History, Fort Thomas Presbyterian Church, 1923-1948
This brief outline of the history of our church merely touches some of the highlights in our struggles to hold aloft the true Christian spirit of its early founders. A whole book could be written about the numerous events during our quarter of a century of progress but space forbids the detailed accounts at this time.
The birth of the First Presbyterian Church of Fort Thomas in the spring of the year 1923 and its early history as recorded is well worth repeating.
The love of a mother for her son and his spiritual welfare prompted the first move toward starting the church. Mrs. Albert Hawes of Covington, Kentucky, was in Millersburg, Kentucky, her old home town. While conversing with Rev. W. Morton, the Presbyterian pastor there, she spoke of her great desire for a Presbyterian church in Fort Thomas where her son and his family resided. Rev. Morton referred her to Rev. T.S. Smylie, Paris, Kentucky, Chairman of the Presbytery Board who immediately made arrangements with Rev. Walker Vance of the Madison Avenue Church in Covington to prepare for a meeting. On April 16, 1923, the first meeting was held at the home of Mr. And Mrs. Benjamin Poyntz, 25 Audubon Place, with eight Fort Thomas Presbyterians present. Two more meetings followed, at which time a petition was prepared to be presented to the Presbytery asking their consent to a church in our community. On May 18th the Presbytery granted our petition without a dissenting vote. The dream was bearing fruit.
The Mayor of Fort Thomas gave the use of the City Building Hall for our meeting place. Then came the great day, June 3, 1923 when we were officially organized. Rev. W.C. Cochrane from Augusta, Kentucky, performed the service of ordination and installation, assist3ed by Rev. Walker Vance. Ten members were received by letter. At that time the following assumed their duties in the work of the church: Elders, M.V. Prather and Dr. Arthur Walton; Deacons, P.G. McElroy, Alex B. Hawes and Thomas H. Lockett. A week later our Sunday School held classes for the first time with Mr. Lockett as Superintendent and Mr. John Huheey as Secretary and Treasurer. Nine months later saw the beginning of probably the hardest working group in the church when the Woman’s Auxiliary began their activities with the following officers elected: President, Mrs. Poyntz; Vice-President, Mrs. McElroy; Secretary, Mrs. Sam Harton; Treasurer, Mrs. Arthur William, and later, Mrs. H.A. Young.
Mr. Tom Talbot, Secretary of the Presbytery Board for Pulpit Supply, kindly furnished us with speakers, and for a little over a year we were served by twenty-seven ministers, students, and laymen, with some of these wonderful men officiating several times. These early members and their ministers proved themselves when on January 26, 1924 the mercury dipped to 2 degrees below zero, yet 17 came out for church service and 14 for Sunday School.
On May 1, 1924, the Rev. Benjamin Andres was called to shepherd this flock of Christians who continued to meet in the city building. Rev. Andres was installed as the first pastor at services held Sunday, June 24, 1924, in the evening, at the Baptist Church. It was a “great day” for those of us who had earnestly prayer for spiritual and material success. The congregation was eager to work and much was needed—a lot on which to build and the money to pay for it; the selection of our name ion order to take title to the lot; and many items of church equipment. The choir was organized and we Presbyterians have been rightfully proud of the music in our church since that time. The baby of Mrs. And Mrs. W.S. Allen was the first to be baptized, and Mrs. Andrew Moats organized the Sunday School Cradle Roll. Prayer meetings, choir rehearsals in the homes, the wonderful work of the Auxiliary, and last but not least the untiring efforts of Rev. Andres kept us happy in our work. We progressed rapidly.
In 1930 storm clouds came on the horizon for our country and for our church when the depression struck. We struggled through 1931, although members were moving away to greener fields for material necessities, and the remaining members were so handicapped they could not fulfill their pledges. On February 15, 1932, the officers borrowed one thousand dollars on the lot in the hope that this would tide us over our hard path. On November 16, 1932, the session was called to consider the resignation of Rev. Andres. We who knew Rev. Andres deeply regretted his leaving and wished him well in his future work.
Then followed a new low in our history. We were served by pulpit supply until March 26, 1933, when the congregation called the Rev. Charles W. Owens as states supply for a year. The statistical report at that time showed cash on hand, $35.00, and a debt of $450.00, with 63 communicants. On June 7, 1933, Rev. Owens was installed as our pastor and with great courage reorganized our forces, changed the pessimistic attitude of the members, and again started us moving forward. On November 5, 1935, the new church idea was revived. General conditions were still poor but Rev. Owens went to Louisville for help. Committees were appointed to investigate the lot, type of building, and source of money supply. At a congregational meeting in December the new church was discussed. The motion “We empower the officers of the church to proceed with plans, monetary and building, to secure a new edifice on our property and any expense to be paid by the congregation” was passed. The young people made the first pledge of $50.00. Many meetings were held and considerable progress made. On June 7, 1937, Rev. Owens resigned to accept a call to a larger field of service. He, too, like Rev. Andres, was a hard worker and did a wonderful work with what tools we gave him, and our new church was always before him.
