Central Presbyterian Church (Austin, Texas)


Central Presbyterian Church (Austin, Texas)

Located on the northeast corner of Brazos and Bois d'Arc (now Eighth Street), Central Presbyterian Church in Austin Texas traces its roots to the organization of the first Presbyterian church in Austin on Sunday, October 13, 1839. That event, conducted by Rev. William Youell Allen, took place in Bullock's Hotel, at the corner of Congress Avenue and Pecan Street (later renamed Sixth Street).

The names of only four organizers are known. They were Mr. and Mrs. Richard Bullock, James Burke, and Abner H. Cook, recognized as "the builder of Austin." The City of Austin was chartered two and a half months later, December 27, 1839. Cook was one of two contractors who helped construct a small frame sanctuary for that first Presbyterian church in 1841.

Fear of marauding Indians and the recurrent threat of Mexican troops prompted many of Austin's small population--about 1,500--to flee to Washington on the Brazos in 1842. In 1844 a tornado blew the little church building apart, and Presbyterian worship lapsed.

On May 26, 1850 the First Presbyterian Church of Austin was organized, with five members. Cook was one of them. The next year, on land given by Cook, a frame church was completed on the northeast corner of Lavaca and Bois d'Arc, with Cook the contractor.

Rev. William M. Baker, ordained following graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary, became the pastor. He gained popularity throughout the community until the Civil War erupted. Strife arising from differences over the slavery issue led to bitter division within First Presbyterian Church. Baker was vigorously pro-Union.

When the war ended in May 1865, discord arising from that conflict continued in many aspects of southern life. On January 27, 1866, a pro-northern majority in the church supported a resolution disclaiming all connection with the Presbytery of Central Texas. A minority of 11 (some have said 13) left First Presbyterian and maintained allegiance to the presbytery and the Southern Assembly.

Cook and James H. Hutchins, who were among the small group which left First Presbyterian to form Austin Presbyterian (South), became the first elders of the church. A contract for the property which became the present site, was signed May 14, 1871. It was recognized by the Texas Historical Commission in 1989 as an historical site.

First identified as Presbyterian Church (South), the congregation has been known subsequently as Austin Presbyterian Church, Southern Presbyterian Church, Free Presbyterian Church (i.e. its pews were not for sale to families) and First Southern Presbyterian Church. In 1983, with national reunification of the Northern and Southern branches of the denomination into the Presbyterian Church (USA), the church changed its name to Central Presbyterian Church.

Among others associated with Central who have played significant roles in society is one who attained international renown in the world of literature. William Sidney Porter, the acclaimed O. Henry of American short story, sang bass in the choir of First Southern in the mid-1880s (learn more at the O. Henry museum in downtown Austin). Porter and his 17-year-old bride, Athol Estes, were married by their minister, Dr. Richmond Kelley Smoot, in the Smoot residence at 1316 West Sixth Street on July 1, 1887.

Central Presbyterian Church is a member of Mission Presbytery, in the Synod of the Sun region of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

References

"The Roots of Central Presbyterian Church, Austin Texas" by Bo Byers 1989, published by Nortex Press

External links

[http://www.cpcaustin.org Central Presbyterian Church]
[http://www.mission-presbytery.org Mission Presbytery]
[http://www.synodsun.com/ Synod of the Sun]
[http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/CC/fco46.html Abner H. Cook]
[http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/parks/ohenry.htm O. Henry Museum]


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