First Presbyterian Church - Table of Contents

1887-2012 History
First Presbyterian Church

By Bruce McCausland, Church historian

In 1887, following a much publicized period of discernment and debate concerning moving the congregation away from Shelton Square, Mrs. Truman G. Avery, a faithful member of the congregation who lived at the site now occupied by Kleinhans Music Hall, donated a parcel of land across the circle at the corner of Wadsworth and Pennsylvania Streets in memory of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Stephen G. Austin

Thus begins the story of the present edifice, designed by the renowned architectural firm of Green & Wicks. [E. B. green was a church member at this time.]  Following a well published design competition the winning design by Green & Wicks stood out from the other three finalists, it was noted for its [Richardsonian] Romanesque exterior, Byzantine-revival styled sanctuary and tall central tower that would dominate the skyline of late 19th century Buffalo through the present day.

Ground breaking took place and the first services were held in the newly built chapel on September 11, 1889, then on December 13, 1891 the first services were held in the newly constructed sanctuary.  However the new building was not dedicated until after the completion of the tower on May 16, 1897.

The dedicatory sermon that day was preached by the Rev. Francis L. Patton, D. D., President of Princeton University, which was the Alma Mata of the pastor, Dr. Samuel S. Mitchell, who would, following his retirement in 1904, return there for a year to lecture on the English Bible.  It was also during this time on May 16th, 1897 that construction began for Welcome Hall.  The building, designed by the same architectural firm of Green & Wicks, was located at 404-408 Seneca St. as a mission of First church to the community; the lands and buildings costing about $50,000.00.

During the Pan American Exhibition of 1901, Theodore Roosevelt worshiped here both as vice-president and following the assassination of William McKinley.  Dr. Mitchell breakfasted with Theodore Roosevelt on the morning following his inauguration and there is some evidence to support that they were on familiar terms with each other, due in part possibly to Dr. Mitchell’s pastorate in Washington, D.C. from 1869-1878.
The building has undergone several modifications over the years; most noted was the Removal of the old Roosevelt organ in 1915 which was replaced with the Austin Organ, then the redecoration of the sanctuary in 1924 under direction of Mr. William Carson Francis (1879 –1945), a fourth-generation member of the congregation. Redecoration began on June 9th, 1924 and was completed before the 19 October service.  This required the sanctuary spaces to be closed from September 11th through October 12th forcing the congregation to worship nearby at the State Normal School at the corner of Jersey and 14th Streets.

A special dedication ceremony was held the following Sunday on 19 October 1924.  It was during this redecorating that the memorial windows of such exquisite design and color were in­stalled.

In 1925 the cornerstone for the Parish House was laid, the new parish house was dedicated in February, 1926 both during the pastorate of Dr. George A. Buttrick, D.D.

On November 5th, 1931, Dr. Ralph B. Hindman was installed as pastor and because of the economics of the times; the church was forced to give up the mission of Welcome Hall following the retirement of Rev. William E. McLennan, who had been the director since 1909. The building and mission was sold to the City of Buffalo where it remained in operation as a community center before being closed and torn down a few years later.

Chapel: In 1949 because of concerns voiced by parishioners in the main sanctuary that the noise made during the children’s services was disturbing worship, the chapel was redesigned, this included reorientation of the chapel chancel, replacing the pews, enclosing the staircase to the sanctuary balcony, changing the lighting fixtures and replacing the glass windows with special dedicated stained glass windows.   In 1957, the old Roosevelt organ was also replaced, this time with a new Schlicker organ. The next major renovation of the Chapel took place in 2004 during the pastorate of the present minister Dr. Geri Lyon.  This time the pews were removed, new chairs purchased, the chapel was repainted and the floor refinished.

William Carson Francis: (21 May 1879 - 8 September 1945) American architect, mural painter, painter and decorator, born in Buffalo, NY where he was active as an architect, mural painter, painter and decorator in Buffalo, New York City and later moved from Buffalo, NY to  Ossining, NY in 1925.  He graduated from Columbia University School of Architecture. He received the McKim Fellowship to the American Academy in Rome.  He died at his home in Ossining, NY aged sixty-six years. Source:

 Text © 2012 Bruce McCausland
Page by Chuck LaChiusa in 2014
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