York Town Square

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How big is that ornament atop the steeple at First Presbyterian Church in York?

Former Faith Presbyterian Church member Cleo Carr provided this portrait of his family outside North Duke Street’s Faith Presbyterian Church. A York, Pa., Daily Record/Sunday News story about First Pres’s 250th anniversary being celebrated this year noted that Faith’s congregation had fallen to about 35 in the 1960s, when the church merged with First Pres. The Rev. Thomas Montouth, one of the most influential leaders in the black community, had served the church for decades. (Click on image for larger view. See related photograph below.) Also of interest: First Presbyterian Church looking to solve mysteries about its York, Pa., history.

What’s the diameter of that finial that sits at the tip of First Presbyterian Church’s steeple, some 180 feet above the ground?

You’ll have to read to the bottom to find out, but let’s just say for now that the history of First Presbyterian Church, all 250 years of it, is filled with such interesting facts and stories.  (Hint: The ornament is larger than you’d think.)

That history is being unveiled each week on the church’s website: Chapters in our Church History. The church is also preparing a book as part of its anniversary festivities, chaired by Benjamin Hoover.

Here are some excerpts from the weekly web installments:

– “As early as 1755, several families of Presbyterians were gathering to worship in their homes in York. And in 1762, their petition to the Presbytery of Donegal to recognize and supply The English Presbyterian Church in York was granted. But it would be some years before the congregation would have a plot of land, a sanctuary, or a full time pastor.”

– “Dr. (Robert) Cathcart,  born in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, in 1759, was a graduate of the University of Glasgow in Scotland, majoring in sciences and theology.  He came to America at the urging of an uncle living in Wilmington, Delaware.  Dr. Cathcart served the Hopewell congregation for forty-two years and the York congregation for forty-four years, until April of 1837.  During his long pastorate, he preached on alternate Sundays at York and Hopewell, traveling by horse and carriage seventeen miles over rough roads, missing his Hopewell service only twice because of illness.  He had a favorite saying: ‘Punctuality, if not a Christian grace, is certainly a moral virtue.’ ”

– “By 1859, the congregation had grown to more than 120 members, and the Trustees decided that a larger sanctuary was needed. Philadelphia architect Joseph C. Hoxie was hired to draw plans for the new church.

“Our fifth pastor, the Rev. Thomas Street, D.D., of Philadelphia, was installed by the Presbytery of Harrisburg in January 1860.  That winter part of the sanctuary ceiling collapsed. With remarkable speed the decision was made to proceed with a new church. In May 1860, the original building was torn down, and work on the new church was begun. The cornerstone was laid in June 1860.”

– “The foundation walls supporting the tower are 4 feet thick except the north wall which is supported by an inverted brick arch which mirrors the arch-opening of the tower above at the rear of the sanctuary, an unusual architectural feature. The brass finial atop the spire is 5 ½ feet in diameter.”

Also of interest:

In York, Pa., it was a musical night at First Pres in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

See the York Daily Record/Sunday News story, with video, about the recent guest visit of a former First Pres pastor, the Rev. John Galloway, to the pulpit.


The two churches come together again. The Rev. John Galloway, left, was the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in the 1970s. Stephan Woodyard, seen with Galloway, was part of a black Presbyterian Church, nearby Faith Presbyterian, which merged with First Pres in 1965. Terrence Downs, student of York County history, looked up Faith’s address: 48 N. Duke St., in 1903. The church has since been demolished, and its former site is a parking lot.