Construction of the First Church Edifice
A newly constructed school building at 710 Nebraska Street became the meeting place for Sunday services. However, since the Sioux City population had increased to about 300, many new citizens being real estate folks, Rev. Chestnut urged the building of a church edifice which he estimated could be built for about $ 1,000. People were enthusiastic that a church should be built at 814 4th Street, and be completed in 90 days.
The Presbyterians had some members who were carpenters, and since the pastor could lay bricks, the Presbyterian Church construction went rapidly. Work was finished in September 1859 at a cost of about $950.
Sometime earlier, the steamer Kate Kearney, upon striking a river snag below Sioux City, was badly damaged and sank. Saving what was possible, the ship’s bell was brought to Sioux City and purchased through donations by the Rev. Chestnut for $225. It was temporarily mounted on a tripod at the school house and then later moved to the Presbyterian Church and there mounted in the small belfry at the north end of the building.
The completion of the church, apparently the first in Sioux City, became a highlight in social history of the area, bringing together Methodists as well as Presbyterians to a celebration dinner on September 18, 1859, to raise funds for drapes, aisle carpets and lighting, A news item in The Eagle stated that the cause was worthy, and that all who could should attend a supper, admission $0.10, supper $0.50 extra. The celebration dinner raised $110. It is said that the church bell rang at 11:00 a.m., September 25, 1859 for the dedication service by the Rev. Chestnut, assisted by the Rev. I. Fuller, the Methodist pastor.
On April 29, 1869, this small church was host to a meeting of “The Presbytery of the Missouri River”, the meeting being scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Earlier in the day, the Rev. Sheldon Jackson, an itinerant missionary not representing any church, along with two presbyters walked westward, crossing Pearl Street, and climbed to the top of Prospect Hill. There, standing on the extreme western edge of Iowa, they viewed what they called “The Unchurched West”, now Nebraska and the southeastern tip of South Dakota. On their knees in prayer, they dedicated their lives to win the West for Christ.
purchasing the entire quarter block. A beautiful brick edifice, gothic in style, somewhat similar in appearance to our present structure, complete with belfry and 40 feet high spire, was built at a cost of $6,925, at a time when labor costs were $2.50 per day. Membership was 300, and Sunday school attendance was very large. The bell was moved to the new belfry, and the 4th Street church was sold to become a grocery store.
It was in 1885 that a church choir was started. The first record of a formal women’s organization was in 1903, they called themselves “Ladies Aid Society” with Mrs, W.P. Manley as president. In 1907, the growing congregation again gave favorable consideration to larger quarters, planning particularly for the future. Part of the church building was moved to 32nd and Jackson, there to be used as a subdivision of our church. It was named in honor of a former pastor, the McClintock Presbyterian Church. It has long since been discontinued. The remainder of the relatively new brick church was removed to make way for the present structure. Services were held in the YMCA during construction.
The present edifice, built of fine quality Bedford stone, and the interior trimmed with quarter-sawed oak, required a mortgage of $70,000, when labor costs were $3.50 per day. Retouching of mortar joints, refacing the bell tower, and sandblasting some years ago brought the building back to its original appearance. The “Kate Kearney” bell is today in the belfry of our church.
The Sioux City Journal of December 9, 1923 gave an account of the largest Bible class in the city, a class of 69 men taught by Mr. M.G. Clark, Superintendent of Schools. The paper also ran a feature story in 1950, “Old First Renewing Its Youth”, when the entire ground floor was remodeled. This provided a beautiful lounge (honoring a former pastor, Rev. Vincent), a créche, a library, and modem kitchen and dining areas. The choir area in the sanctuary was also enlarged to accommodate 54 seats. The lot north of the church was repurchased in 1957, and finished in 1960, for the purpose of building Calvin Chapel, more spacious church offices, modern education rooms, a recreation area named Sheldon Jackson Hall, a children’s chapel, and a large meeting room named Knox Hall. The lot had been previously sold, apparently to relieve indebtedness. Fortunately, the two-story brick garage building was very suitable for the framework of the new building.
In 1975, once again committing itself to ministering to Sioux City’s downtown area, the congregation bought the quarter block north of the church buildings to help meet the need for additional parking.
An extensive three-phase renovation and updating project got underway in the mid-1980’s. The initial portion, completed in three years, included a new roof on each of the buildings together with additional insulation, weather-proofing the exterior walls, and covering all the stained glass with storm windows.
Turning then to “inside matters”, work began in 1991 on the sanctuary. The biggest project was the rebuilding and enlarging of the pipe organ that had originally been installed in 1930. New chandeliers were installed, a new and larger chancel platform and choir area were built, and all the interior walls were refinished.
Mission 2001 completed the upgrading of our facilities. The parking lot received a much-needed facelift when the ground was leveled and the area landscaped. Both the dining room and Sheldon Jackson Hall were significantly upgraded, the “Walk of Faith” installed and the new sound system made the sanctuary more worshipper-friendly.
With all these recent improvements to our physical facilities, the congregation is ready as never before to witness to the love of Jesus Christ as we seek to serve the Siouxland area.
Written by Edward R. Ruisch, May 1979; Edited by the Rev. William F. Skinner, 2004.
- A Historical Profile of Sioux City by John F. Schmidt
- The Little Man With the Long Shadow by George S. Mills
- Centennial Edition (1857-1957), First Presbyterian Church
- The Sioux City Eagle archives
- The Sioux City Journal archives