First Presbyterian Church of Huntsville

Following the Texas Revolution in 1836, the Constitution of the new Republic of Texas guaranteed every person the right “to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience.” As a result of this broad declaration of religious liberty, itinerant preachers with various religious denominations, including the Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists, Baptists, and Disciples of Christ, traveled through the region looking for converts and supporters.

The Presbyterians were one of the first groups to establish a foothold in Texas. Yet, as historian Kate Sayen Kirkland has written, the “opportunity to evangelize [the] new country coincided with a schism in the denomination as Cumberland Presbyterians softened Old School Calvinism by declaring that Christ had died for all mankind, not just for a chosen few; they also insisted that sinners would not suffer eternal damnation, that infants who died without baptism were saved by Christ, and that the spirit of God operated on daily life.”

The Cumberland Presbyterians established the first church in Huntsville in 1850, and soon thereafter the Baptist congregation established a building of its own. The Old School Presbyterians built the third church in Huntsville in 1855-56 and named it First Presbyterian Church.

The members of the First Presbyterian congregation executed a deed for their church on March 14, 1855, and acquired a lot on the northwest corner of Lamar and Main Street. The structure was completed in 1856 and served the congregation for more than forty years. Samuel McKinney, Daniel Baker, and Rufus Bailey -- three presidents of Huntsville’s Austin College -- all served as early ministers at First Presbyterian.

In April 1899, the old building was demolished, and a new church begun. While construction got under way, the congregation worshiped in the old Henry Opera House in downtown Huntsville. On Sunday, January 31, 1904, after five years of construction, Pastor Daniel Penick Junkin, dedicated the new church building. The church called this site home for more than fifty years, and numerous photographs detail the life of the congregants at this location during World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II.

In November 1955, the members of First Presbyterian Church sold their building to Huntsville National Bank. Meanwhile, the trustees purchased a lot at 19th and R Street. Construction of the new church building lasted from February to September 1956.

In 1976, part of the existing sanctuary was converted to a chapel. In December of that year, the chapel was dedicated to the memory of Ben W. Young. A construction project completed in 1995 redesigned the church's old flat roof to a hip roof. Over many years, the members of First Presbyterian have helped to shape the local community by providing spiritual, educational, and social programming for the residents of Huntsville and the larger region.

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Audio

Cheryl Spencer: First Presbyterian Church of Huntsville
Source: Musings from Sam Houston's Stomping Ground, 8/15/2008.
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