Friday, February 19, 2010

History of a Defunct Church: Central Presbyterian Church of Washington, D.C.

Note:  in the pages of a book the writer recently picked up in a used book shop, she found the following history, typed on three folded, yellowed, nearly-transparent sheets of paper.  The name "Pat Pritchett" is written in blue ink at the top right of the document--in a decidedly feminine hand.  I have duplicated the piece as it was written, commas and all.

Today, the former Central Presbyterian Church building, at 3047 Fifteenth Street, NW, houses the Capital City Public Charter School.



It was in January, 1868, that a handful of Christians decided to begin public worship in Washington, D.C., and the Rev. A.W. Pitzer was invited to preach.  They had secured a room in the Columbian Law Building on
Fifth Street, N.W.
, between D and E Streets.  The church was organized and this small group, with no money, no officers, no Presbytery, not a foot of ground—nothing to encourage them—planned to build a church.  A Sunday School had already been organized.   As a result of faith and self-denial a lot at the corner of Third and I Streets, N.W., was purchased on December 1, 1871 and ground broken June 24, 1872 for erection of a chapel.  Within five years after organization of the church, the chapel was completed.  The main sanctuary was built alter and was dedicated December 6, 1885.

For thirty years, the Central Presbyterian Church was the only Presbyterian Church in Washington connected with the Southern General Assembly.

After a remarkably long and active pastorate, Dr. Pitzer resigned in April 1906, was made pastor emeritus, and moved to Salem, Virginia, his boyhood home, where he lived until his death.

In September 1906, the Rev. James H. Taylor was called as pastor, and entered upon the work in November 1906. 

Due to changing conditions in the neighborhood the congregation considered securing a new location, and a lot was purchased in August, 1909, at 13th and Monroe Streets, N.W.  On this lot was erected a portable chapel and a Sunday School started.  Son this piece of property was deemed inadequate for expansion and it was disposed of.  A new site at the corner of Fifteenth and Irving Streets, N.W. was secured and the frame chapel moved to this site in 1912.  During these years, Dr. Taylor was assisted during various periods by the Rev. John W. Walker, the Rev. H. W. Shannon and the Rev. D. W. Gates.

Before the property at Third and I Streets was sold in 1913, Woodrow Wilson came to Washington as President of the Untied States, and on the first Sunday after his inauguration he came to Central Church to worship—on March 9, 1913—and became a regular member of this congregation.

In October 1913, preparations were begun for the new building at 15th and Irving Streets, N.W.  On December 19, 1913, President Woodrow Wilson laid the cornerstone.  This new building was occupied in February 1914.  Soon after the President came to Washington, word was received that he would supply the flowers each Sunday for the sanctuary.  These flowers were always delivered on Saturday.  During his term of office The President presented two gold plated vases for flowers.

The new sanctuary was dedicated May 31, 1914, with Dr. Pitzer addressing the congregation.  In May 1918, Central Church celebrated its Fiftieth Anniversary, at which Dr. Walter W. Moore of Union Theological Seminary, Richmond, Virginia, preached.

The property on
Irving Street
, adjacent to the church, was purchased, and in 1930 a Sunday School Building erected, with the cornerstone laid by President Herbert Hoover.

On May 28, 1933, the Sixty-fifth Anniversary of the organization of the church was observed.

The Seventieth Anniversary, on May 29, 1938, was another important event, when Dr. Ben R. Lacy, Jr., President of Union Seminary, Richmond, Virginia, Preached.  Other ministers who assisted the pastor during these years included the Rev. Fred V. Poag, the Rev. R. McFerran Crowe, the Rev. William F. Mansell, the Rev. Yandell Page and the Rev. J. Walter Dickson.

A Vacation Bible School had been started and carried on for over twenty years under the supervision of Miss Mary Coit.  Also a Friday night Class, begun in 1924, under the instruction of the pastor.

Many beautiful memorials have been presented to the church over the years.  Only two pastors served the church in seventy-five years. 

In October 1943, Dr. Taylor resigned and became pastor emeritus.  (Dr. Pitzer died in 1927).  The Rev. William F. Mansell became pastor, following Dr. Taylor, but ill health forced his resignation February 26, 1946.

Chaplain Alexander J. McKelway served as preacher for morning services until 1947, when the Rev. Graham Gordon Lacy was called as pastor and installed June 8, 1947.  The honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred on him by Hampden-Sydney College June 1948.

On November 18, 1956, a noteworthy event occurred, when a Centennial Memorial Service for Woodrow Wilson was held at Central.  At the 9:30 A.M. Service of Remembrance a bronze tablet was unveiled by Mrs. Wilson, renaming the educational building the Woodrow Wilson Building.  The Memorial Service was held at , with the Rev. Dr. John Alexander Mackay as speaker. 

The question of possible relocation of Central Church was considered, and on June 10, 1958, the congregation voted to remain at the present location.  At the same time the calling of an assistant minister was authorized, together with the purchase of a manse.  As a result of this action, the Rev. Jamie D. Stimson was called as Assistant Minister, and installed June 21, 1959.


Anonymous said...

My great grandfather was an elder in this church. I have a full history of the church that he wrote prior to his passing. If you are interested let me know. My father was baptized there and i (now) live down the street.

Quondam Washington said...

Any information would be wonderful--please pass along and we'll post it on this site, with full credit!


Pat Pritchett said...

I grew up in this church and remember Dr. Lacy very well. My father was Duncan Pat Pritchett and I am Jr.

This was a wonderful church that unfortunately lost its membership over time. It had a strong Sunday School program and Vacation Bible School. I am glad that this blog is keeping the memory of the church alive.

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