History of First Presbyterian Church of Salt Lake City
The people of First Presbyterian Church of Salt Lake City seek to faithfully follow the Lord Jesus Christ. This congregation is part of a Presbyterian heritage in Utah which dates back to 1871. The Presbyterian Church played a key role in the founding of our country and can be traced back to the Protestant Reformation in the 1550’s. We hope this site is informative and thought-provoking. We welcome you into our fellowship and invite you to join us as we seek to serve God in this place.
In July of 1871, Rev. Sheldon Jackson visited Salt Lake City and recommended to the Board of Home Missions of the Presbyterian Church that a church be organized. On October 1, 1871, Rev. Josiah Welch came to Salt Lake City, and on the next Sunday preached in Faust’s Hall, over Mulloy and Paul’s Livery Stable, to twelve people. Brigham Young had closed to the “Gentiles” (non-Mormons) every hall and public place in the city so this unsavory stable was the only place available. On November 12, 1871, the First Presbyterian Church was organized with twelve members.
The Rev. Josiah Welch’s assignment, to organize and establish the new church and to build a new house of worship, was realized on Sunday morning, October 11, 1874, when the new building on the northeast corner of Second South and Second East was dedicated. It was the third anniversary of the first Presbyterian service held in the city. The total cost of the building and lot was $29,500. The facility was built to accommodate over 500 worshippers. This building no longer exists.
On April 12, 1875, Professor John M. Coyner opened The Collegiate Institute in the basement of the new church. The school prospered, as did other mission schools established by the Presbyterians throughout the territory. By 1889-90, the Presbyterians had 36 mission schools and four academies and had served over 50,000 children. The Collegiate Institute later became Westminster College and moved to its present location at 13th East and 17th South.
Throughout tumultuous times, the church continued to grow in membership. Following statehood in 1896, the congregation began consideration of a new church home on the corner of C Street and South Temple. Mr. Walter Ware, prominent Salt Lake architect, designed the building in the English-Scottish Gothic revival style, modeling it after the Carlisle Cathedral in England. Alexander Carpenter, a member of the church, was the builder. Red sandstone from Red Butte Canyon above Fort Douglas was cut and hauled to the C Street site by wagon. The cost for the building and lot was $175,000. When the cornerstone was laid on June 4, 1903, the membership then exceeded 500 and more than 700 were enrolled in the Sunday School.
On April 16, 1905, one thousand people marched from the old church to the new church for the first service. With the completion of the sanctuary, the church was formally dedicated on May 12, 1906.
On the 50th anniversary of the church, November 13, 1921, services of rededication were held and the certificate of indebtedness was burned. Leadership of the church up to this time had been provided by a series of Presbyterian pastors: Rev. Welch, Rev. Robert G. McNiece and Rev. Alexander Paden, Rev. George Davies, Dr. Jesse Baird, Rev. Theodore Lilley, Rev. Floyd Barr, and Rev. Malcolm Gwaltney continued this leadership through 1953.
During the ministry of Rev. Alvin Morris in 1957, the church edifice was enlarged with an addition to the north and modernization of the interior space of the original structure. The additional space has supported the Christian Education classes and programs of the church.
Rev. Walter Kalvesmaki, Rev. Ernest W. (Bill) Remley, Rev. Thomas Jackson, Rev. James Morre, and Rev. Harry Sweitzer continued leadership.
The one-hundredth anniversary of the founding of the church was celebrated in October and November of 1971 with special services and programs. Since the celebration of its centennial, the church has moved forward in its mission.
Under the pastorate of Rev. Donald H. Baird, the present restoration and renovation of the building was planned. Programs were expanded, innovative worship introduced (such as the Kirkin o’ th’ Tartan, which celebrates Presbyterian Scottish heritage, and a contemporary service) and dialogue with the LDS Church renewed. These programs were continued under the pastorate of Rev. Bill Alexander with a renewed vision for the restoration of the building. Restoration was completed under the pastorate of Rev. Michael J. Imperiale.
Important as a historical site, the building is also actively used and enjoyed by the community. The sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church is noted for its fine acoustics and is used extensively for concerts and recitals.
New guests are always welcome at First Presbyterian Church. Worship services are at 9:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m., and Christian Education classes for all ages are at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday mornings. For more information about the many other programs at First Presbyterian Church, please contact us.
