~ Excerpts from the 150th Anniversary (2005) Booklet
The Portland Avenue Presbyterian Church was organized September 1, 1855. Previous to that a committee consisting of the representatives of the Sessions of the Louisville churches met at the Presbyterian Herald Office for the purpose of considering the advisability of organizing a Presbyterian church in the city of Portland. The recorded minutes of that meeting follow:
PRESBYTERIAN HERALD OFFICE
Louisville , Ky. , August 16, 1855
“Pursuant to a call from the Rev. Robert Morrison, who has been preaching for some time at Portland in accordance with a resolution of the Louisville Presbytery, passed sometime since and constituting the Sessions of the churches of the city into a committee to organize churches in the city whenever the way is open, the Sessions of four of the churches were present or represented to consider the petition sent to that committee from certain persons in Portland desiring the organization of a Presbyterian church in that part of the City.
Present from the First Church, S.R. Williams, John W. Anderson, Curran Pope, and Mr. Gillis; from the Second Church, A. Davidson; from the Chestnut Street Church, W.S. Vernon, L.P. Yandell, John Milton and John W. Simrall; from the Walnut Street church, John Martin. Rev. Robert Morrison was then called on and made a statement of the condition of affairs at Portland and closed his remarks by reading a petition of twelve persons, residents in or near Portland praying to be organized into a Presbyterian church.
On Motion it was resolved that it be deemed expedient that the church be organized as desired. Further, on motion it was resolved that one elder from each of the five churches of the city, with as many pastors of the churches in the city or members of Presbytery as may be present, be constituted a committee to organize said church at a future time agreed upon, if the way be open.
The elders chosen were: from the First Church, Curran Pope; Second Church, William Prather; Chestnut Street Church, J.W.C. Simrall; Walnut Street Church, H.E. Tunstall; Fourth Church, Otis Patton. On motion it was resolved that this meeting recommend to the friends of our church in the city to contribute liberally of their means to raise funds to purchase a lot in Portland on which to build a Presbyterian church.”
The actual organization of the church took place on September 1, 1855, at Plummer’s Store Room. Plummer’s Store Room was a one-story frame structure owned by a Mr. Plummer, located on the southwest corner of what is now 34 th and Rudd Avenue . It had been intended for a feed business but was never occupied. The congregation continued to worship there until it was rented for store purposes. The congregation then made use of the city schoolhouse, which was a small frame structure situated on what was then called Second Alley. Second Alley was an alley running east and west just north of what is now Rudd Avenue . The account of the organization is recorded in the first minute book of the Session. The recorded minutes of that meeting follow:
PLUMMER’S STORE ROOM Portland , September 1, 1855
“The above mentioned committee consisting of an elder from each church in the city were present together with Rev. W.L. Breckinridge, D.D., pastor of the First Church , and Rev. W.W. Hill, D.D. and Rev. F. Semour of the Fourth Church . At 10:30 A.M. the meeting was called to order and Dr. Breckinridge was called on to preside, after which Dr. Hill preached a sermon from Psalm 137, on the believer’s love for the church. After the sermon, Dr. Breckinridge took the chair and divine blessing having been invoked, the letters of persons intending to unite with the church to be constituted were placed in his hands, and were as follows:
Mrs. Jane McCulloch,
Miss Mary McCulloch,
Miss Hectorina McCulloch,
Mrs. Emma Duckwall,
Mrs. Elizabeth Dick, and
All were found in order and received by the committee. An opportunity was then given for persons to present themselves for examination with a view to the profession of their faith. Mr. Wm. A. Boles and Mrs. Melvina McKnight came forward and were examined. These eight persons then came forward and signified their desire to unite in organizing a Presbyterian church in Portland and covenanted to walk together in church relation according to the knowledge and doctrine of the Presbyterian church, and were thus constituted into a church.”
The exact name of the church does not appear in the record of its organization, nor in the first election of officers, which took place November 18, 1855. Mr. Joseph Irwin who had been received from the First church was elected elder and Mr. N. Boles, deacon. The name “First Presbyterian Church in Portland ” appears in the minutes of the congregational meeting held December 8, 1855, for the purpose of electing trustees. The following were elected: Daniel McCulloch, John Graham, Joseph Irwin, Dr. G.H. Walling and N. Boles.
