First Presbyterian Church (FPC) has been present in downtown Ithaca since 1804. Its congregation celebrated their bicentennial in September, 2004 with a joyous, three-day event, in which a number of FPC’s former pastors participated.
FPC began as the South or Second Presbyterian Church of Ulysses: “South” referred to its location in town; “Second” was used, as a “First” Presbyterian Church of Ulysses had been founded the year before. Its original membership of 14 grew quickly, and in 1816, property was acquired for a new, larger meeting house with an adjacent public square, later named after General Simeon de Witt, the founder of Ithaca. Now the “first” church in town, its name was changed in 1827 to First Presbyterian Church of Ithaca.
In 1853, a new church was built because the meeting house was dilapidated, expensive to repair, and could not be properly heated. A wooden fence was erected around the church and park to keep out the cows roaming the streets of Ithaca. Over time, enlargement of the new church became necessary, and in 1874 a dining room and kitchen were built in the basement.
The church’s spiritual and social life expanded in many directions: Sunday School (1830), Women’s Union Missionary Society (1870), Church Library (1879), Boys Brigade (1896), Men’s Association (1902), and Women’s Association (1907). Since the early days, a choir participated in the services; however, in 1862 an organ was acquired, and in 1873 the congregation joined in the singing.
In 1899, the congregation decided to build a new, larger church on the same spot. This is the current Romanesque building at the corner of Court and Cayuga Streets. For the foundation, all the stone of the old building foundation was used. A large interior, with wide arches and coffered ceiling, offered space for the 629 members. Members contributed generously to embellish the sanctuary with elements such as stained glass windows and columns topped by intricately carved capitals.
A century later, in 2004, the sanctuary underwent major changes in conjunction with the installation of a majestic new Russell organ: carpet was replaced with sand-colored tiles, the choir loft was extended into the church sanctuary, and the sedilia was removed to make space for a cabinet for the smaller organ pipes.
Please join us for worship, and be a part of our ongoing story!