Church History

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 church.

 

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 destruction. 

 

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 years. 

 

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?

 

When Rev. Howard E Stanton, who served the church from 969 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.