The exact date of the construction and dedication of the first church building does not appear in the recorded minutes. However, 1857 was the date given by consensus of those who had been members at the time of the first building.
There seems to have been no regularly installed pastor until May 6, 1858, when Mr. A.A.E. Taylor, a licentiate of the Presbytery of Cincinnati, who had been stated supply from the middle of September 1857, was ordained and installed as pastor. Previous to this time Rev. Robert Morrison preached at various times, but whether regularly does not appear from the records. The Rev. L.H. Rice and Dr. W.L. Breckinridge moderated Session and congregational meetings and administered the Lord’s Supper on various occasions until the installation of Rev. Taylor. During Rev. Taylor’s pastorate the church seems to have been known as the “Avenue Presbyterian Church.”
The first statistical report recorded is that made to Presbytery in the spring of 1859, covering the period of April 1, 1858 to April 1, 1859. It is as follows:
15 members at last report
12 added on profession of faith
5 added by letter
29 total communicants
The financial report follows:
Rev. A.A.E. Taylor continued to serve as pastor until September 19, 1859 when he accepted a call to the First Presbyterian Church of Dubuque, Iowa.
Rev. Edward Wurts succeeded Rev. Taylor in December 1859 and served until June 1865. During the period of his ministry the church continued to grow. Membership increased from twenty-nine to eighty-three.
Rev. W.W. Duncan was the next pastor, served for about a year and was followed by Rev. C.B. Davidson who served from October 1866 until January 1867. Rev. Philip Thompson served as pulpit supply from 1868 through June 1, 1870, when he accepted a call the Mulberry Church in Shelby County .
At a congregational meeting on September 25, 1870, presided over by Rev. Converse, the Rev. John W. Matthews, D.D. of Lexington was called to become pastor at a salary of $1,000.00. Dr. Matthews was installed November 25, 1870 and served until October 4, 1876.
The congregation built a nine-room manse on the corner of 32 nd and Bank in 1871 at a cost of $3,500.00. Of that amount, $2,300.00 was paid the first year. Mr. Joseph Irwin donated the lot of ground. Mr. Daniel McCulloch, Geo. H. Walling and W.N. Troxell were elected trustees of the manse and church at this time.
During the pastorate of Rev. J.H. Morrison, the membership of the church grew from 73 to 232. The budget of the church averaged about $1,600.00 from October 1879 through November 1888.
Rev. George L. Bitzer was called to the pastorate August 25, 1889, and was installed October 20, 1889, and served until May 8, 1892. During this pastorate the financial growth of the church was especially noticeable. A fund was started for the erection of a new building. Ten feet of ground was purchased on the east side of the present location in anticipation of the completed project.
In 1891, the Ladies Aid Society was established. This organization enabled many events to take place, as well as, many contributions to be made to the church so that needed items could be purchased. This society was re-organized following the institution by the General Assembly of a new program for the work of women in the church in the 1920’s. The Ladies Aid Society became the Woman’s Auxiliary and continued its influential work in the church until 1938.
A new brick church was built at a cost of $11,000.00 on the present site and dedicated to God December 3, 1893.
On January 14, 1897,The Portland Avenue Presbyterian , a monthly publication of interest to all church members was started by permission of the Session and edited by the pastor, Rev. David M. Sweets. This paper was published until 1934. The church then relied upon the weekly bulletin for communication purposes until the current newsletter,The Stained Glass Window began publication in 1976.
A new manse was purchased at 2924 Portland Avenue in August of 1900 and was first occupied by the new pastor, Rev. W.H. Miley and family.
In September 1905, the church celebrated its 50 th anniversary. Mrs. Emma Duckwall, the only living charter member, then 70 years old, attended the celebration and was presented with a silver loving cup. In 1925, the church’s 70 th anniversary was celebrated. Mrs. Duckwall, then 90 years old, was unable to attend the celebration due to her health. However, she was still interested in hearing about the work the church was doing for the Lord. As part of the anniversary celebration there was a huge birthday cake with seventy white candles for the church and ninety pink candles to honor Mrs. Duckwall, as her birthday was also in September.
