The Presbyterian Church in Albany was organized, with nine members, in the
parlor of the residence of H. J. Cook, which was situated on the southwest
corner of Pine and Washington Streets, on February 25, 1849. The Rev.
Samuel K. Talmadge, D.D., a distinguished Presbyterian minister and
president of Oglethorpe College (then located in Milledgeville), traveled to
Albany in May to celebrate the founding of the church. Dr. Talmadge
delivered a sermon, ordained elders, and. baptized three children of Mr. and
Mrs. Joseph Thorne.
The small congregation thereafter purchased two lots, with the intention of
constructing a sanctuary. This is the very property on which the church now stands, running 105' to the south side of Flint Street and 205' on the east side of Jackson Street to the alley. The original sanctuary, which was 32' x 45', was dedicated on February 29, 1852. H. Cook donated a bell, which was initially hung on a frame in the church yard. This is the same bell which we ring each Sunday to begin and conclude the worship service.
The church voted to renovate the sanctuary, in preparation for calling a full-time minister, in 1859. An 8'x 19' vestibule, with double doors entering from the outside and into the sanctuary, and a spire, in which the bell was hung, were added to the front of the sanctuary.
Henry F Hoyt, a recent graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary, was called as the first full-time minister. Rev. Hoyt was ordained and installed in April 1860 at a meeting of the Presbytery of Flint River, which was held here at the church. The ladies of the church donated a Communion service and Ms. D. A. Cook donated a Morocco-bound Bible to commemorate the occasion. That Bible is in the sanctuary today.
Albany's Presbyterian Church had 24 members, including two African-
Americans, in 1860. The congregation was decimated by the Civil War. Rev.
Hoyt and several members of the church volunteered to fight for the
Confederacy in 1861. Diminishing attendance and hardship forced those who
remained to close the church at some point during the war.
The church was reorganized, with only six members, after the war. This
small congregation was unable to call another full-time minister until 1871.
Session minutes from that period reference setting aside four pews for
African-Americans at worship services.
Membership had increased to 68 by 1899 A large room was added to the
rear, of the church sanctuary in 1910 to house the Baraca Sunday School class, which was taught by H. T McIntosh for more than forty years. Men from other downtown churches regularly attended, and the large fellowship room on the first floor of the sanctuary was designed and constructed to accommodate Mr. McIntosh's class. Members from other churches accessed the classroom by the door located on the north side of the sanctuary.
Dr. Charles W. Arnold, who passed away in 1914, left the church a considerable sum of money to be used for the construction of a new sanctuary. The congregation worshiped in the original sanctuary, for the last time, on May 6, 1917. The pews were removed and the contractor commenced demolition of the building. The church held services in the Minor Auditorium, located directly across Jackson Street, while the new sanctuary was under construction.
The first service in the new sanctuary was held on November 10, 1918, on the eve of the Armistice, which concluded World War I. Membership exceeded 200 by the next year.
The church called Rev. Leroy Henderson in October 1919. Rev. Henderson served over 25 years, by far the longest tenure of any minister of our church. Membership steadily increased during Rev. Henderson's pastorate, reaching 556 in March 1944, one year before he retired.
Increased membership presented a challenge for the Presbyterian Church, even though some members transferred their letters to two chapels in east Albany (Henderson and Rood Park), which were subsequently organized as churches. The manse, located immediately south of the sanctuary, was converted into rooms for Sunday School use in the late 1940s.
158 members were transferred to Westminster Chapel in 1951. Westminster was formally organized as a church two years later.
A planning committee, charged with evaluating the condition and needs of the church's facilities, submitted its report, which included the option of constructing a new church at a different site, in January 1955. The membership, which stood at 857, was sharply divided. The majority voted to relocate at a congregational meeting held on May 29, 1955. Covenant Presbyterian was organized on September 18th of that year. The assets of the church were, after months of negotiation, divided between the two congregations.
The Education Building, which was constructed on the site of the second manse, was completed in 1957. The congregation purchased the property which is now utilized as a parking lot in October 1961.
Membership gradually declined, and the church, at a congregational meeting in October 1980, considered relocating the church from downtown. The motion failed by a margin of 78 to 55.
Palma James was ordained as a deacon, and thereby became the church's first female officer, in 1982. Ms. James was ordained and installed as an elder four years later.
A congregational meeting was called on August 22, 2004, to consider merging with Westminster, with the understanding that the church would be closed. The motion failed by a margin of 26 to 17. Membership continued to decline so that there were only 46 active members at the end of 2007.
The church called Garrett Andrew, a recent graduate of San Francisco Theological Seminary, in October 2007. The congregation secured a loan, which financed much-needed repairs to the sanctuary, the following year. Over the next six years, First Presbyterian was revitalized and grew to a membership of approximately 200. In December 2013, Rev Andrew returned to California.
On March 22, 2015, the congregation voted to call Joshua Bower to become the pastor and start a new chapter in the history of First Presbyterian Albany. Joshua Bower's 1st sermon was May 3, 2015.