With the aid of member Anthony Gould, the group purchased the former First Presbyterian Church on the corner of South Pearl and Beaver streets on December 15th 1849 for $20,000. The church was described at the time as “one of the most eligible locations in the city” and was originally constructed in 1795 by Elisha Putnam. The prominent central steeple was later added in 1808 and attributed to Phillip Hooker.
After minor repairs and updates were made to the building, the first worship service was held in the sanctuary on April 7th, 1850 led by the Rev. Leonard Bacon, D.D. of New Haven Connecticut. Newspapers referring to those first services, noted that “the house was filled with a large and attentive audience.”
A "Confession of Faith" was adopted on May 6th 1850 and on June 6th 1850, worshippers voted to form themselves into a religious society. On June 10th, eighty-one persons (forty-seven of whom were from the First Presbyterian Church) were formally organized as “The First Congregational Church and Society of Albany.” The pulpit during that summer and fall was occupied by some of the most distinguished clergymen of the day from New York and New England.
First Congregational Church was fortunate to have its first permanent pastor as the Dr. Rev. Ray Palmer from Bath, Maine. Dr. Palmer was a noted theologian, poet, and scholar, whose hymn “My Faith Looks Up to Thee” continues to be translated into languages and dialects around the world. Dr. Palmer was installed on December 10th, 1850. Reports at the time observed that church founders “had the satisfaction of seeing their place of worship occupied almost at once by a large and regular congregation.”
First Congregational Church remained great stewards of their property. News articles of the day include the following:
The church immediately became one of the most influential in Albany and, having paid off the mortgage in May 1856, could claim it was free from debt. Church council minutes note “all the great benevolent societies received their annual dues, the church repaired, and beside the $52,000 which this amounted to, $4,000 raised for a new organ… no inconsiderable sum for so new an undertaking!”
With respect to that “new organ”, church archives contain a program dated December 12th 1856, which announces the installation of the new organ and the concert given to celebrate. Professor G.W. Morgan came from Grace Church, New York, to give a recital and demonstrate the various reeds and stops. An address on the “religious use of music” was also featured.
During the period of Dr. Palmer’s leadership, 407 members joined First Congregational Church. Many of these members included prominent figures of the day:
Meanwhile the First Congregational Church also sustained the Bethany Mission Sunday School, located at 67 South Pearl Street in Albany. The Sunday School grew substantially under the leadership of Austin Kibbee. Church records from 1865 show a regular attendance of 406 children with 42 teachers.
On April 15, 1866, the Rev. Ray Palmer preached his farewell sermon to the congregation. Dr. Palmer resigned to become Secretary of the American Congregational Union (now known as the "Congregational Building Society").
In 1867, Dr. William Smart became the second pastor of the church, and it was at this time that discussions began for a new church building to accomodate the growing needs of the congregation. The old brick building was sold for $38,000 on September 10th 1867 to the Mann and Waldmann company, "Wholesale dealers in Ladies' Suits." Immediately, negotiations began for a new site on Eagle and Beaver streets. A contemporary account states:
"The Rev. Mr. Smart preached for the last time (February 9th 1868) in the old Brick (Congregational) Church, last evening. The pews and other furniture are to be sold on Saturday and must be removed by the first of March next, when stores are to be erected upon this site by Messrs. Mann and Waldman, the owners of this property. There are associations connected with this old church that will never be forgotten."
Worship Service is held at 10:30am every Sunday and is followed by our Coffee Fellowship
405 Quail Street
Albany, New York 12208
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