THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH was founded in 1804 when the village of Concord was nine years old. In fact the first organized congregation in Concord is believed to have been Presbyterian. Records from Congregational Meetings that are stored in our church office now show that the Presbyterian Church was the only church in the town of Concord until about l838, when the Methodist built on Church Street, and the Lutherans built in l839 on East Corban St.
Records in 1804 show a deed dated December 14 “conveying 2 acres of land to Elders of ConKord (sic) congregation for ten pounds, to build a meeting house.” The first sanctuary erected around 1810 was a log structure built on the crest in the southeast corner of what is now Memorial Garden. It was a bleak, bare building, with 12 corners, 3 doors, and windows with shutters but no glass, but it nurtured sturdy, strong souls.
The log building was torn down in l835 or 1836, and a brick church, which was used until 1874, was built on the same site. At this time, Sunday School was held in the afternoon, and church services were in the morning and again at night.
The first manse was built on what is now Cabarrus Ave. West. The second and last manse was built on North Union Street, one block of our present church, and was sold in 1992.
In 1874, the congregation moved into its new third building facing Cabarrus Avenue West, near the Spring Street intersection where the police station now stands. The congregation worshipped here for thirty years. A pipe organ, the first in the town of Concord, was purchased for that church in 1880.
The name First Presbyterian Church was adopted in 1884.
Adjacent land was bought, and on June 14, 1904, the cornerstone for a new building was laid. A group of primary students called the “Little Lights!” paid for the cornerstone. For anyone who can remember this name, it brings back memories of stiffly starched dresses for the little girls, tight collars and jackets for the boys, cotton stockings, and dear, but firm, Sunday School teachers.
Our present sanctuary was completed in 1927 and the first worship service was held there on July 10. It was designed by Hobart Upjohn, a famous New York architect, to combine the dignity and beauty of late colonial architecture. The Educational Building was still unfinished, so Sunday School classes were discontinued until September 1927.
Over the years, the First Presbyterian Church has established several outpost church schools in Concord, four of which eventually became selfsupporting congregations: Second (which is now Cornerstone), McKinnon, Bayless Memorial and Covenant.
At least three people associated with our congregation have gone abroad as medical missionaries.
During the past 50 years the First Presbyterian Church has sent four of her sons into the Christian ministry.
A Young People's Choir, made up Senior, Junior and Intermediate Departments of Sunday School, was organized in 1934 with Miss Elizabeth Woodhouse as director, and a Sunday School Library was started with Miss Rose Harris as Librarian.
The church spire was blown down during high winds from a tornado that touched down in Concord in April, 1936.
As the church grew, so did the educational program. The first Director of Christian Education, Miss Katherine Keiger, was hired in 1940, although during the summer of l938, Miss Sarah Niblock served as DCE, but being temporary, emphasized the need for a permanent DCE to meet the needs of the boys and girls.
It is interesting to note the various organizations that have existed through the years, each giving emphasis to some phase of church work which at the time served the needs of children, teenage boys and girls, or adult life.
For example, the “Busy Bees” were organized in the 1890's and by 1899 29 were children participating. Each child was given a wooden bee hive and at a specified time these were opened and the honey taken out and given to missions.
“The Campfire Girls” were organized in 1927 composed of senior and intermediate departments of the Sunday School, which would be equivalent to our middle school and senior high youth groups now. Another very interesting class was organized when a Mrs. McConnell noticed the black nurses sitting around waiting to take their young charges home after Sunday School. She took advantage of the opportunity by grouping the nurses around her on the rostrum of Fellowship Hall and teaching them. She did this over a long period of time.
These various organizations and classes, while not permanent, met a definite need at the time and were a labor of love on the part of those who taught.
Scouting became an integral part of the youth program during the 1940's. Now our church sponsors several scout groups.
With the completion of the Educational Building in 1927 soon after the sanctuary, it was thought that this building, which was so beautifully furnished and equipped, would serve us well for the everexpanding church activities and for future generations. But soon First Presbyterian had growing pains again. After two previous attempts by a building committee to construct a new education building had failed, and after extensive remodeling of our present education building in 19761977, finally in 1986, the third building committee was successful in persuading our members that we needed to go in debt for a new educational building.
The idea for this project really began at the spring Officer's Retreat in 1985 when we realized we needed more space for scouts. At first we decided to remodel and enlarge the old garage that stood where this new building now stands. It didn't take long to realize, however, that there was no way that would be sufficient for our needs, because we also needed a larger dining area, more Sunday School rooms, and more space for preschool classes. So construction began on a new building and was completed in December, 1989. This building was very proudly named the Will Young Building in honor of our church sexton, Will Young, who served the church for 70 years beginning in 1929 when he was 27 years old. This building is used for Sunday School classes, the First Kids Preschool, Wednesday Night Suppers, Men's Breakfasts and any other activity requiring the large modern rooms and dining hall. As part of its mission, the congregation makes all of its physical facilities available to many charitable organizations in the community.
