Not too many years ago there were three Presbyterian churches in Xenia — First Presbyterian, Second Presbyterian and Third Presbyterian.
Over the years there have been mergers and name changes. This is the history of First Presbyterian Church, originally located at the corner of Market and King streets.
Sept. 27, 1841 was the date that a petition was signed to form a church in Xenia. The petition read: “We whose names are here given, express in this form our desire to have a Presbyterian Church organized to be and in the care of the Presbytery of Miami, and we promise our support and adherence to the same as a worshipping congregation.”
The church was formally organized on Nov. 6. Those who desired to become members of the new church brought their certificates of transfer and then became members of the Presbyterian Church of Xenia. The next order of business was to elect Ezra Bennett as the first elder for the church. The congregation was affiliated with the Presbyterian Church of the U.S.A. Three men and 11 women signed the charter.
On Sabbath day the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was administered to the newly organized church in the presence of a large and solemn audience. On Monday, the first baptism took place and Noah H. Bishop was chosen to supply the church with preaching one half of the time until the next regular meeting.
In the early years, the congregation met in the Old German Reformed Church at the corner of Market and Collier streets or in the basement of the Court House.
In 1846 a lot at the corner of Market and King Streets was purchased for $600. Construction began in 1847 on a two-story brick building with a basement. The dedication service took place in May 1848. A large number of people attended the dedication and the building was filled almost to capacity. There were apparently two buildings on the lot. The Xenia Torchlight reported in part: “Both these buildings are large and commodious, built of brick in the most substantial manner and finished off with taste and elegance. They are truly ornaments of the town … to the ladies of the Presbyterian Church credit is due for the zeal and perseverance they have displayed in their efforts to finish off their Church in a creditable manner. “
The church began to grow. By 1854 the congregation had 136 members representing 76 families. In November 1861 an African-American lady from Kentucky became a member. The church has been integrated since then.
By 1863, there was discussion about enlarging the facility or perhaps building a new church. The option selected was to raze the old building and in its place build a much larger facility.
On May 19, 1867 a vote was taken to instruct the trustees to “erect a suitable church building at a cost of not less than $40,000 proceeding if at least $20,000 had been raised by subscription by the following annual meeting.”
While the new building was under construction, the congregation met at the Y.M.C.A. and City Hall. By 1871 more work needed to be done, but Sunday services were being held.
The dedication service was held in June 1888. Three services were held on Sunday with large audiences at each of the services. The Rev. W.T. Findlay, a former pastor, came to preach at the dedication ceremonies which included the dedication of a large organ, the finest in the area. When it was announced that $900 was still needed to complete the building, the money was immediately forthcoming.
The congregation continued to grow and the church was again remodeled in 1923-24. Additional remodeling was planned for the centennial year of 1948.
The members of the church worked closely with the OSSO Home during the period of 1892-1916. There was a large Sabbath School attendance of Home children each week and many of them became members of the congregation.
In 1930, a special event took place called Rally Day Service Sunday. The theme was “Fishers of Men.” Fish-shaped cards with Christian symbols were sent to the members and then collected in fishing nets by boys at the next service. The sanctuary was decorated with two fishing boats and fishing nets.
The congregation voted to change the name of the church in 1958. What had been known as First Church became Westminster Presbyterian. In 1966, it was determined that the old structure was no longer suitable for the needs of the church and the building was condemned.
Property was acquired on Old Springfield Pike and a new, very modern church was constructed on nine acres. With the tall roof and stained glass windows, the church was build ‘for the community and for God.”
The new building was utilized not only by the congregation, but also for outside groups such as Boy Scouts, AA, and other worthwhile causes. Mission projects were undertaken on a regular basis.
The members have enjoyed a variety of activities including Vacation Bible School, a large youth group, and even a softball team. A stained glass window from the King and Market building was restored and placed in the church.
Recently the congregation voted to merge with Memorial Presbyterian Church. Now Xenia United Presbyterian Church welcomes young and old at the church on Ankeney Road. The stained glass window will be placed in the present building as a reminder of the heritage of First Presbyterian Church.
Joan Baxter is a Greene County historian and resident.