“This is an exciting time. A new chapter in our history.” John Barth, an American novelist
It is said that you can learn a lot about a place by first reading about or hearing someone tell you about its history. The following historical information about the First Presbyterian Church of Williamstown was compiled with the help of several church members. We are grateful for their commitment to preserving the historical record of our congregation.
In 2016, we celebrated the centennial of our church building's dedication.
Celebrating Our History
Taking a look into the history of the First Presbyterian Church of
Williamstown actually first requires us to investigate the history of another
congregation, its mother congregation: The Bethel Presbyterian Church.
The date is April 17, 1845. Skirmishes between the Native Americans and
early pioneers were still taking place along the Great Plains and other Western
regions of the United States. The Civil War would not begin for another 16 years, and William Bonney, also known as “Billy the Kid,” had not yet been born.
Nonetheless, it was on this date that 11 members of pioneer families met in the home of William A. McKinney, on the banks of the Ohio River at what is now the community of Waverly, West Virginia, along with three Presbyterian ministers to establish the Bethel Presbyterian Church.
These pioneer settlers of Presbyterian faith had forged their way west over
the Allegheny Mountains and settled in the Bull Creek section of what was then
known as Wood County, Virginia. Services were held for a time in the McKinney home and a brick structure near the mouth of Bull Creek. Worship continued here until the building was destroyed by the 1852 flood; they then worshipped in the log building, previously owned by the Mount Vernon Baptist congregation which had moved to Williamstown, for a time.
An interesting fact about this historic organization is the record of deeds.
The first one was from “Samuel Stokley to William Hunter, Robert Pollock and
Abraham Ingraham, trustees” and dated June 10, 1845. It reads: “One acre of
land to be selected by them on the road leading from the mouth of the Bull Creek to Parkersburg for the use and purpose of erecting thereon a church and school house out of a tract in Wood County, Virginia, occupied by Hunter, to have and to hold the said acre of land to the said William Hunter, Robert Pollock and Abraham Ingraham, to the survivors of these and the heirs of such survivors for the use and purpose of public worship and education forever.”
In 1859, the “White Frame” church building was dedicated. This was
replaced in 1904 with the present brick building erected on the same site. It
was dedicated on May 26, 1905 with Rev. C. Ely (a Synodical Home Missionary) delivering the sermon.
Time continued to pass. As the history continues, we learn that the history of
our congregation includes not only this original Bethel Presbyterian Church but
also another congregation borne out of the Bethel Presbyterian Church: On April 11, 1897, members from the Bethel Presbyterian Church who were residing directly in the town of Waverly came together to form the Waverly Presbyterian Church.
The chapel was dedicated on October 24, 1897 and is noted as being debt-free. Other happenings during this time included that Admiral Perry began his search for the North Pole but was unsuccessful until 1905. Wyatt Earp wound up his career as a U.S. Marshall and in 1897 could be found around Nome, Alaska prospecting for gold. William McKinley was the American President. Eventually, on July 31, 1935 the Waverly Chapel was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. Services were held at various locations in the community. On November 5, 1945 members of the Bethel Presbyterian Church residing in Waverly petitioned the Parkersburg Presbytery for a separate organization: The First Presbyterian Church of Waverly was established on May 19, 1946 with 62 charter members.
Later, the new congregation decided to return to the original chapel site and
rebuild. The church that now stands, known as the Waverly-Bethel Presbyterian Church, was dedicated in 1953 and is yoked with the First Presbyterian Church of Williamstown.
It is from here that we learn more directly about the beginnings of the First
Presbyterian Church of Williamstown: The date is June 2, 1904. The session
minutes on this date from the Bethel Presbyterian Church deal with the
following: “The transfer of property of the Williamstown chapel of the Bethel
Presbyterian Church to form the Williamstown Presbyterian Church.”
Construction of the Williamstown church was completed in 1916. Before the
congregation met in the building that now stands, they were meeting in a site
located on Williams Avenue. The congregation still possesses many historical
records, including a copy of the original dedication service for the congregation.