The Fellowship House was purchased from Emma Cannon Whittman in 1958. I remember this so well because my mother and stepfather were the first couple married in the small chapel there in 1961. This home was built in the late 1920's for one of Mr. J. W. Cannon's six sons. The home is an example of the Jacobethan Revival style which includes large chimneys, bay windows, and ornamental plaster and iron. The lovely chapel is used for a Sunday School class, small weddings, and many other worship programs. The parlor, dining room and kitchen allow us to host wedding receptions, Presbyterian Women receptions and circle meetings. Some Sunday School classes still meet in the Fellowship House. It is also a convenient place to host funeral meals for the families of our church.
First Presbyterian Church's Memorial Garden was established in 1804 as a church cemetery. The church is long gone but the beauty of the cemetery is preserved, thanks to Mrs. Sallie Phifer Williamson, who in 1930, made it into a memorial garden. The Memorial Garden is maintained with a trust left by the son of Sallie Phifer Williamson, Marshel Phifer Williamson. Due to this trust and the devotion of Mr. and Mrs. A. Jones Yorke, who oversaw the continuing development of the garden, it has been made into one of the garden spots of the state. A columbarium was completed there in 1989 for placing the cremains of members of our church and their families. Thousands of visitors pass this site each year. It is free and open to the public from Tuesday – Saturday, 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., and Sunday, 1:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Much of the history of First Presbyterian Church is now preserved in a small room in the sanctuary called the Heritage Room. In 1985 Mary Lentz and several others in the church completed this room, which has two beautiful restored and lighted stained glass windows, which came from the 1905 church, through a gift from the Ritchie family. When that building was being replaced many items were dispersed throughout the community, including a number of beautiful stained glass windows which had been placed in the church as memorials. These are now the focal point of the Heritage Room. Many significant items from the past are located in this room. Among these items are pictures of some of the ministers who have served this church. Incidentally, there were 11 ministers of First Presbyterian Church before it moved to this present location in l927. Since then we have had 12 ministers and/or associate ministers, plus numerous interim and supply pastors, in the absence of a regular pastor. Also located in the Heritage Room are pictures of the 5 churches built since 1804. You could spend many hours reading the history stored in the cabinet in this room and stir up many fond memories.
A Prayer Room located in the older Education Building on the second floor, with an entrance from the north driveway, was added in 1991. At that time the Prayer Committee felt a need to have a small room designed just for prayer and meditation and available to members at all times. This is a lovely little room with two small pews, meditation materials, and a combination lock so that it is accessible at all times.
In the sanctuary steeple there is a 10note Deagan tower chime. A tower chime is a series of brass tubes, each about 12 feet, sounded by a leather covered striker. This instrument was installed by the Deagan Company when the sanctuary was built. Will Young remembered hearing the tower chime at his home on Tournament Street. When the tower chime was first installed it was set to play on the hour and half hour, from 8 a.m. until 8 p. m. For ten years the downtown Concord district and the church neighborhood could hear the chime toll. But in 1936 at the insistence of a church neighbor the automatic timer was set to strike the hour only. In the l950's the tower chime went into an unplayed state. There is now a memorial fund designated for the renovation of the tower chime.
A Flentrop Organ, made in Holland, was installed in 1976 to replace the older pipe organ, and the Choir Loft was renovated and enlarged in 1986 to accommodate more choir members.
The very best source of information about history of First Presbyterian Church since 1927 was our sexton, Will Young. His memory was remarkable and when I was asked to give this brief history, I called Will into my office to reminisce with me. Will said he remembered well our first Cantata in our present sanctuary. It was 1932 and he remembered the names of some of our older ladies who made the choir robes for the choir. He also remembered the first Christmas pageant, which was 1940, and which we have continued to have annually the Sunday before Christmas.
He reminded me that the first Vacation Bible School was held on this campus in 1936. It was supposed to have started in the summer of 1935, but we had a terrible polio epidemic in Concord that summer and all public facilities closed their doors during that time.
Will told me that the first Sunday night Vesper programs began in 1939. That is what we used to call the Sunday night Youth program that you now call Middle School and Senior High Youth Groups.
Will also talked about the swimming pool that stood just below the present Davis Hall. When the pool was there the present Fellowship House was owned as a private residence.
If you are familiar with the Flowered Cross Service we have here on Easter Sunday mornings, you would be interested to know that Will remembered the first one of those services in l945 when Dr. Jack McKinnon was minister.
He also reminded me that we had Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting every Wednesday night from 1929 until sometime in the l960's.
These are just a few of the valuable piece of information that Will carried around in his memory of our church.
History is certainly not all just buildings, however; and currently First Presbyterian Church and its members are making great strides in history in our community service actions, such as the Habitat Houses we build, the Logan Playground equipment we have purchased, the Christmas Dinner we helped Jimmy Murphy serve to 3,000 people in our dining room for several years and our involvement in helping the growing Hispanic community in Concord. All of you who participate in these projects and through your faith are building strong character for our community and our church and the possibilities for bigger and better dreams for us to enrich our history are unbelievable.
Revised August 2001, July 2007