A Brief History of Nelsonville Presbyterian Church
First Presbyterian Church was established in 1868. Originally, the church met in the Odd Fellows’ Hall in Nelsonville, and then on April 2, 1876, moved to its present structure at 69 East Washington Street. Gothic in architectural style, it was the first brick church in Nelsonville, built with local brick and sandstone, and finished with ash, walnut, and butternut wood.
The church was founded by The Reverend Thomas J. Downey, an itinerant Presbyterian minister preaching in various churches in central and southeastern Ohio. Of his first inquiries of establishing a church in Nelsonville, Downey wrote in his diary:
I feel that it is quite a responsible work and see naught before me but hard labor, and yet under the blessing of God I [expect] to see the cause prosper here and hope the time is not far distant when we shall witness a large and flourishing Church at this place.
A person of ill-health, Downey died at the young age of 40 years, not four months after the initial commissioning of the church. He and his his wife are buried in the historic Fort Street Cemetery in Nelsonville.
Over twenty pastors have served the church in the intervening years. Of considerable note was The Reverend John L. Evans, who served from 1924 to 1978 for a total of fifty five years. A beloved pastor and friend of Nelsonville, Reverend Evans not only impacted the local community, but much of the Hocking Valley as well through his ministry.
The heritage of the past remains vibrant in our historic sanctuary. A George Johnson pipe organ, originally installed in 1895, remains a centerpiece for the ministry of music. The sanctuary is also home to a beautiful Steinway and Sons baby grand piano, acquired from its long use in performances at Stuart’s Opera House in Nelsonville. The rich wooden finishings from the ceiling arches to the pulpit, pews, and paneling are reminders of the great care and craftsmanship practiced more than a century ago.
Today, newer and older members alike continue to take part in the worship and life of this historic congregation. The recent arrival of new young families, new partnerships with the community, and a vision of energetic outreach are all evidence of the church continuing its mission heritage.