First Presbyterian Church
Long before Utica was incorporated as a city in 1832, it was a small village known as Fort Schuyler. Having been
carved from unbroken wilderness fifteen years before, it was there that First Presbyterian Church was organized, the
oldest church in what was to become Utica. First Church was a sister to Whitesboro Presbyterian Church, being one
and the same at the beginning of 1793 and known as "The United Society of Whitestown". On
February 18, 1794, this society was received into the Presbytery of Albany, being then farther west than any other
The Rev. Bethuel Dodd was appointed and installed as the Society's first pastor on August 21, 1794. Officiating
in both congregations, Dodd spent two thirds of his time in Whitestown and one third in Fort Schuyler, his support shared
by both churches.
The Fort Schuyler congregation, legally incorporated as a church in 1804, assembled first in the village schoolhouse
on Main Street and was later granted the use of Trinity Episcopal Church on Broad Street until a worship place could
be constructed. In 1807 a church was built on lower Washington Street. Used for twenty years, it was divided
and moved to make way for a building of a larger structure. Dedicated in 1827, the new church was constructed of
brick and included a spire 215 feet high. In 1813, the Utica congregation called the Rev. Henry Dwight as its
first full time pastor. The corporation then took the name of "The First Utica Presbyterian
Society", which remains the church's legal name to this day.
Following a disastrous fire in 1851, the imposing structure of Old First Church
was built in the Romanesque Revival style on the northeast corner of Washington and Columbia Streets. This
building served as a worship place for nearly 70 years. In 1919 it was decided to break with tradition and move
"uptown" to what was then considered suburban Utica.
In May 1921, the Society purchased the MacKinnon-Borst estate, its present property, as the site for a new
sanctuary. While the committee took stock of the possibilities of the MacKinnon house (currently our Church House),
worship was held in temporary quarters on Oneida Square.
Ralph Adams Cram, architect for the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, was chosen to design the
new church. A major requirement of the plans was to reuse the walnut pews from the Washington Street church, a
factor which would determine many of the dimensions of the new church. Some of the decorative woodwork in
Brewer Chapel came from the old building and temporarily graced the Oneida Square storefront which was used as a
Ground breaking for the new building occurred in July 1922, followed by the
laying of the cornerstone in December. Occupancy and dedication took place Sunday, May 11, 1924, followed by
four weeks of special events. The total cost of the building of the church was somewhat over $275,000, most of
which was raised at two worship services in May 1922.
The structure we now call the Church House was built in 1900 as a lavish private residence by Robert
MacKinnon. It cost MacKinnon $150,000 to build and $50,000 - $75,000 to operate. A few years later,
MacKinnon was forced into bankruptcy and in 1911 the home was purchased for $40,000 by Charles A. Borst and his
wife Grace Olmstead Borst. After his unexpected
death in 1918, Mrs. Borst was forced to sell he house
for $50,000 to a group of entrepreneurs who planned to
turn it into an apartment house. Before the new
owners had occupied the building, the church became
interested in the property and the resale price climbed
overnight to $65,000.
The year 1961 saw the joining of the Church and the
Church House with the construction of a number of
classrooms, Fellowship Hall, a modernized kitchen and the
installation of the magnificent Casavant Freres organ.
Throughout its history, First Presbyterian Church has had
a strong mission emphasis. It has produced at least 17
missionaries and 24 ministers. The first Home
Missionary Society was established in 1843 and in 1877 the
women's Missionary Society was organized. Indeed, it
would be presumptuous to end the history of a church by
merely citing building statistics. Into every board,
brick or stone have gone the work, the hopes and prayers of
the faithful for over 200 years. Our archives are
filled with lists of the accomplishments of pastors, lay
ministers, elders, deacons, and trustees, as well as the
names of 200 years of members. Some have been
important to the material growth of Utica and others not so
well known, have simply been faithful to the teachings of
*With special thanks, the text above was taken from a
book "A Short History" written by Cally Hudson.