The First 140 Years
compiled by Bill Handler on the occasion of FPCW’s 140th anniversary in 2011
On this anniversary of The First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone, let us first look back to a time just prior to 1871. It was 1845 when John D. Locke established a tin factory on Clintonville Street, near 12th Avenue. Some twenty years had passed when production had expanded to the point when a transport steamboat was needed more frequently to import material and export finished products. So that Captain John Townsend could be closer to his place of employment in Whitestone, he brought all his family, plus all household goods, on his freight boat Leader. The aforementioned factory building still stands on Clintonville Street. A plumbing and heating company now occupies the facility.
The business section of town was just a cluster of a few stores, barns, storage sheds etc. The main enterprise at that time was the John D. Locke Factory (the owner of which, who was later to give us the land for the church).
By 1870 many changes had come to Whitestone. In 1869 the village was incorporated. The Long Island Railroad had just completed its Whitestone spur to a depot at 15th Avenue and 150th Street. To the south of the depot lay a large plot of vacant land. It was on this vacant land that The First Presbyterian Church would eventually be built. The train provided transportation to College Point, then Long Island City, where it connected with a ferry to Manhattan.
From various documents of the local churches, it appears that a spirit of brotherhood existed between the local church congregations. The first church in the Whitestone area was led by Samuel Leggett, a Quaker. The structure he built was on the site of the present day Saint Luke Roman Catholic Church. Also worshipping at this location were the Epworth Methodist Church (which moved to 150th Street), and Grace Episcopal Church (which moved to Clintonville Street in 1858).
On June 28, 1871, at the home of Edmund Horton Sr., approximately 50 people met for the purpose of establishing a regular Sunday Presbyterian worship. Soon an invitation was received from Grace Episcopal Church offering the use of their sanctuary on Sunday afternoons. This hospitality was enjoyed until 1873.
The decision to formally organize a church came on October 17, 1871. A formal application was then sent on Oct. 24th to the Presbytery of Nassau. At that time this area was not under the jurisdiction of New York City. The land for a church building was donated by John D. Locke, with a clause stating that in the event the property did not continue as a single church building, it would revert back to his heirs. Up until 1922, this prevented the church from expanding. With this clause, they were unable to get a mortgage to have funds for additional construction. In 1922, the final Locke heir, Mrs. Getchell, removed that clause from the deed. Thus it was decided to build a social hall on the south side of the Church. Construction began with most of the actual work being done by the congregation. In 1950, another huge undertaking was initiated, the excavation of the basement (under the Sanctuary and Auditorium). This was to make space for basement meeting rooms and a kitchen. The dirt was shoveled out through the windows and spread out on the lot to grade the lawn. Basement work was completed in 1956.
In 1956, under the direction of architect Jedd Reisner, a major renovation to the Sanctuary was begun. In April of 1960, the enlarged and beautified sanctuary was rededicated. Aside from a re-painting and air conditioning, it remains largely the same as it was then.
In 1982, a great milestone occurred when the Epworth Methodist Church merged with the First Presbyterian Church. The Epworth edifice was sold to The Greek Orthodox Church. The newly merged congregation brought with them an endowment that helped with ever-present Presbyterian financial struggles. The “Epworth” Presbyterians became major contributors to the life of their new church.
Over the centuries, heating has always been a subject requiring attention. In the late 1800’s, the heating system was already showing need of repair. It has been recorded that there were times when it was difficult to recognize the pastor in the pulpit due to the blue smoke coming up through the floor gratings. Even today, with a more modern heating system, it still lets us know it wants attention by making loud clanking sounds when the burner first begins to get hot!
During this past summer (2010), on June 9th, our local fire department came to our aid using their ladder apparatus. They removed our cross from the church steeple. The cross was leaning 30 degrees and swaying to the east or west, depending upon the direction of the wind. For many months there was fear that this dangerous situation would cause severe damage to the structure or, more importantly, to people. We truly appreciated their rescue at our time of great need. It now rests on the front lawn and will eventually be located elsewhere.
Over the 140 years, there have been numerous “called” and “supply” pastors. In 1874, Reverend Joseph Beers became our first “called” pastor. Today, our spiritual leader is Reverend C. Anderson James, who was installed as our “called” pastor in September of 2005, and continues to serve in this capacity.
We look forward to the next 140 years, realizing that there will be many challenges. However, with faith and trust in the Lord, we look to the future with confidence, knowing that God is with us at all times.