On September 24, 1854, a committee of Presbytery met with seven Kirkwood Presbyterians at the home of Mr. Henry Singleton for the purpose of organizing the First Presbyterian Church of Kirkwood. Services were first held in the home of Mr. Singleton. The number of people attending the services grew and soon the congregation was meeting in a log schoolhouse at the location across the street from the current church building where the Commerce Bank is now located. In 1856, the congregation had grown so much that, in that year, a small brick church was built on the site of our present church building. The new church faced on Webster Avenue, now Kirkwood Road. It was located in a grove of oak trees with a white picket fence between it and the street.
The church had a cemetery located at the rear along Adams Avenue. This cemetery was used by members of the congregation for several years. In 1888 when a new stone church was built the bodies were moved to what is now Forever Oak Hill Cemetery
For the first 13 years of its existence the church had no regular pastor, being served only by supply ministers for short lengths of time. However in 1867 Dr. John R Warner was called as the first regular pastor. Dr. Warner had served as a Civil War chaplain at the Battle of Gettysburg. Dr. Warner served the congregation until his death in 1894.
The First Church Building
The cornerstone of a new church building was laid on October 25, 1888. This stone structure was built on the corner of Adams Avenue and Kirkwood Road at a cost of $12,180. The first service in the new stone church was held on June 30, 1889. The church originally consisted of the Sanctuary, a small Sunday School room at the rear of the building which was called the “Lecture Hall” and two small rooms on either side of the organ, one being used as a Sunday School Library and the other as a choir room. The organ took up most of the space in the chancel with its gilded pipes. Initially, the organ was hand pumped, usually by the janitor, to produce the necessary airflow.
In 1929 a new two-story stone education building attached to the east side of the existing church was constructed. (The Norman Tower, which served as the entry to the church, is still standing on the Kirkwood Road side of the church property.)
The organ of 1888 church was a twelve-rank, two-manual organ with foot pedals built by George Kilgen and Sons. This organ was replaced in 1929 with a twenty-two rank, two-manual organ with pedals made by Henry Pilcher’s Sons, Inc. of Louisville, Kentucky. It also contained an echo organ with chimes in the tower.
Growth in population and the movement of families to the suburbs, brought on another building program, especially for the purpose of providing space for a growing Sunday School. In 1951, the brick education building was added to provide additional Sunday School space and also a Fellowship Hall.
In 1951 the Sanctuary was again getting crowded creating the need for three morning services. In 1954, a program was started to sell bonds bearing a 5% interest to the members and friends of the church. The bond sale was completely successful and the building of a new sanctuary began in 1955. The Sanctuary was completed in time for Christmas Eve service in 1957. The Sanctuary has thirteen huge stained glass windows and a 46 rank, 4 manual organ with four of its ranks of pipes sounding in the rear of the Sanctuary. The last bond was paid off on Reformation Sunday, October31, 1971, with the burning of the bond in a copper kettle in the front of the chancel.
In 1980 a major renovation of the church facilities occurred, including removal of the 1888 stone church structure (except the Norman Tower). Stained glass from the windows, pews, bricks, and pieces of stone were sold to members of the congregation and to friends of the church as a remembrance. Some of the stained glass window sections were retained and now hang in the church Lounge.
Renovations and Additions
In March of 2001 a Building Feasibility Committee was formed to evaluate the adequacy of the then current facilities and to recommend plans for future facilities to serve the mission and ministry of the congregation. The architectural firm of Powers Bowersox Associates, Inc was engaged to develop architectural plans for new facilities to replace the 1929 and 1951 buildings with a new education wing, Fellowship Hall and a Gathering Space created by glassing in the arches in the Cloisters. Thanks to the generosity of a family in the congregation, the Tree of Life Chapel was added at the west end of the Gathering Space. Demolition and construction began in March of 2005. The new facilities were dedicated in August of 2007 and placed into service in September of 2007. In January 2013 the Sanctuary was renovated in anticipation of the installation of a new Casavant Frères Pipe Organ. New chancel flooring and furniture were installed in order to enhance the acoustic quality of the space. The new pipe organ was installed in October, 2013.
Since its founding in 1854, the congregation has been blessed with pastoral leadership by thirteen head-of-staff pastors reflecting long and productive pastorates.
1867 – 1894 Rev. Dr. John R. Warner
1894 – 1903 Rev. Dr. Henry C. Evans
1903 – 1909 Rev. Perry V. Jeness
1914 – 1918 Rev. Frank H. Given
1920 – 1927 Rev. Dr. John C. Berger
1928 – 1937 Rev. Dr. Henry Little Jr.
1938 – 1945 Rev. Ralph D. Evans
1946 – 1952 Rev. Dr. Marion Stuart
1953 – 1967 Rev. Dr. Donald H. Stewart
1967 – 1983 Rev. Dr. Ralph E. Kipp
1983 – 1995 Rev. Dr. Lewis R. Thomas
1998 – 2005 Rev. Dr. Brewster H. Gere
2007 – present Rev. Dr. David A. Holyan