First Presbyterian Church was organized in 1858, three years before the Civil War, when a small band of believers met to form a congregation in Newton. The group, Ezekiel Wilson and wife Sarah, Harriett E. Berrier, John Thomason, Hiram A. Lowrance and wife Martha and daughter Alvinia, and Margaret Smythe, were assisted by Rev. Jesse C. Rankin, an evangelist of the Concord Presbytery to officially established a church in Newton on June 13, 1858. Mr. Lowrance was elected the first ruling elder and the following Sunday, William Jay Wilson, infant son of Ezekiel and Sarah, was baptized.
Rev. Rankin received a salary in the form of meat, grain and molasses, lodging and a stall for his horse. He said, “The greatest reward I can hope to get is for our church to be an effective witness for Christ even a hundred years from now.” The fledgling congregation met in members’ homes and later at Beth Eden Lutheran Church. By 1863, the Presbyterians had secured Rev. Wilson as a supply minister. In 1866, a year after the war had ended, the membership numbered 28 adults and 12 baptized children. A Ladies’ Aid Society was formed with knitting, quilting, Bible Study and ministry to the sick and needy as their mission.
Members began to dream of having their own church building. Several years of dedicated work culminated in the construction of a red brick edifice on North Main Avenue. Remarkably, the building was large enough to seat 200. On land given by David B. Gaither, the handsome church featured ornate lattice-style stained glass windows. It was dedicated Nov. 17, 1878 with Rev. W. A. Wood of Statesville administering the Lord’s Supper. The building is considered a synthesis of Greek and Romanesque Revival styles.The congregation extended Beth Eden’s tradition of hospitality by hosting Newton Baptist Sunday School organized in the late 1880s.Rev. D. A. Monroe became the first resident minister. Again First Presbyterian engaged in a building program, this time to erect a manse for the pastor and his family on Eighth Street. The house is now used as a private residence. The next pastor, J. A. Ramsey, served until his untimely death in the church. To expand seating capacity, two bay-like transepts were added to the sanctuary. The 1900-1903 period saw considerable growth. Shortly thereafter, the church acquired its first pipe organ.At the passing of dedicated member W. R. Frye, the church was bequeathed the generous sum of $5,000 which was used to erect a Sunday School building to the back of the sanctuary. The addition was dedicated just prior to World War II.
With the coming of pastor Dr. Joseph H. Carter, the church took on new life. It became necessary to remodel the sanctuary in 1951. A Wicks pipe organ was purchased and memorial stained glass windows installed. A new brick manse was erected.Dr. Carter resigned in 1956 to assume a teaching position at Lees-McRae College. Rev. Robert Blumer was called to the pastorate. The following December, a maroon dossel cloth and brass cross were placed in the sanctuary in memory of Mrs. Eli Warlick. A new wing was added to the church to accommodate three large classrooms.
In 1984, the church again undertook a capital campaign, Our Bold Mission. Dr. W. T. MacLaughlin served as chairman of the campaign cabinet, the congregation raised funds to renovate the church building, add more classrooms and a fellowship hall. This project was completed in 1987.At about that time, the property was added to the National Registry of Historic Places. The 1878 sanctuary remains the oldest church building in continuous use within the city of Newton. The congregation’s most ambitious building program came in the late 1990s during the pastorate of Dr. Joseph “Jody” Welker, when the congregation pledged to build a new sanctuary on the south side of the church campus. The project—sanctuary, narthex, classrooms, parlor, columbarium and water garden, was formally dedicated on Palm Sunday 2002. Its design echoes architectural elements of the original sanctuary, including. The 1878 building continues to be used as a chapel.
Members of First Presbyterian marked their 150th anniversary on June 13, 2008 with a churchwide dinner, grand worship celebration and unveiling of Planting the Seeds of Faith, our local church history researched and co-written by Dr. Gary Freeze and Sidney Halma.
First Presbyterian Church continues its role as a compassionate community. Many of our more than 400 members are involved in mission across the area to support causes that exemplify the love of Christ. Recently, we entered into a collaboration supporting Latino ministries with New Vision Presbyterian Church and other Presbyterian congregations in Catawba County. First Presbyterian is also a sister church to Iglesia El Redentor in Guatemala.