staff writer Dick Klug noted that the Rev. Horatio A. Parsons led the Presbyterian congregation here for seven years until 1834. The building was later sold to a group of Methodists. In 1849 the present stone church was built at a construction cost of $8,000 which came from the Porter family.

Klug stated that membership was slow to grow as records indicate the congregation stood at 86 in 1852 at the time of the building completion. Twenty-five years later it had increased to 159. The Rev. John Bacon became the pastor in 1876 and served until 1883. Following his departure, the Rev. C. S. Stowitz served for seven years. Then the Rev. Albert S. Bacon, the nephew of Rev. John Bacon, became the longest serving pastor with some 38 years to his credit. He actually became Pastor Emeritus for two years following his retirement until his death in 1930. Bacon Memorial United Presbyterian Church in LaSalle on 59th Street was named in his honor. The Rev. Bacon helped the membership grow to 1,000 by 1928, the year of his retirement and was “Beloved by the whole community,” as church records state. Obviously over the following years, there were numerous pastors (too many to mention here) who served the church with dignity and respect.

Klug described the basic governing precept of Presbyterianism which differs from Episcopacy where the clergy rules, as members of a Presbyterian congregation exercise direct rule known as congregationalism. The First Presbyterian Church was governed by a Board of Elders consisting of 21 elected members of the congregation.

Next time we will learn more about the building itself.



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