In 1913, Rev. Paul H. Moore was instrumental in organizing the first Christian Endeavor Society. The previous young people’s society was the nucleus of the Christian Endeavor Society. With new literature and plans, the group expanded and for many years was one of the most active organizations of the church. Many leaders for Sunday School and church received their training from the Christian Endeavor Society.
In November of 1917, the church bell was hung. This bell, having been hung during World War I, was rung every day at noon during the duration of the war as a prayer for peace. The bell was completely refurbished and the tolling mechanism repaired in 2004. The bell continues to call all members and friends to worship each Sunday.
Rev. Lile started a fund to purchase a new organ. The first gift toward the organ was $20.00. It took many years of work and planning to remodel the sanctuary in preparation for the installation of the instrument. The Pilcher organ was dedicated Easter Sunday, April 20, 1924. The organ received some much needed work in the 1970’s. The Aeolian pipe was re-voiced, a rank of 61 pipes was shortened, and new tuners were installed to produce a mutation stop.
Rev. R.L. St. Clair made plans for enlarging the Sunday School space. The excavation of the basement under the Fellowship Hall accomplished this. The basement space was used for more classrooms and a kitchen.
The Boy Scouts of America first came to Portland Avenue Presbyterian Church in 1918. In 1924, the Boy Scout troop was re-organized by A.A. Sullivan and became a popular organization that built the character of many young men who later became fine adults. The troop continued to meet until the 1980’s.
The Girl Scouts of America organized a troop under the leadership of Miss Lucille Davis in 1924. The girls of the troop received training in Christian citizenship and each one of the girls became an integral part of society as women.
During Rev. St. Clair’s ministry, plans were made for starting Shawnee Presbyterian Church. Portland Avenue Presbyterian Church furnished twenty-three charter members for the new congregation. These members had moved into the Shawnee district and together with members from other denominations in the same district, made up the new congregation.
The lot in the back of the church was purchased by the Good Fellowship Class, the men’s Sunday School class. Session gave approval for the Boy Scouts to build a “Scout House” on the lot. T.R. Davis and some of the Scouts built the Scout House. The work began November 11, 1927 and was completed April of 1928. The Scout House was demolished on January 7, 2005. The time capsule placed in the Scout House in 1928 was recovered.
The Scout House was later used for the young men’s Sunday school class and taught by Doctor M.C. Newlon that was formed July 29, 1928. The young men of the class became known as Doc’s boys. When these same young men took French together in High School, the name of the class evolved into Dox-Bois. For the members of the church, the Scout House became known as the Dox-Bois Room. Many men continue to carry with them the memories of classmates, fun and communion with God due to this association.
Mrs. John McLean, the pastor’s wife, started the first businesswoman’s circle on November 18, 1929. There were up to six different circles at the height of these women’s organizations.
In 1930 the women of the church Sunday School class, known as the Class of Promise, was organized with Mrs. Elizabeth R. Slaughter as the teacher. The Class of Promise was a prominent and active organization for the church for many years.
A new carpet was laid in the sanctuary in 1930 at a cost of $1,000.00. Four oak collection plates were given in memory of Mrs. Margaret R. Schreiber by her niece, Mrs. Elizabeth R. Slaughter on August 19, 1930.
A Golden Anniversary Service was held to honor twenty members who had fifty years membership at Portland Avenue Presbyterian Church in February of 1935.
In the fall of 1935, Mr. C.D. Tandy, superintendent of the Sunday School, organized a Junior Choir with the help of Mr. William B. Walker, Jr. and Miss Elizabeth Lloyd who were the leaders of the Young People.
A Memorial Service was held on May 26, 1940 at which time the Woman’s Auxiliary of the American Legion presented the church with the American Flag and the Class of Promise presented the church with the Christian Flag.
