First Presbyterian Church is a
historic church located here in Racine. It was built in 1852 and added to the
National Register of Historic Places in 1973. It was designed by architect and
church elder—Lucas Bradley.
The First Presbyterian Church was among the
first religious institutions to be created in Racine. The church was founded in
1839, two years prior to the official incorporation of the village of Racine.
In its first years, it frequently outgrew its established meeting places: first
a schoolhouse on Main Street between Second and Third Streets, then the
unoccupied upper floor of the town jail. The congregation's first church
building was dedicated in February 1843. In 1850, the congregation's pastor,
the Reverend T.M. Hopkins, and later his successor Rev. Z.M. Humphrey,
solicited funds to construct a larger house of worship on the southern edge of
the city. The cornerstone was laid at Seventh Street and College Avenue on May
6, 1851, and the finished building was dedicated June 10th, 1852.
The building was designed in the Greek Revival style. Several women in the congregation provided
room and board to the builders who constructed the church. The cost of
construction was totaled at $10,600, on top of the $1,200 paid for the land.
The church held 156 pews, 138 on the ground floor and 18 in the balcony.
The bell was added to the tower in 1855, which
doubled as the city's fire alarm. It
is the original bell which was purchased by the Ladies Sewing Circle. The words "Holiness to the Lord,"
from Zechariah 14:20, are inscribed on its west face. The bell was presented to
the church in 1855. When the bell arrived, it is said that Rev. Humphrey exclaimed "Who'd a
thought it, stitches bought it!" It
is still an ever-present memorial to the devotion of the pioneer women of our
The bell has always been more than simply a
means of calling people to church. For many years it served as a city fire
alarm and also announced victories during the Civil War. Today the bell is an important part of our
Underground Railroad Tours. Those who
participate in the tour, young and old, are given the opportunity to ring the
bell. This act helps transport them to the past in a hands-on way.
Our steeple has been referred to as the
crowning glory to Lucas Bradley's architectural masterpiece. It was inspired by the London steeples of
Christopher Wren and James Gibbs. It was
built in four sections, with choice timber from the Manitowoc area, selected by
Mr. Bradley. Rising 140 feet, it is the
oldest surviving steeple in Racine. Survival hasn't always been easy for the
old bell tower. Over the years it was struck by lightning twice. Most recently,
on July 27, 1973. A Racine Fire Department snorkel unit and a 100-foot aerial
ladder strained to reach the burning steeple. Members of the Racine Fire
Department threaded hoses up the inside of the spire by climbing up thin boards
nailed to the steeple walls, which enabled them to put out the fire. Their
quick action is credited with saving our beautiful church from deeper
Since First Presbyterian was completed, in
1852, the weather vane had stood atop the steeple—over the gilded ball. It was removed in 1992, after 140 years,
having survived two lightning strikes and a fire. It has been on display in our atrium (since
2013)—in honor of First Presbyterian Church’s 175th
anniversary, which was celebrated in
2014. To watch a video of the removal of the weather vane, please click here - courtesy of church member, Bob Johnson.
The church's original organ was purchased in
1886. Our current organ was gifted to
First Presbyterian by Helen Converse Johnson, dedicated in November 3, 1935, in
memory of her husband, Herbert Fisk Johnson.
Our beautiful chandelier, located in the
sanctuary, was presented as a memorial gift in 1914. There are forty-eight bulbs and to change
them, the chandelier had to be lowered from the ceiling. We recently had work
done on the ceiling and at that time, LED bulbs were put in place to last many
Where can you see—the top hat and silver tipped
cane of the renowned architect of our church, Lucas Bradley? Excerpts from an 1891 letter written by Underground
Railroad participant and early church member, Sylvester Peck? Artifacts found in the crawl space under the
sanctuary? Articles about our church ministers and music leaders?
Howard E Stanton, who served the church from 1969 to 1986, arrived at First
Presbyterian Church, he quickly became aware of the rich history at First
Presbyterian. He saw the need for a room where the history could be documented
and showcased. Thus, the
Memorabilia/Stanton Room located, on the east side of the building off the
sanctuary, was created.