Church History

When was the First Presbyterian Church organized in Russellville? As far as we know, July 29, 1819 is the earliest date for a Presbyterian Church “organization” in Russellville. Some think the first Church organized in Russellville was the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in September of 1817, by a man by the name of H. A. Hunter of Russellville who professed religion at Liberty Church near Russellville. He began a weekly prayer meeting in his father’s ballroom. The Reverend Finis Ewing and the Reverend William Barnett held a meeting in that ballroom. The ladies’ missionary society of Logan Presbytery, without ceasing to be the presbyterial society, was also made the general society of the church, and all of the ministers of the Church were appointed trustees. Robert Donnell, of Elk Presbytery, became the President of the general board at Russellville and Bell’s mission was turned over to this board.

In 1819, Spencer Curd deeded to the Russellville Union Meeting House, through its Trustees, a lot at the southeast corner of the square. This is now known to be the location of West Fifth Street where the late Carl Page had his used car lot. Also recorded in the deed book for 1819, is an agreement between the Baptist and Cumberland Churches as to the use of the old Union Church, as it was later called. Both denominations used this meeting house. The Baptist church would use it on the second and fourth Lord’s days. The Cumberland Church would use it on the first and third Lord’s days.

Samuel Wilson's son, Cyrus, was from Logan County and was ordained at the Presbytery held in Glasgow in 1829. The next action of any kind is the transaction of property. In 1849, Eugene B. Bibb sold a lot to the Trustees of the Presbyterian Church in Russellville. The Trustees were George Gray, J.N. Nourse and G. S. Vick. This was a Presbyterian Church U.S.A. This property is what we now know as the corner of South Main and West Eighth Streets.

We are left with very little written from about 1829 to 1869. In the year 1849, the Synod of Kentucky met in Russellville. R. J. Breckinridge, West Lexington Presbytery was the Moderator. In 1942, the Reverend Benjamin J. Andres was Moderator of the Synod, while he was pastor in Russellville.

The first Session Records on hand are dated September 30, 1869. It reads as follows: “CHURCH PROPERTY September 30, 1869 – On motion it was then ordered that a petition be forwarded to the Logan Presbytery at her next meeting with the request for her to direct her committee consisting of G.T. Blakey, Rev. G. Mansfield and H. G. Gillum who now hold the property of the church lot, a note on Clark & Bros. and money now in the hands of G.T. Blakey as proceeds of sale for old benches & so. To transfer said property into the hands of the trustees now elected by us. By action at a Congregational Meeting on Sept. 25, 1869, the following were elected trustees: Thomas W. Grinter, George H. Collins, George L. Gillum, Robert M. Campbell, W. J. Cardwell”

War came to Russellville and to the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Soldiers used the Church as a hospital and so damaged it to make it unfit for use. After this, the members continued to worship but it is not really known where they worshipped. Then in 1878, the Cumberland Church bought a lot on the corner of what we now know as West Sixth Street and South Winter Street.

To say the least, the building of a new sanctuary was nothing short of phenomenal. From the beginning when plans were being laid for the new building, there was a high note of optimism that sufficient funds could be found for such an undertaking. The January 7, 1878 Session Minutes convey this optimism: “The questions of building a Church for the use and benefits of the C.P. Church was freely discussed and action taken for immediately complession of the same. Reverend B.M. Taylor was authorized to solicit subscription for said purpose who it is thought can soon secure the necessary amount.”

In 1870, due to loss of a lot of members and other financial problems, it became necessary for the Church to cut back and the Pastor F. M. Gillum (also spelled in other materials as Gilliam) was to only do one service per month with a yearly salary of $125.00.

In 1819, a small congregation of Cumberland Presbyterians faced a shaky and uncertain future and throughout the history of this Church, it has always faces the same kind of future. It was shaky when the building erected in 1819, but it was survived in the face of overwhelming obstacles. The first Sessional records in the Church’s possession are dated June 11, 1869. In 1878, the future was no less shaky and uncertain than it was in 1819. In 1878 the congregation could hardly have been on solid financial ground. It is hardly conceivable that by 1878 the financial problems faced in 1870 were considerably better. They are now ready to take on the challenge of a new building. Perhaps there is no more fitting memorial, for this Church, than the one which the Session adopted on April 3, 1878 and forwarded to the Logan Presbytery as part of its request for permission to build a new sanctuary.

“In the beginning our existence was suspended between success and failure. But through the lapse of succeeding days and years we as a congregation of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church find ourselves in a healthful condition and by the efforts and prayers of a faithful pastor and the watchcare of Logan Presbytery we hope to attain unto that degree of strength and church identity which will make for us a happy and prosperous future.”

Session Minutes dated April 17, 1878 reflect that Reverend B. M. Taylor reported that he was succeeding in securing subscriptions for the new sanctuary. The new Church was dedicated on March 2, 1879 with the Reverend A. J. Baird of Nashville officiating. The following Sunday, a Sunday School was organized with the Brother J. G. Orndorff elected as Superintendent. The Sunday school had an enrollment of approximately 40. The Session minutes record a rather steady increase in Church membership. The records never actually show an actual number of Church members. However, records do reflect finances were still a problem.

On June 21, 1881, the Church was FREE of debt with the Church activity booming! In 1891, the town was divided into two sections for the Deacons. A Deacon was appointed to each section and to visit and attend to the needs of the people.

