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 Presbyterian church.

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.

First Presbyterian Church cir.1920Following 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 transitional sanctuary.

First Presbyterian Church cir.1940Ground 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 Jesus Christ.

*With special thanks, the text above was taken from a book "A Short History" written by Cally Hudson.


Last Update: 27 May 2017

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2007-2017 The First Presbyterian Church | 1605 Genesee St Utica, NY 13501 | Phone 315-732-5111