The Presbyterian Society of Ann Arbor was organized in 1826, two years after Ann Arbor had been platted by John Allen and Elisha Rumsey. A century later the members of First Presbyterian Church were meeting in their third church building—a great barn of a building, red brick with a tall steeple, seating 1200 and located where the Ann Arbor News building is today. The nave was large (so they could sell more pews), and undoubtedly cold, and drafty. There were no offices, Sunday School rooms, or meeting rooms. Sunday School simply met in the social hall, below the nave.
In 1926 a building committee was formed to consider a design for the newly acquired property on Washtenaw Avenue. It was about the peak of the Late Gothic Revival period in this country. However, as the church history says, “there were problems with funds.” Aside from some specific problems, the eight years from the time they bought the property until construction started in 1936 spans the Great Depression, when a great many people had problems with funds. The architectural firm of Mayers, Murray, Phillip of New York was selected. They had previously designed many churches including the church at Cranbrook and the chapel for the University of Chicago. The outside of the building is covered with Indiana limestone, and, while the design is traditional Gothic in being constructed of stone, having Gothic windows, and being supported by buttresses, it has simple lines with little unnecessary decoration.
When the church moved out of its temporary location and into the present building in January, 1938, the nave was exceedingly plain. The only things that the congregation brought from the old church were the lancet windows, high on the wall back of the chancel, presumably brought for sentiment, and the pews in the balcony, presumably brought for economy. Everything else was new. The furniture in the chancel, and the pews was purchased from the American Seating Company, still based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The carving was done in Grand Rapids by an artisan from Oberammergau in Bavaria.
The reredos, the large carved piece around the blue velvet dossal, was made by the same wood-carver, and was added five years later, in 1943. The large cross was added in 1959. The screen in the Hillegonds chapel (off the front of the nave on the lectern side) was designed by Carl Binder, a current church member, and echoes the design of the reredos.
The Church Library is located in the French Room on the 200 level of the building and awaits your visit! Available to you is a selection of Bible translations, Bible dictionaries and concordances, as well as other religious reference materials. Books of church history, sermons, devotions, and inspirational reading are also to be found. There is a good selection of religious books for children. Materials may be checked out for a reasonable period of time, except for the reference materials, which are for in-room use only. The library is for your use and enjoyment!
Stained Glass Window Tour
Learn about our stained-glass windows! Ann Andrews, a long-time member of First church, is a resident expert on the history and evolution of the beautiful stained glass windows in the sanctuary. In a digital-film walk through on YouTube, Ann guides viewers through the history and artistic detail of the unique stained glass panes that portray the life of Jesus Christ. The tour is a featured program on a locally-produced web site of Ann Arbor-area history which includes an interview with the First Pres member, the late Bill Stegath. View the video tour here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PNoAJh9rjVU.
We are grateful to Dale Leslie for creating this project, and to member Jim Campbell for the video production. You can also at Watchman of the Tracks on the Youtube channel.