One hundred years after the birth of the United States, First Presbyterian Church (U.S) of Hot Springs, Arkansas was born. Its founding on May 14, 1876, by Dr. W. W. Barry and an earnest group of Christian men and women came only six weeks after incorporation of Hot Springs and marked the beginning of years of varied service. First Presbyterian Church's original building, secured after borrowed buildings were used for several years, was located at the site of Fire Station No. Three, across Water Street from the current building. A federal resurvey of Hot Springs Reservation, news of which did not reach Hot Springs until after the purchase, declared that the church was located on government property. Land was eventually donated by Major Hiram Abiff Whittington, and the unfinished church building on the abandoned lot was moved across the creek and placed on the newly donated lot, where the church has remained since. In the early 1900's, the Session approved demolition of the first building and erection of a stone building, which in December 1911 was partially destroyed by fire. Church services and events were held at various locations in the city until the church was completed at a cost of $25,000.00 plus.
Among the pastors of First Presbyterian Church have been two who rose to high offices in the larger church. Dr. Marion A. Boggs, who served here from 1930-1939, was Moderator of the General Assembly in 1960. Dr. James A. Millard, Jr., pastor from 1944-1952, was Stated Clerk of the General Assembly for 14 years.
The youth of First Presbyterian Church have over the years produced four ministers, all of whom were ordained in their home church: Omer Stanfield, Frank Tobey, William Bolton, and Charles Durham.
Outreach programs included two mission chapels supported by First Presbyterian Church, one of which eventually struck out on its own; sponsorship of Boy Scouts of America Troop No. 1; active programs for young people; and assorted outreach programs supported by the church.
First Presbyterian Church, which in one form or another was a base for the other Presbyterian Churches now in Hot Springs, suffered at least two schisms and consequent withdrawals of members, one shortly after its birth and one in about 1964. The church came through both in good shape, with most of the withdrawals from the first schism returning and recommitting to the life of the church. From a group of 28 charter members, active church membership on the annual statistical report for December 31, 2003 was 336.
The historic First Presbyterian Church building has been periodically updated to meet the current needs of the congregation. In 1994, the pipe organ was completely rebuilt by Nichols and Simpson, Organ Builders, of Little Rock, Arkansas. The Fellowship Hall, kitchen and choir room were renovated in 2000. Electronic chimes were installed in the bell tower as part of the church's 125th Anniversary Celebration. Projects in 2002 included repairing the stained-glass windows and updating the sanctuary.
In late 1983, the Session voted for union with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Congregational approval followed, and legal documents in January 1984 established the First Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). A Diaconate as an office of sympathy, witness, and service was instituted in 1996.
The first minister of the infant church was a "Reverend McKeon," although another source states a "Mr. Kennedy" preceded him. It is interesting to note that a complete church history covering the period October 1885 up to 1907 is mentioned in a letter in church scrapbooks as being sealed in the present church's cornerstone. No other copy of this history has been discovered at present.
[Extracted from "Centennial Memories of Devoted Service, 1876-1976" by Nancy Britt and an earlier history by Mary Hudgens.]
First Presbyterian Church
213 Whittington Avenue, Hot Springs, AR 71901
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