History of the Church
Central Presbyterian Church – This congregation was organized April 18, 1844, by Dr. William S. Potts and Rev. William Gilbreath, a the Fourth Presbyterian Church (Old School), with thirty-two members, nearly all of whom had obtained letters for the purpose from the Second church. On the following day the first session was elected, consisting of Philip Skinner, George W. Meyers, and John Suydam, and on the following Sunday, April 21st, Messrs. Meyers and Suydam were ordained, and the session was installed. The first communion of the church was celebrated on the same day.
The congregation met in a small frame building on the southeast corner of Sixth and St. Charles Streets. Rev. Joseph Templeton first supplied the pulpit, but on May 12, 1845, Rev. Alexander Van Court was chosen pastor. He labored with great diligence and success, and during his ministry the church grew and prospered. In July, 1849, he suddenly fell a victim to the cholera which raged that year. In 1845 the church elected as its first board of trustees John M. Wimer, John Huylman and Taylor Blow, to them in 1846, were added David W. Wheeler, Oliver Bennett, and S. Ridgely. Thomas Osborne and Dr. Thomas Barber were also added to the session, and in November, 1846, Othneil Cannon and Charles N. Lewis were elected the first deacons. In the spring of 1846 the name was changed by the presbytery to that of the Central Presbyterian Church of St.Louis. About the same time a lot at the northwest corner of locust and Eighth Streets was purchased, whither the congregation removed in the fall of 1848. It worshipped first in the basement. During the following winter Rev. Dr. Hall held a series of protracted meetings which added largely to the membership. The building was finished in 1849. It had two tories, with room for the pastor’s use and for other purposes in the basement. The audience-room, eighty five by fifty feet, seated about six hundred persons.
After the death of Mr. Van Court, the church remained eighteen months without a pastor. Revs. Samuel Pettigrew, John N. Hall, and William M. Juggles served as stated supplies, and the congregation was greatly troubled by dissensions among its members and others until December 11, 1850, Rev. S. J. P. Anderson, of Virginia, was called. Mr. Anderson entered upon his duties Jan. 20, 1851. He at once restored harmony in the church, which under his pastorate soon became prosperous. In March, 1851, its membership had increased to two hundred and forty-three, and all who were officially connected with the society labored zealously for its welfare. in 1858 nearly one hundred new member were added, but during the civil war the church declined. The pastor was arrested and tried by the military authorities, and the congregation diminished in consequence. The return of peace, however, brought a return of prosperity, but on the 25th of May, 1868, Mr. Anderson’s failing health compelled him to resign, and the church remained again without a pastor. For some time it was served by Rev. Henry Branch as stated supply.
Dr. Brank, of Lexington, KY., the present pastor was called in January, 1869, but did not signify his acceptance until May 31, 1869. Soon after the present site was purchased, and a temporary chapel was erected, in which an afternoon Sunday-school was opened in the spring of 1870. Weekly prayer meetings were held in the same building during the winter of 1871-72. In the spring of 1873 the congregation removed to this chapel, their building on Locust Street having become unsafe owing to the construction of a tunnel under it. Soon after this the structure was demolished. On June 8, 1874, a building committee was appointed consisting of Messrs. B.H.Batte, I.M. Veitch, S. N. Holliday, D. P. Rowland, Dent G. Tutt, and Samuel Barron, and a plan prepared by C. K. Ramsey, architect, was accepted. The chapel was removed to an adjoining lot, and the erection of the present edifice was begun.
It was finished in 1876. It is built in strict accordance with the early English style, with two towers in front, one at each corner, the first one one hundred and nine-two feet in height and the other one hundred and twenty feet in height. The transepts are each twenty-six feet wide, with ten feet projection. The roof is open timbered, richly decorated with trusses supported by stone corbels, constructed of broken ashlar, with cut-stone trimmings from Warrensburg. The building occupies a lot one hundred and nine by one hundred and thirty-five feet. The auditorium is fifty-eight by ninety feet. At the rear is a chapel, with lecture-room, class-room, library, parlors, etc.
The construction of this edifice involved the church so heavily in debt that in the summer of 1879 it found itself in great difficulties. Propositions were made to sell the church and abandon the enterprise, and the pastor tendered his resignation, which was not, however, acceptd. Early in 1880, one Sunday morning the pastor made an earnest appeal for aid to the congregation, and the sum of twenty-one thousand dollars ws subscribed on the pot, and afterwards punctually paid. There are at present about one hundred and thirty families and three hundred and fifty communicants connected with the congregation, and twenty-seven teachers, with nearly three hundred pupils in the Sunday-school. The present church edifice is situated at the northeast corner of Lucas and Garrison Avenues, and the Rev. Robert G. Brank, D.D., is the pastor.”
The History of St. Louis City and County, John Thomas Scharf, 1883, pages 1706-07.
Photographs from the Central Presbyterian Church archives.
Dr. Brank continued in the pastorate until the day of his death. He was a man greatly beloved in the community, and eloquent pulpit orator, a ripe scholar and fully consecrated to his work. His death occurred August 21, 1895. He was succeeded in the pastorate by Rev. William Mack, who later resigned his charge in 1904 to accept a call to Petersburg, Virginia.