The sudden death of Rev. W.W. Astles in 1940 deeply grieved the congregation. Rev. Astles served as pastor for nine years. In October, by gifts given from the tiniest child to the oldest member, a pulpit Bible was presented in memory of Rev. Astles. Mr. Foster Stone served as student supply following the death of Rev. Astles
Following thirty years of service as Sunday School Superintendent, Mr. Clarence D. Tandy resigned from the position in May of 1942.
World War II called many of the young men of the church into service. On April 11, 1943, a Service Plaque was dedicated and Chaplain T.J. Ackmann from Fort Knox was the speaker.
A Story Hour was created and fulfilled from 1943 through 1945 under the leadership of Mrs. Charles Fox and Mrs. William Hopkins.
A new manse was purchased in March of 1944 at 3519 North Western Parkway at the cost of $6,500.00 and was first occupied by the Rev. Warren Gaw family.
In May of 1944, the Chairman of Spiritual Growth of the Women of the Church organized a prayer service that met every Sunday morning between Sunday School and church services. This group prayed for the pastor, the work of different organizations, the sick and the general welfare of the congregation.
In 1947, the Class of Promise gave $100.00 as a gift toward the purchase of chimes for the organ as a memorial to Mr. C.D. Tandy. Additional money was given by the Sunday School and church members. Mrs. Martha Motley gave a very substantial sum in memory of her mother and brother. On October 3, 1948, the Chimes were dedicated and the plaque affixed to the organ reads:
Tandy Memorial Chimes
In loving memory of
Mr. Clarence D. Tandy
by friends in the church and
Mrs. Martha Motley
in memory of
Mrs. Ella E. Dailey
Mr. Melvin Dailey
Rev. Chauncey R. Gleason was installed as pastor May 16, 1948 and served the church for 25 years. The 100 th anniversary was celebrated in 1955 during Rev. Gleason’s pastorate. Rev. Gleason organized and taught the Communicants Class which met for six weeks preceding Easter each year. He retired in June of 1971 but continued to serve the church for 2 years until a new pastor could be found.
A chair for the communion table was given in memory of Mr. Albert C. Will, a life long member of the church, and dedicated on February 6, 1949. The hymn boards hanging on each side of the pulpit were given in memory of Elnora Alice Watson and Charles Lloy Niman. A loud speaking system was installed in 1952 in memory of Mrs. Elizabeth R. Slaughter who had been a member of the church for 66 years.
In 1956, a major addition was made to the south of the building. The main floor consisted of three large classrooms and two bathrooms. This addition allowed the Scout House / Dox Bois Room to be annexed to the building proper. Additionally, the basement was further excavated in order to provide a large fellowship hall.
The Class of Promise presented the church with a brass cross for the communion table in 1957.
Rev. Andrew Rae of Scotland participated in a pulpit exchange in 1963. Upon their departure for their home in Scotland , Rev. and Mrs. Rae presented the church with a golden chrome flower bowl. The inscription reads:
Rev. Andrew W. Rae
Edinburgh , Scotland
Mrs. Lloyd Robertson gave two chairs, previously used for the communion table, in memory of her parents Mr. and Mrs. William E. Durbeck.
In 1972 Mr. James R. Fedlam served as a field education student and was hired as student supply from September of 1973 until July of 1974. In 1975 a new pulpit Bible was purchased to replace one that had been vandalized.
Portland Avenue Presbyterian Church was once more on the cutting edge in the Presbyterian Church by calling their first woman pastor. Rev. Jane Krauss Jackson preached her first sermon here on October 6, 1974. She was the first woman to be ordained and installed in this presbytery on Sunday, November 24, 1974. Rev. Jane Krauss Jackson was also the first minister to wear a robe regularly for all services in this church.
Rev. Benjamin Stewart III was the next installed pastor and served this church from November 1982 until June 1989. Rev. Stewart had been instrumental in acquiring a much-needed loan from the presbytery for the benefit of the church.
Rev. Brown Patton and Rev. James Saint IV were the last pastors to be called and installed to Portland Avenue Presbyterian Church.
