Over 125 Years in Fort Worth: Since 1873
CHAPTERS IN THE HISTORY OF FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
First Presbyterian Church Forms
Cumberland Presbyterian Church Forms
First Presbyterian Church (Federated) Forms
Presence in the Hemphill Neighborhood
The history of First Presbyterian Church parallels the development of the City of Fort Worth and Texas Christian University.
In 1848, a military outpost of log and mud buildings was established, overlooking the Trinity River. Manned by a handful of soldiers, it was intended to protect the more settled areas to the east and south. After only four years, the camp was abandoned and the soldiers moved to another line of Indian posts farther west.
A few of the settlers who came in with the military garrison remained in the outpost. The frontier village grew slowly and became the County Seat. The Civil War, however, had a devastating effect on the area, dropping the population from nearly 6,000 to only 1,000.
In 1870, Fort Worth had no more than 300 residents, many of whom were Confederate soldiers and their families who had decided to make a new start rather than return to their homes in the South.
Then the cattle drives started coming through and the local economic depression ended. Fort Worth was the last stop for cowboys for provisions before their long trek northward. In 1872 it was announced that the railroad would be built to the city, and Fort Worth truly became a boomtown.
FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH FORMS
In October of that same year, the Presbytery of Central Texas of the Presbyterian Church U.S. (Southern) named a committee to look into the formation of a new church in Fort Worth. Five to 10 Presbyterians had been gathering regularly in a room over Knight's Livery Stable at 3rd and Calhoun Streets. They were organized as the First Presbyterian Church on May 25, 1873.
In 1877, the church called its first pastor, the Reverend W.W. Brim, and built a small frame structure on Jones Street, between 1st and 2nd Streets.
By 1878, Fort Worth’s population had reached approximately 5,000. The city had developed a reputation not only as a western railhead, but also as a town where all-night saloons and dance halls catered to cowboys and adventurers.
CUMBERLAND PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH FORMS
In the summer of 1878, a young man by the name of Stevens, a recent graduate of Trinity University with plans to attend seminary, came through Fort Worth on horseback selling magazine subscriptions. He stayed at the Daniel Hotel and learned of the hopes for a new Cumberland Church.
He was invited to stay in Fort Worth and preach to the small congregation, and on Sept. 15, 1878, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church of Fort Worth was organized. Stevens immediately approached the membership and raised $1,500 for the first building to be built at 5th and Taylor Streets. When the Cumberland Presbyterian Church moved to its new location, it became known as Taylor Street Presbyterian Church. After just over a year in Fort Worth, Mr. Stevens resigned and entered seminary.
Before the turn of the century, these two small Presbyterian congregations were seeking to establish other outposts in the city. In 1883, with less than 175 members of its own, First Presbyterian formed the Broadway Presbyterian Church, later renamed St. Stephen Presbyterian Church. Another congregation, Westminster Presbyterian Church, was organized in 1902. The Taylor Street Presbyterian Church organized a new congregation, Hemphill Presbyterian Church, on the southside in 1898.
FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH (FEDERATED) FORMS
By 1915, First Presbyterian Church (U.S.) and Taylor Street Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) had a combined membership of nearly 1,000. Plans soon got under way for a merger, and on Jan. 30, 1916, the congregations approved the Articles of Federation for a new church, becoming the First Presbyterian Church of Fort Worth. On May 1, 1919, the First Presbyterian Church (Federated) called James K. Thompson as its first pastor. He served for 25 years. During his tenure the congregation grew from 1,100 to 1,500 members.
Dr. Robert F. Jones was called as pastor on Sept. 9, 1944, and served until his retirement in 1979. Membership grew more rapidly in this period than at any other time in the congregation’s history.
A building committee, under the chairmanship of Dr. C.A. Hickman, found a new site just west of central downtown, and developed plans for a new church facility for this growing congregation.
On Dec. 23, 1956, the congregation worshipped for the first time in the new sanctuary at 1000 Penn Street. First Presbyterian Church remained from 1916 until 1961, when organic union was permitted between churches of the two denominations. First Presbyterian Church of Fort Worth then became the largest Union Church in our Presbyterian family.
In 1973, our Centennial Year, the church hosted the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.). In 1983, a reunion of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.) and the United Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in Atlanta led to the formation of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
From 1980-96, Dr. Robert W. Bohl served as Pastor. He placed major emphasis on corporate worship, mission giving and service/evangelism. In 1994-95 he served as Moderator of the General Assembly.
After Dr. Bohl’s resignation in 1996, a nominating committee put together an interim team of ministers to provide leadership until a permanent Pastor and staff of Associate Ministers could be secured. This team was headed by Senior Interim Pastor John Ed Withers and Associate Interim Pastors John T. Conley and Sandra Kern. Their expertise and guidance during 1997 and 1998 enabled the congregation to move forward during this time of transition.
From 1998-2005, Rev. Dana C. Jones led First Presbyterian Church in a period of membership growth and community outreach, resulting in a New Church Development in Aledo and the revitalization of Hemphill Presbyterian Fellowship. He also led the church in a visioning process that led to a master plan and successful Capital Campaign in 2005. Jones concluded his ministry here on July 31, 2005, to accept a call in Sewickley, Penn. The Rev. Karl Travis joined our staff as Pastor in 2007 after serving congregations in New Mexico and Michigan.
As this dedicated fellowship of Christians celebrates over 125 years in Fort Worth, we look back in appreciation of our heritage, look inward in self-examination, look forward with anticipation and renewal with gratitude for past ministerial leadership and with high expectations for the new millennium.
Hemphill Presbyterian Church was founded in 1891 and moved to its Hemphill Street location in 1909. The sanctuary was dedicated in April 1926.
Over its many years of ministry, Hemphill was known for its excellence in Christian education (one of the largest Sunday schools of its day) and the first bell choir in the state of Texas.
Through the years, Hemphill was active in worship and supporting various community endeavors. However, as the years went by and the surrounding neighborhood changed, so did Hemphill.
To keep its doors open in the face of declining membership and resources, Hemphill Presbyterian was incorporated into First Presbyterian Church of Fort Worth.
The church building was sold in 2010 and the mission and ministry works of First Pres moved one block north later that year.
The church's first location, on Jones Street, circa 1877.
The building at Fifth and Taylor, circa 1880.
Construction under way on the current building, circa 1955.
A bird's eye view of the building, circa 2004.
An interior shot of construction on the new building, circa 2008.
A view from the rear of the church with its new addition, circa 2008.