Then and Now: New York Avenue Presbyterian Church
The current New York Avenue Presbyterian Church was built around 1951 and replaced the earlier 1859 structure. The church can trace its beginning to around 1800 when a group of men came to Washington from Philadelphia along with the government and organized the Associate Reformed Church. In 1807 the congregation erected a church on F Street at 14th where the Willard Hotel currently sits.
The Second Presbyterian Church was erected ca. 1820 on the site of the current church. John Quincy Adams, while Secretary of State, was a member of the board of trustees for this church and once lent the church $1,200 to help put a roof on the building.
In 1852, Rev. Dr. Phineas D. Gurley became the pastor of the F Street church, and under his leadership the two churches united and changed their name to the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church.
The combined congregation immediately began the work of erecting a new church and hired architect Edward Haviland. The cornerstone was laid in October, 1859, and the first services were held in July, 1860. Among the early days of the merged church President Lincoln often attended and became a close friend with Dr. Gurley.
The Lincoln family would be associated with the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church for many years. Upon Lincoln's assassination Dr. Gurley said prayers at the funeral and accompanied the body to Springfield, Ill. In 1896 the slender steeple of the church was blown off onto H Street during a wind storm. Money for the new steeple and chimes was donated in 1903 by the family of Robert Todd Lincoln, though the new steeple was not constructed until 1929.
By the 1940s, space again became an issue. Because of the churches long history, officials at one time planned to retain the historic structure and renovate the building. Ultimately, they opted to razed the building instead, with the final service being held on January 29, 1950.
Lincoln Pew in the former church. Image from Library of Congress.
"Dedication Of N.Y. Ave. Church Tonight." The Washington Post, December 20, 1951, B2.
Goode, James M. "New York Avenue Presbyterian Church." In Capital Losses, 238. Washington: Smithsonian Books, 2003.
Hall, Martha J. "Final Service Today Ends Era At Presbyterian Church Here." The Washington Post, January 29 1950, M16.
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