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First Presbyterian Church

Presbyterian History

Presbyterians trace their history to the 16th century and the Protestant Reformation.  Our heritage, and much of what we believe, began with the French lawyer John Calvin (1509-1564), whose writings crystallized much of the Reformed thinking that came before him.

Calvin did much of his writing from Geneva, Switzerland.  From there, the Reformed movement spread to other parts of Europe and the British Isles.  Many of the early Presbyterians in America came from England, Scotland, and Ireland.  The first American Presbytery was organized at Philadelphia in 1706.  The first General Assembly was held in the same city in 1789.  The first Assembly was convened by the Rev. John Witherspoon, the only minister to sign the Declaration of Independence.

What is distinctive about the Presbyterian Church?

Presbyterians are distinctive in two major ways:  they adhere to a pattern of religious thought known as Reformed theology and a form of government that stresses the active, representational leadership of both ministers and church members.



Our History

In 1835, the Reverend Samuel Parker, a Presbyterian missionary, conducted the first Christian Service of worship in Montana to the Nez Perce Indians, on his way to Oregon with Dr. Marcus Whitman.

Fifty years later (1886) a buggy drawn by two dwarf mules brought the Reverend Edward :Linnel; and the Reverend Thomas Moore to Great Falls to meet with thirteen people who were interested in forming the first church in Great Falls.

Reverend Thomas Moore was pastor of the Helena Church and Reverend Edward Linnell was Superintendent of Home Missions.  One month following the founding of the Presbyterian Church in Great Falls, Reverend Linnell died of stomach cancer; thus, our church was the last church established by this pioneer missionary.

1887 Church

While traveling by private railway car, a New York banker by the name of John L. Kennedy, a Presbyterian, was approached by the Reverend John Reid, Jr. (stated supply) for financial help in building a church in Great Falls.  Mr. Kennedy later sent a donation of $500.

Reverend Reid later stopped by to visit Mr. William John Pratt in his machine shop to discuss building a new church.  
Mr. Reid asked, "Can we do it with donations?" Mr. Platt replied, "We certainly can, and do it quick!"

That very day Mr. Pratt approached his good friend, Paris Gibson, to obtain land for the new church. The land was given free of charge, and was located at the corner of 1st Avenue South and 7th Street.

All labor on the building was donated, and the project was completed in 1887.

Years later, Dr. George Edwards wrote, "Although not so artistic as one would have liked, it was believed that it would serve the purpose, until a permanent structure could be built."

However, in 1887 the first church in Great Falls was quite a structure when you consider that this community of 500 people was described as a struggling assemblage of frame houses and of tents."

A manse was built in 1889, and in 1892 an addition to the back of the church building was added.

1903 Church

As the town grew, so did the church, and in 1903 a new church edifice was erected on the same lot as the original church, at the corner of 1st Ave. South and 7th Street. An addition was also added to this structure for the Sunday School in 1913.

The total of the building and the furnishings was $16,000.00.

After 26 years of use, the footings under the foundations began to sink, causing "bulging of the buttresses" and separation of the walls from the floor by as much as eight inches.

On September 23, 1929, the building was condemned as unsafe for occupancy. The salvage value was $7,829.85.

1931 Church

It was on November 22, 1931 that the first Service of Worship was conducted in the new church (the third building to house The Presbyterian Church of Great Falls) located on Central Avenue at 14th St.

The new lots cost $8,580.00, and the building cost $131,290.00. Pews and Chancel furniture cost $5,877.00 and the organ, $10,000.00. With other furnishings the total cost of the project was $164,000.00, of which $30,000.00 was given by Mr. James L. Cowen in whose memory the church school wing is named.

In 1950 this building also began to sink, and extensive corrective measures were undertaken, setting the building firmly on bedrock, along with remodeling the entire sanctuary and educational wing of this 1931 building.

1964 the East Wing

In June 1962, construction was started on the $191,000.00 addition to the existing church facility to provide adequate space for a youth program and office complex.

The Sanctuary and Cowen Wing cost $175,000.00. Remodeling projects in 1950, 1959, and 1963 totaled $190,214.00, and the East Wing ran $191,000.00 for a total investment of $556,214.00. The current evaluation of our physical plant is now $1,375,950.

It was the paying of all debts upon the building we celebrated at this time. As far as we can discover in our research, 1977 was about the first time in our 91 year history that the First Presbyterian church of Great Falls was free of debt.

From the humble beginning of 13 members, our church grew to become one of the largest Presbyterian congregations in Montana.

Today we echo the words of Reverend Richardson at the laying of the cornerstone of the old church in 1902, "I know your loyalty in the past is a prophecy of the future."


The full history (1886-2007) of First Presbyterian Church is captured in a publication available through the church office.  Call 406-453-1411 or .


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