The First Presbyterian Church
The history of the First Presbyterian Church goes back well over 100 years. Some say that the first meetings of the church congregation took place in the Wagner Opera House on the corner of Chambers and Main Streets (commonly known as McCrory's 5 & 10, and in 2006, housing Performance Tool.) But, it is also stated that the original meeting place was the Theatre Comique, located on lower Main Street, a second-rate music hall dedicated to an uninhibited brand of burlesque entertainment. It was available for rent on Sundays and had a large open floor, ideal for both "entertainment" and church services. Rev. Robert G. Williams, 39 years of age, was appointed to "labor and preach for the church for six months." He was paid $350.
The church members soon moved to the Universalist Church, on the corner of Corydon and South Avenue, and remained there until the late 1870s, when a new church was proposed, and built in its present location. The church was incorporated under the name of the First Presbyterian Church of Bradford on January 8, 1879.
It looked nothing like it does today. The formal dedication of this church took place on May 30, 1880. It was a wooden structure, with a high wooden spire on one side, arched windows, and a stone foundation. The members of the church were active, and the Sunday School boasted 400 members. Missionary work was very important, and efforts were made to "convert" the residents of the town's red light district, "Pig Island", located at the end of Charlotte Avenue. Because of all the Chinese laundrymen in town, a Chinese Department was formed, and the church issued a text prayer book, printed half in English, and half in Chinese, and taught over 20 Chinese to read English from St. John's gospel. During this time, over 247 new members joined the Presbyterian Church.
In 1888, the growing congregation required a larger church, and extensive alterations and renovations were made. During this construction, the congregation met at the local Armory, a building located on Corydon Street (Sehman Tire's current location). The rededication of the vastly modified building took place on January 13, 1889. By the turn of the century, many societies within the church had formed, including the Silver Link Missionary Society, the Blue Ribbon Band, and the Ladies Aid Society. And the congregation grew.
By 1916, it was apparent that another larger church was needed, and once again the church members migrated to an alternate building while construction was ongoing. This time, the church met at the YMCA on Boylston Street. A gothic architect, Frederic Merrick, was chosen, and E.N. Unruh, a well-known builder in Bradford, began construction. The cornerstone was laid in 1917. Dedication was held on October 26, 1919.
But the growing church congregation required more room. Once again, in 1956, the church was expanded. This time, a time capsule was placed in the cornerstone, with a copy of The Bradford Era, a Bible, $150 in currency, and church documents. During construction, the church members met at the Methodist Church across the street each Sunday. This latest version of the church was dedicated on October 13, 1957. From a membership of 24 members in 1877, it had grown to over 1300 by 1957. On February 18, 1959, the church proudly changed its name to the First United Presbyterian Church.