Milestone: First Presbyterian celebrating 150 years in Johnson City

A recent photo of First Presbyterian Church, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. The church was organized on April 23, 1869, and has never moved from its original home on what is now the corner of Main and Boone Streets in Downtown Johnson City.

By Dave Ongie, News Editor

By the time Johnson City was chartered on Dec. 1, 1869, industries, schools and churches had begun to sprout up around the area where three railroads converged to form a community.

Among the churches that formed in the days leading up to the official founding of Johnson City was First Presbyterian Church, which was organized on April 23, 1869. As the city is in the midst of a yearlong sesquicentennial celebration, the church is embarking on an extended celebration of its own to mark its 150 years of existence.

The celebration begins in earnest with an Anniversary Sunday service on April 28 when guests are welcomed to join members past and present at 10:30 a.m. for a worship service that will include a sermon by Dr. Bill Wood, son of longtime First Presbyterian minister Dr. Ferguson Wood.

Julia and Rick Beeson, who both came to the church at a very young age, are spearheading First Presbyterian’s sesquicentennial celebration as co-chairs of the church’s 150 committee. They said stretching the observance out over the next few months will allow for a more relaxed and thorough celebration of the church’s rich history.
“When Rick and I took this on, we kind of said that we’re not going to do everything in just one event,” Julia said. “We’re trying to spread it out.”

The Beesons have made a pretty good team as they’ve carefully planned the activities associated with the celebration of the church’s major milestone. Rick was born into the church, so he has some valuable first-hand knowledge when it comes to former members, staff and missionaries from years gone by.

“I’ve been here a long time, so I’ve been helpful as far as name recognition,” Rick said.

Meanwhile, Julia has been combing through the church’s extensive archives mining the history of First Presbyterian. What she has learned through her research can be seen in the form of a timeline that runs along a hallway outside the sanctuary, complete with pictures and key dates stretching back to the founding of the church in 1869.

First Presbyterian has been a constant in the community, remaining on the same property for its entire existence. The original building, which was finished in the fall of 1872, was the first church building completed in Johnson City. While the church has been leveled and rebuilt three times since, the congregation has remained on its original site on the corner of Main and Boone Streets.

Although there was some discussion about moving the church to a different location in the early 1950s, it was decided that the church should remain on the original property. The current sanctuary was completed in 1955, and an education building was added in 1966.

Julia said her research has uncovered the church’s long, abiding commitment to missions. As early as 1872, records show donations being given to world missions, and the church continues to support several projects and missions both at home and overseas. Last Saturday, the church did a food packing drive for Rise Against Hunger, which served as a continuation of that commitment.

Those who enter the sanctuary on April 28 will see a stained glass window in the entryway. The window was preserved from the building that was originally constructed in 1914 and bears the names of the 11 charter members of the church.

Julia and Rick both said the process of researching and organizing the celebration has deepened their connection to the church. And while Julia hopes to one day get the archives organized so others can immerse themselves in the church’s extensive history, the focus now is on celebrating the historic milestone.

“I figured that this year we’ll just focus on events, celebrate and get people connected,” she said. “And hopefully in the future, we’ll spend a little more time actually getting organized. I know what’s there, and I can probably go put my hands on it, but nobody else could. It’s not in that kind of shape yet.”


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