Portland Avenue Presbyterian Church fell upon dark times; with declining membership it was financially unable to provide the funds to call a pastor. Many felt that the church should close its doors, giving into the pressure of the outside world. A faithful remnant kept the church doors open with the assistance of many seminarians that served as student supply and other pastors who came to celebrate communion.
In the 1990’s, a man saved Portland Avenue Presbyterian Church from becoming another statistic as a closed church. That man was John B. Gray and he served as a lifeline with a great vision for this church. John knew that this church was something special and he became the liaison to the Committee on Ministry and began building the case for why Portland Avenue Presbyterian Church should remain open.
To that end John Gray and William Sanders, the current Moderator of Presbytery began to meet with Willa Fae Williams in 1997. Their discussions with Willa Fae focused on meeting with the Session of Portland Avenue Presbyterian Church to talk about the possibility of Willa Fae becoming their stated supply pastor. After meeting with Richard Ferguson, Interim General Presbyter, on April 28, 1997 it was decided that Willa Fae would preach for the first time at Portland Avenue Presbyterian Church on May 4. Following the service that day, Session had a lengthy discussion with Willa Fae and John Gray that would put the wheels in motion for Portland Avenue Presbyterian Church to have its own pastor. The agreed upon plan was presented by John to the Committee on Ministry the following day.
It is important to mention that at the time the Committee on Ministry had approved Willa Fae Williams coming to Portland Avenue Presbyterian Church, Presbytery committed $400 per month for two years. Following that commitment the Mission Committee of Presbytery made a four-year commitment of $5,000 per year. In both cases these monies were used for supplementing the pastor’s salary and outreach mission.
Believing that the Session had informed the congregation, Willa Fae preached on May 18, 1997 as the stated supply pastor of Portland Avenue Presbyterian Church. Unfortunately, things did not go as Willa Fae thought they might. Expecting the congregation to welcome her as pastor, she was surprised to find that the congregation knew nothing about her call to Portland Avenue Presbyterian Church.
On June 15 th , 1997 Rev. Dr. Linda Penrod Million of Parkway United Methodist Church arrived in Portland Avenue Presbyterian Church during Sunday School. Linda suggested that the Methodist church and the Presbyterian church help each other thrive and survive by joining the two congregations together in worship while remaining true to each denomination. This was the first step that led to the Ecumenical Shared Ministry with the Parkway United Methodist Church .
On July 3 rd , 1997 Willa Fae met with William A. Wade of Bravura Architectural Firm and gave him a tour of the building. She asked Bill to respond with an architect’s evaluation regarding the state of the building. His very affirmative report presented the first big challenge to the congregation and their new pastor. “How shall we do what seems impossible?” That is, restore the 1892 building to its former glory. As a result, a long-term relationship began between Portland Avenue Presbyterian Church and their favorite architect Bill Wade.
September 14, 1997 marked the first high point for Portland Avenue Presbyterian Church and their current pastor. The annual anniversary and homecoming that day included the installation of Willa Fae Williams as their pastor. Former pastor Rev. Jane Kraus Jackson preached that day. It felt that day as if the Holy Spirit blew through the church with a gust of renewal. Spirits were high, visions were lifted, and the fellowship reached new heights. It was a day to remember. The next several weeks saw the first major changes. September 24 , 1997 the first choir rehearsal was held with eighteen people present, five more than were present at the first service.
On Tuesday, February 3 rd , 1998, the newly installed General Presbyter, Betty Meadows came to learn all about the Portland community and to see how the Holy Spirit was moving at Portland Avenue Presbyterian Church. Betty was present at the first service of the Ecumenical Shared Ministry. She has been one of the leading cheerleaders ever since.
With the full support of both congregations the Ecumenical Shared Ministry was launched with the first service on Ash Wednesday, February 25, 1998. For the next six and a half years the Ecumenical Shared Ministry flourished as they grew to share their mission in ministry under the mission statement, “Joint ministries serving One God.” In the spring of 2003, both churches learned that the beloved pastor of Parkway United Methodist Church would be re-assigned to be pastor of Parkwood United Methodist Church when the Kentucky Conference of the United Methodist Church met in June. The transition took place at the end of June and on July 1, student pastor, Susan Jinnet-Sack was appointed to the Parkway United Methodist Church for one year. In June 2004, the next transition was that Parkway United Methodist Church received the Rev. Young Ki Kim as their pastor. By late August, the decision was made by the bishop to close the Parkway United Methodist Church thus ending the Ecumenical Shared Ministry.
