PRESBYTERIANS WERE ABILENIANS BEFORE THERE WAS AN ABILENE

FirstPresbyterianPlaque

By Jay Moore

When Abilene was born on March 15, 1881, there was already a church established. And

by the time the town was 25 years old in 1906, there were 16. That number

had increased to 26 by 1921. And 25 years after that — just after World

War II –there were more than twice that many, with 20 Baptist congregations,

11 Church of Christ and eight Methodist churches. In 2014, it was difficult to even get

an accurate count of the number of Abilene churches but it is near 100,

according to Taylor County records.

Jay Moore

Jay Moore

When a group of Presbyterians gathered for worship near the temporary Texas and

Pacific depot on Sunday, February 27, 1881, the town lot sale, which would create

Abilene, was still two weeks away. It was the Buffalo Gap family of William Adolphus

Minter who saw the promise of Abilene and moved to the Texas and Pacific tracks in

anticipation of Abilene coming into existence. The Minter family and a handful of others

met at the spot along the rails and organized Abilene’s most senior institution – the First

Presbyterian Church. A plaque commemorating their historic gathering is located in

Everman Park.

Initially, the young congregation met at the frame schoolhouse located at North Third

and Cedar streets before moving into its own building in 1884. The 1920s were a period

of growth in Abilene and that population spurt resulted in a new sanctuary for First

Presbyterian that opened for worship on April 6, 1924, and which still stands at the

corner of Orange and North Fourth Street.

A second Presbyterian congregation organized in 1885. Known as Central Presbyterian, it

met at Beech and North Second streets, only blocks away from its Presbyterian brethren.

In a congregational meeting held in December of 1948, this group authorized the

purchase for a new location at North Fifth and Grape and drew up plans for a new

building. The traditional, colonially inspired design presented West Texans much to talk

about. Despite architectural arguments, the group pressed ahead and the 445-seat New

England-style church went up along Grape, with the first services held on October 1,

1950. The Abilene Reporter-News touted the fact that the pews were cushioned with

foam rubber.

In 1970, the congregation of Central Presbyterian united with its kin at First

Presbyterian, resulting in Abilene’s oldest church taking on the unified name of First

Central Presbyterian. The Central congregation opted to move a few blocks east, selling

its Grape Street property to another congregation.

Founder William Adolphus Minter died in 1908. What was described as the longest

funeral procession in Abilene ended with Will Minter’s Christmas Eve funeral held in the

church he established. Descendants of the Minter family remain members of the First

Central Presbyterian congregation more than 130 years later.

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