First Presbyterian Church
Presbyterians were among the early settlers of Hill County, and the first church organized in the county was the Cumberland Presbyterian Church at Peoria in 1854. The organizing pastor was J. S. Patton, and the first building was a brick church erected by slaves of Jack J. Smith, grandfather of Mrs. Tam Brooks. The Cumberland Presbyterians were a frontier denomination that had left the parent Presbyterian Church in 1810 over the issues of educational requirements for the ministry and to make the church more democratic by downplaying the Old School doctrine of election. The Southern Presbyterian Church (PCUS) was organized in Augusta, Georgia in 1861 as the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America, and after the war the official name was changed to the Presbyterian Church in the United States. In 1906 many of the Cumberland Churches united with the parent church, and those churches were then part of the Presbyterian Church, USA. In 1983 the Southern Church (PCUS) and Northern Church (USA) united to form the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA).
From 1854 until 1881 Cumberland Presbyterians in Hillsboro were served by itinerant preachers who held services in the old school house where “everyone had equal rights.” Residents would at times ride out to Peoria to attend services, but there was no Cumberland Church in Hillsboro until April 15, 1881. On that date the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Hillsboro was organized, and the following were named Ruling Elders: Dr. William Craig, Robert M. Duff, R. Rutherford, S. J. McDuffee, and W. S. McClung. J. J. Stoker and Tam Brooks were named as deacons. The organizing pastor was Rev. W. D. Wear, father of Hill County District Judge William C. Wear (1859-1933). A lot at the corner of Church and Elm (site of the Citizens National Bank in 2005) had been deeded to the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in January, 1859 by W. R. Nunn of Tennessee. A white frame church was constructed on this lot in 1887, and it served until 1919 when the property was sold to Magnolia Petroleum Company. With the Cumberland/Presbyterian Church in the USA (Northern) union in 1906, the congregation became known as the Central Presbyterian Church, USA. A new brick Gothic church building at the southwest corner of Elm and New Streets was dedicated February 8, 1925. While the official name of the church remained Central Presbyterian, it was known to the community as Liberty Temple Presbyterian. Liberty Temple was an energetic congregation until financial difficulties of the Depression caused the congregation to vote to seek dismissal to the Presbyterian Church in the US (Southern).In 1937 Liberty Temple was dismissed to the Southern Church (PCUS) and the membership transferred to First Presbyterian, Hillsboro.
After the War Between the States, Hill County was populated by families moving from the Southern States to avoid the rigors of Reconstruction and the destruction of the War. In October, 1875, the Central Texas Presbytery of the Southern Church appointed a committee consisting of Rev. Henry McDonald, Elder I. N. Buie, and Rev. John H. Smylie to organize a Presbyterian Church in Hillsboro. The committee determined there were too few Southern Presbyterians in Hillsboro to organize a church, but that the numbers throughout the county were sufficient, and the Hill County Presbyterian Church was organized on August 27, 1876 with the assistance of Rev. C. H. Dobbs, evangelist of Central Texas Presbytery. Charter members were Captain S. C. Upshaw, Bettie V. Upshaw, C. W. Black, Olivia Hutchinson, Minnie B. Murphey, L. A. Scott, Martha A. Sturgis, I. V. Gage, M. P. Napier, T. E. Newton, Mrs. M. Newton, Mrs. Cornelius Lee, John P. Connell, Mrs. Teresa Connell, Samuel Peacock, A. P. McKinnon, J. W. Duncan, Rebecca Stewart, Mrs. Rowena Sturgis Abbott, William Sidney Mills, and Mariah Randolph Middleton Mills.
To encourage the construction of a church building for the Southern Presbyterians, an aunt of Mrs. Martha Sturgis in Maryland pledged $100 for the project. The pastor, Rev. Henry McDonald, was instrumental in organizing the project, and in 1878 a building committee was selected comprised of J. W. L. Sturgis, Jo Abbott, and Captain S. C. Upshaw. The community generously supported the capital campaign, and teamsters hauled loads of lumber for the building. Captain Upshaw donated 100 acres of land near Massey to finance construction. The lot selected at 225 East Elm Street (site of Wells Fargo Bank in 2005) was owned by William Sidney Mills, who exchanged the lot for the Massey farmland owned by Captain Upshaw. The structure was a frame building, painted white, with a bell steeple.
The frame structure served the First Presbyterian congregation until a new brick building was erected in 1911. L. J. Thompson was chairman of the building committee, and the architect was church member and longtime elder Oscar Galbraith. The beautiful Greek Revival building was occupied for the first time on March 17, 1912, and the seating capacity was 700-800. One of the highlights of the building was the stained glass Resurrection Window, donated in memory of Stella Frances Skinner, nee Carter. This building served until the current structure on Old Brandon Road was occupied for the first time March 17, 1974, 62 years from the date of the first service in the Elm Street Church. In 1968 Rev. Bob R. Moon became pastor, and in May a site for a new church was purchased on Old Brandon Road. Dr. Dick Cason served as chairman of the building committee, and Jack C. Pruitt was chair of the Finance Committee. The contractor was local builder and church member Percy Wilkirson.
First Presbyterian Church in 2005 is the inheritor of a rich heritage from both Cumberland and Southern Presbyterians, and the ministry continues to be faithful to Scripture and to the Reformed faith. Pastor Mike Morgan and the Session in 2005 are working to realize the stated mission of the church: First Presbyterian Church exists to bring people to Jesus and to fellowship in His family; to develop Christian disciples; to equip them for service and mission in the world; in order to glorify God.
Written and submitted by Will Lowrance, P.O. Box 563, Hillsboro, TX 76645