Early in the shared ministry one of the joys was the partnership that was formed with Portland Elementary School . Among the many-shared ministries during the years together is the After School program; some of the other ministries include the Clothes Closet, the Food Pantry, and Community Sewing Classes.
At the end of 1998, three people made a commitment to the future restoration project by contributing a major financial gift to a building fund not yet established. In January of 1999, an anonymous donor challenged the congregation with a gift of $7,500 if it could be matched. By word of mouth only, the match was completed within six weeks. This chain of events encouraged Session to approve the establishment of the Portland Avenue Presbyterian Church fund in the Community Foundation of Louisville. Contributions began to arrive.
Shortly thereafter the Session of Springdale Presbyterian Church chose Portland Avenue Presbyterian Church as a partner in mission, by pledging 4% of all they raised in a capital campaign to Portland Avenue Presbyterian Church. God saw to it that Springdale Presbyterian Church exceeded their original goal in their capital campaign, and so it was that Springdale contributed a total of $50,000 to the building fund. Thus the restoration took on new meaning, we were truly on our way!
As the restoration of the building proceeded the outreach ministries began to grow. September 17, 1998 a Think Tank was formed that would later be known as the Advisory Council. This group was composed of church members, representatives of Session, Portland community leaders, and people from the greater Metropolitan area. The members of the Advisory Council were: John Gray, Grace Jenks, Eugene “Gene” Kremer, Bill LaFollette, Sue Speed, Betty Stotz, Grace Evelyn True, Bill Wade, Kathi Whalen, Jim Witten, Ex-Officio – Susie King, Betty Meadows, Linda P. Million, Willa Fae Williams.
Over the years the Advisory Council has made recommendations to Session concerning the restoration of the 1892 building, appropriate outreach ministries to fill needs in the community, and generally provided encouragement and support as Portland Avenue Presbyterian Church moved forward. By the spring of 2002, it became apparent that the progress would be enhanced by the formation of a 501(C)(3) tax-exempt entity. And so, September 11, 2002 the Portland Avenue Community Trust, Inc. was formed with a board of directors that consisted of some of the members of the original Advisory Council.
As news of our efforts spread across the community and Presbytery many people gave support to our ministry with monetary gifts; gifts of time and talent, and prayer. While the good people of Portland Avenue Presbyterian Church had the faith, commitment, and the prayer to work toward their God-given vision for ministry, it took the encouragement, the support, and the continual prayers of a multitude of people to share in the work that has been accomplished.
While we lost many beloved members along the way because they stepped into eternal life, at the same time we were welcoming new members to the congregation, many of them from the Portland community. One of the special joys in the face of the heartbreak of the closing of Parkway United Methodist Church was that we welcomed the overwhelming majority of Parkway’s members into the membership of Portland Avenue Presbyterian Church.
This was the beginning of the newest chapter in the history of Portland Avenue Presbyterian Church. A new door opened in the life of Portland Avenue Presbyterian Church’s ministry when the Session and the Committee on Ministry of the Presbytery of Mid-Kentucky agreed that a second part time pastor was a real necessity. With great joy Portland Avenue Presbyterian Church celebrated the ordination of the Rev. Deborah K. Uchtman as co-pastor.
In addition to such collaboration, we know without any doubt that what has happened in Portland Avenue Presbyterian Church is not really about pointing at us and saying “look what we have done.” We stand on the sure and certain knowledge that God is Good All the Time and we are the recipients of God’s grace and God’s love; and we continually re-commit ourselves to be obedient and faithful.
On this 150 th anniversary we have seen what God has done in this community through Portland Avenue Presbyterian Church; we can hardly wait to see what God has in store for God’s people and Portland Avenue Presbyterian Church in the future.