During November 1894, the meeting of the Session voted to recommend to the congregation that the Church adopt the envelope system for the unsuing year. Stoves were installed in the Church in 1895. In December 1896, the Session decided to provide a report of the work of the Church and the contributions of each member to the congregation yearly.

In June 1890, it was decided to provide burners to experiment in better lighting for the sanctuary. In 1906, the major part of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church joined the large Presbyterian Church U.S.A. The Trustees of this Presbyterian Church U.S.A. bought the Presbyterian Church U.S. property on Main Street in 1909 and then sold it to Mr. J. M. Perry in 1910. The amount originally claimed was $2,650.00. This building stood on the rear of the lot known as the John Caldwell property, facing south on Bank Street. The Treasurer reported the Church was in good financial condition. In 1910, the old Church lot on Main Street was sold for a new manse located on High Street and was purchased in January 1911 for $1,500.00. June 26, 1915, a claim was settled against the United States Government for damage to the Church building during the Civil War. A settlement of $1,203.84 was received by the Church and the Trustees and Elders were pleased.

On April 11, 1923, George Gillum offered his resignation as Clerk of the Session due to his age. It was accepted. He had ended his service as Pastor in the year 1872, but had stayed on as Clerk of the Session. On July 1, 1923, it was decided to convert the bonds and treasury certificates held by the Church into cash for the purpose of building an addition to the Church for Sunday School rooms.

On May 12, 1924, the Session voted to have the Church Body incorporated to the name of First Presbyterian Church of Russellville, to commence on June 1, 1924 and to continue for a period of five years. This was approved.

In 1934, the first showing of actual members of the Church was 106 members. The 1935 annual report show 111 communicants of the Church rolls and 96 in Sunday School.

July 1951, the Session voted to approve a fundraiser, The Ice Cream Supper. This event is still enjoyed by the church and the community to this day.

January 19, 1958, congregational meeting was called for the purpose of electing six elders and six deacons in order that the Church might use the rotation system as suggested by and required by the General Assembly. On August 11, 1960, it was decided that future meetings would also be joint ones.

A joint meeting of the First Presbyterian Church of Russellville and the Corinth Presbyterian Church was held on March 7, 1963 to discuss merger of the two Churches. There was a unanimous vote in favor of merge. The congregations of both Churches voted in favor and they were formally merged on April 4, 1963.

June 3, 1965, the Session recommended that, because of the smallness of our Church and also because the elders and deacons found it difficult to meet together and act together, the Church adopts the unicameral system of government. On June 23, 1965, the congregation approved the unicameral system.

n June 1966, the Session approved the selling of the manse and the purchase of a new manse in Chapman Subdivision.

On April 15, 1977, Reverend Scott Phillips presented a new order of worship to the Session with their approval, a three part service. On December 31, 1977, the Church had 126 members and 44 enrolled in Sunday School.

The 175th Anniversary, known as “Homecoming Sunday” was held on June 26, 1994. The worship service was led by then current Pastor Lon Lorton (1991 to 2001), Reverend Harold Knox (1954 to 1963) and Reverend Bert Cramer (1980 to 1989). Also assisting in the worship service was Reverend Oddvar Berg. A picnic dinner followed with special service of music, prayer and remembrances.

Starting in 1996, the Session began consideration of an addition to the back of the Church. The Session and congregation approved the addition consisting of a Fellowship Hall, Music Room, Pastor and Secretary Office and Sunday School rooms. Larry Isakson was appointed Chairman of the committee to oversee this enormous project. The contract amount for this addition was $450,275.00. The contractor was Stewart Richey Construction out of Bowling Green, Kentucky. The loan was taken with Southern Deposit Bank (now known as B,B&T) with the Trustees of the Church being, Lois Johns, Henry “Buzz” Boyd and Ed Phillips. The addition was completed in the summer of 1998. The loan was miraculously paid off years early on September 23, 2004 and once again, the Church was free of debt!

As of the end of 2005, the membership of the Church was 119 with Sunday School enrollment at 25. Reverend Kendal Land was the pastor from 2003 through December 2005. Dr. Patrick Napier became interim pastor and served from January 2006 to June 2007. Dr. Cheryl Duke was pastor from June 2007 through December 2010. Rev. Jim Johnson was our pastor from July 2011 through December 2013 when he retired. We are blessed to have Tom Thompson who began as our lay pastor on February 1, 2014.

We have several outreach ministries, drawing leadership from elders and members of the congregation: our annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner (which began in 1998 and exceeded all expectations and served over 800 people in 2014), A.C.T.S. (Another Chance To Succeed) which is a prison mentoring program, AARP Tax Aide every Wednesday, February through April 15, Russellville Group of AA which meets Monday through Friday at Noon. We continue with several other ministries which have touched lives: Valentine boxes full of goodies mailed to our college students and military, Christmas Angel Tree and Mitten/scarf tree. Each of these continues to build up the community of faith as we serve.

The session approved renovation of the sanctuary ceiling (now beautiful wood and ceiling beams) and a video projection and sound system. We continue to be blessed with new gifts and leadership skills.

For a history of the heritage of the roots of First Presbyterian Church of Russellville in the Great Revival of 1800, click Subpage below: Second Great Awakening.