Our Sanctuary and Buildings: A Brief History
We believe that the church is the gathering of God’s people, not a building. However, we are deeply grateful to the generations that have gone before us who gave sacrificially and have left us a legacy of these buildings where we celebrate God and grow together so that we can be a blessing to God’s world outside our doors.
We held our first worship service on July 27, 1868. The service was held in a timber structure on our present site, land donated by Northwestern University. This was to be the first of three churches that First Presbyterian called home. The dedicatory prayer offered that day by founding pastor Dr. George Clement Noyes was subsequently engraved on the doors above the entrance to the sanctuary:
“O God, make the door of this house wide enough to receive all who need human love and fellowship; narrow enough to shut out all envy, pride and strife.
Make its threshold smooth enough to be no stumbling block to children nor to straying feet, but rugged and strong to turn back the tempter’s power.O God, make the door of this church the gateway to Thine eternal Kingdom. Amen.”
In July of 1876 a new church building was dedicated after the original church burned down. However, this church only stood for 18 years. In February of 1894, the second church burned to the ground. The congregation met in a former roller rink while our current building was being constructed, at a cost of $80,000. Daniel H. Burnham, the famed architect who was the inspiration for Chicago’s lakefront, designed the new church.
The church is constructed of Lemont limestone, with an interior finish of red oak and Georgian pine. The sanctuary is ninety by seventy-five feet, and with the balcony, seats eleven hundred persons.
Over the next couple of generations the church experienced remarkable growth. Due to needed space, in 1926, a large addition provided more classroom space along with offices, and gym (Roy Hall). In 1969, after a $1,000,000 building campaign, the church dedicated the new 200-seat Harold Blake Walker Chapel.
We are grateful that we have this church home that helps us to gather and be equipped for our mission to share Christ, make disciples and serve God’s world, all through the power of the Holy Spirit that moves in and through God’s people at First Presbyterian Church.