First Presbyterian Church


Unsigned History Prepared in 1970

The story of our church dates back to the very beginnings of Anchorage itself. In May of 1915, on hearing of the proposed new railroad camp at the mouth of Ship Creek, the Rev. James L. McBride, a Presbyterian minister at Cordova, shipped out as a cook on a small boat and arrived in this area to survey church possibilities. On his enthusiastic recommendation, the Board of Missions in New York allotted $800 that was used to purchase two lots on the corner of Fifth and F Streets. Rev. McBride was reassigned to Anchorage and returned here late in October of 1915. He set to work and built a small building that measured about 24x40 feet. His family lived in the rear of the building. The dedication service was held on November 21, 1915. The building soon proved inadequate and was replaced by a larger one. The new building cost $5,000 and included a basement with a social room, kitchen, and fireroom with the auditorium and committee room above. It was filled to capacity on dedication day July 16, 1916. The church became a community center and according to a press report, “Dr. J. L. McBride has won the respect of the entire community since coming to Anchorage and the result of his efforts has been crowned with success and the handsome new church is a fitting monument to his labors.”

The actual organization of the church people did not occur until after the dedication of the second building. Fifty-one persons signed the petition for church organization, and Sunday January 14, 1917 was set for the service of organization. The people decided that the name of their organization should be the First Presbyterian Church of Anchorage, Alaska.

The winter of 1939-1940 saw the church outgrowing its quarters in every department. Thus during the March 1940 visit of Dr. Everett B. King, secretary in charge of work in Alaska for the Board of National Missions, a building program was launched which would remodel and enlarge the stucco building at a proposed cost of $15,000. Plans drawn by architect William Manley were put out to bid that spring, but bids received were 60 percent higher than the architect’s estimate so the construction was postponed for another year. Actual work on the remodeling project began May 3, 1941, after the contract finally had been let to the Cribb Construction Company. The Board of National Missions made the addition to the building possible with a grant of $6,000 from the Munger Memorial Fund, and an additional grant of $2,000 and a loan of $2,000. The local church raised about $4,000 for the project.

1943-1944 was a busy year. The official church board voted to build an education unit as designed by William Manley. The cost was not to exceed $22,000. On September 16, 1945 the new North addition was dedicated. Following a motion by Elder Frank O. Berry, the addition was named McBride Hall in memory of the builder of the original church.

During the year 1950, the church launched another building program for a new sanctuary and remodeling of the existing facilities for the Church School. The former manse next to the church was moved away to make room for the new sanctuary and construction was underway. A manse at 626 N Street had been purchased about 1948 and the old manse had been rented to the YMCA. Later the manse was sold and a new manse was erected at 800 M Street. This manse was also eventually sold.

One of the visions of the session was to see built a beautiful, functional church to broaden the work pioneered by Rev. James McBride and supported by the people of our church community. Plans were made and ground was broken for a new church at our present location. Our church was dedicated on October 6, 1968 and the education facility ground breaking was on May 23, 1982.

Another Source…

It was during the administration of the Rev. R. Rolland Armstrong that the First Presbyterian Church of Anchorage developed its unique ministry to service personnel. During the war years many young people finding themselves in a strange land found a warm welcome at first Presbyterian Church. Through the years First Church has sought to maintain a ministry to service personnel and their families…

During the ministry of the Rev. Frank Walkup the vision of the church was enlarged through the development of King’s Lake Camp in cooperation with other community agencies… 

“From 1955 to 1965 the population of Anchorage has increased 300 percent. New industry in the form of oil exploration and development, heavy construction and home-building has caused Anchorage to become a thriving and growing community. With the rapid growth of Anchorage has come the change in ministry of the First Presbyterian Church. 

“Formerly the church was in the heart of the residential community. Today the church is in the inner core of the commercial area of the city. It is the thought of the session that no move of this congregation be completely away from the downtown area. The majority of the people in the parish live from Chester Creek on the south to Ship Creek on the north and from Gambell Street on the east to the Inlet on the west. It is to these people and their families that First Presbyterian directs its ministry… 

“The philosophy of the present ministry is that people are of the utmost importance in the program of the church. People must be ministered to not only in the acts of worship, but also in guidance for personal problems.

“First Church seeks to minister to the business community in providing a church building that is easily visible and accessible to those who labor in the market place…

(The membership of First Presbyterian Church, Anchorage, grew from 550 in 1955 to 608 in 1965.)

“Recently (1965) the session has appointed a committee to determine the possibilities of a more adequate facility on the corner of Fifth and F Street as compared with the cost of building on a larger location on the Tenth Avenue side of the Park Strip… 

Virgil Knight served as chair of the special committee and the new facility was eventually built on the Park Strip.

The Rev. Dr. Edward V. Wright was pastor of the church during planning for the new church facility and for the congregation’s 50th anniversary celebration in 1967. He announced in the spring of 1969 that he was resigning his position as minister of First Church as a “necessary step” toward unopposed leadership in the church and as an effort to promote healing of divisions at the Presbytery level. His announcement was carried in the May 28, 1969 issue of the Anchorage Times.

The Rev. Thomas R. Teply, Ph.D., was installed as senior minister at First Church Friday, September 18, 1970 – beginning 18 years of ministry with that congregation.

Teply had retired prior to the 75th anniversary celebration of the church, and the congregation was still embroiled in selecting his successor in 1990.

Who Followed Whom… 

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