On April 29, 1869, a group of ministers in Iowa climbed a high bluff, looking out over the prairies stretching westward. Saddened by the fact that there were no churches of their denomination for almost 2,000 miles westward, they were determined to go out and do mission work. They designated Rev. Sheldon Jackson to lead a group of Presbyterians out west. They reached Corrine, Utah on June 11, 1869. They did mission work from the northern to southern Utah boundaries. They found that almost all of the railroad workers were not Mormons. On July 1, 1871, Sheldon Jackson went to Salt Lake City. Upon seeing that Salt Lake City was almost completely inhabited by the Mormons, he saw it fit for Presbyterian church development. Jackson appealed to the Board of Missions in New York, who replied by sending the Rev. Josiah Welch, originally appointed to Montana. He was persuaded to stop in Salt Lake City to give it a fair trial.
Reverend Josiah Welch arrived in Salt Lake City on October 1, 1871 and he organized First Presbyterian Church of Salt Lake City on November 12, 1871, with 12 members. Within two weeks, the congregation had grown to twenty-five. They had no church building, so they met in private homes, public halls, a skating rink, and a room above a livery stable. In 1873, the congregation set out to raise $18,500 to fund a church building after having paid $11,000 for the plot of land. The church was dedicated October 11, 1874 on the northeast corner of Second South and Second East. Traditionally, Presbyterians started schools wherever they started churches, so Rev. Welch persuaded Dr. John Conyer to open the Salt Lake Collegiate Institute in the basement of the new church. The school started April 12, 1875, which later moved and became Westminster College. Rev. Welch died at the early age of 26 in March of 1877.
Reverend R. G. McNiece served as pastor of First Presbyterian Church for 20 years. He was very involved in mission school work and he worked closely with several academies as they developed. He worked very hard to found a Christian college in Utah until 20 years later when Sheldon Jackson College came together with the Salt Lake Collegiate Institute. He was closely associated with the college, as was his wife who was a valued teacher there.
Reverend William Paden came from Philadelphia in 1897. The “new” church building was built under his pastorate. The land on C Street and South Temple was called the Newhouse Lot and was purchased in 1901. Although the cornerstone says 1902, it was not laid until June 4, 1903. The sanctuary was first used May 13, 1906. On October 20, 1906, a terrific east wind blew out the east windows, making the sanctuary unusable again until March 20, 1907. Rev. Paden also cleared the church’s $10,000 debt and liquidated a loan from the national church. Membership increased, an assistant pastor was called, and enrollment reached 700 with an active membership of 500. An organ was installed in 1911. A mission was also opened in the southwest section of the city. After 15 years, Rev. Paden resigned his pasorate at First Pres to be the superintendent of mission in the Synod of Utah. He ended up working at half salary much of the time without travelling expenses, while working twice as hard as the Synod (regional) Executive and ad interim preacher at First Pres. Although resigned, he preached, did the pastoral work, visited members, ministered to the sick and performed marriage ceremonies. He also donated his large, valuable library to Westminster College.
Between 1912 and 1914, First Presbyterian Church of Salt Lake City did not have a pastor, but Rev. Stevenson came as moderator of the Session. He performed some of the pastoral duties in the absence of a pastor.
Reverend Davies came to First Pres in 1914 to serve a pastorate of 13 years. All of the debts previously addressed to be paid off were paid off during his pastorate.
In 1928, before Rev. Jesse Baird became the new pastor, the Session voted Rev. Henry Shawhan to be an interim pastor of sorts. He was permanent pulpit supply (preacher) until Jesse Baird could start his pastorate, and Rev. Shawhan attended all the Session meetings as a pastor would. Elders on Session took turns acting as temporary moderator during the meetings.
Jesse Baird became pastor of First Pres in 1928 and served for only three years.
Theodore Lilley, Floyd Barr, W. M. Gwaltney, Alvin Morris, Walter Kalvesmaki, E. W. Remley, Thomas Jackson, James Moore, Thomas Sweitzer, Donald Baird, Bill Alexander, and Michael Imperiale all served as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Salt Lake City at C Street and South Temple. Membership has stayed fairly steady throughout these pastorates.
From 2019-2022, Rev. Steve Aeschbacher served as the Interim Senior Pastor. Our current Senior Pastor is Rev. Jamie White.