Now again we were without a regular minister from June 27, 1937, until October 11, when Dr. Herbert Hezlep came as stated supply. On October 5, 1938, the Building Finance Committee reported pledges in the amount of $7500.00. An intensive program was launches for a fund raising campaign and on November 5, 1939, the Treasurer reported over $4500.00 paid on the pledges. There was much enthusiasm for the new church. A meeting of the Elders, Deacons, and Woman’s Auxiliary brought to light the anxiety of the women regarding the church and they wanted action. On December 109, 1939, the letter was drafted to secure a loan for the building, and we were fast approaching our goal.
On May 26, 1940, Mrs. Poyntz turned the first shovelful of earth in the ground-breaking ceremony and the cornerstone was laid Sunday, August 4, 1940. The first service in the new church was held Sunday, December 22, 1940, and the church was formally dedicated with appropriate services held May 11, 12 and 13, 1941. Dr. Hezlep was very active in all the work which culminated in the fulfillment of these glorious events, and so to him as to his predecessors, we say, “Well done!” Dr. Hezlep’s term as stated supply expired March 31, 1941. Again we were without a regular installed minister, and on Sunday, February 8, 1942, the congregation sustained the recommendation of the Pulpit Committee to call the Rev. James Brent Wood, Jr., as minister of this church.
Rev. Wood’s happy period with us has been highlighted by a tremendous effort on the part of the entire congregation, under his leadership, to expand our membership and reduce our church debt. The cost of our church building and furnishings was approximately $27,000. We celebrated January 1, 1947, for a special reason, as the last payment was made on our original church debt of $15,000. This was not all. In 1946 we purchased a new organ for the church, and in the fall of that same year a manse was purchased on Burnet Ridge Avenue at a cost of $11,400. We are well on our way toward eliminating this last indebtedness.
New groups and activities came into being with the formation of the Couples Club to further cement friendly fellowship among the members, and a Men’s Club was formed with the purpose of bringing additional strength to the general welfare of the church. Since entering our church we have also seen the beginning of a new day circle and two evening circle groups in the Woman’s Auxiliary.
The Sunday School’s rapid growth may soon necessitate additional room for the activities of our children.
Thus the year 1948 finds us at the end of 25 years of service sustained in faith. May God’s divine blessing be with us in the future as in the past.
(The foregoing 25 years’ history was written by the late Mr. Dudley V. Brown and appeared in the Twenty-fifth Anniversary Program in June, 1948.)
In continuing the brief history of our church, January 21, 1948, should be remembered. It was on that cool night that the late Mr. Ralph Morrison, a layman from the Knox Presbyterian Church, Cincinnati, gave instruction and inspiration to 18 of our laymen on visitation evangelism. Within five months the men of the church aided Mr. Wood in bringing 69 new members into our fellowship. The same enthusiasm was demonstrated during the Every Member Canvass, resulting in the first time that the budget was prepledged. Since then our Every Member Canvass has been a personal visit by laymen.
In less than two years the limited space for Church School became a real problem. In February, 1950, the congregation authorized the purchase of both the lot next to the church on Avenel and on Ft. Thomas Avenue and to proceed with plans for expansion. However, the bids ranged from $105,000 to $126,000 and that was felt to be both too expensive for the space gained and would cause quite a debt. To acquire some immediate room the house next on Avenel was purchased for $18,000 and was converted into our Educational Building. The debt then reached $28,000.
However, by summer 1951 we were the recipient of Presbytery’s Extension Program for that year and received nearly $6,000. In October, 1951, a two-year debt reduction campaign was launches, resulting in receipts of over $9,000.
Due to increased Church attendance, two services were started November 1, 1953, supposedly as a temporary measure but it became permanent until services moved to the large High School Auditorium. The church debt at that time was reduced to $8,832. And we had another “first.” For the first time we accepted Presbytery’s Askings in full.
On February 28, 1954, Rev. Wood left us to accept a call at the Strathmoor Presbyterian Church, Louisville. A long and fruitful 12-year relationship was concluded.
During the summer of 1954 it was decided to conduct a Building Fund Campaign for the purpose of expanding our facilities. The Reverend James Weller Tinsley received the call from our church and began his present tenure on October 1, 1954. The Buiding Fund Campaign has produced approximately $95,000 in pledges, enabling us to break ground, complete our addition and result in this Dedication Week. (May 13-20, 1956)
We have reason to be happy over the progress the past 33 years. Our Lord has been good to us. Now, let us turn to face the future, one that has even greater things in store for us.
By Elder D.V. Brown