In the beginning
Early settlers in Gardenville, mostly of German descent, worshipped at Fourteen Holy Helpers Roman Catholic Church or St. John's Lutheran Church, where services were conducted in their mother tongue. There was growing concern for religious training for the children of the English-speaking settlers.
In 1896, six families led the movement to establish what was to become known at the English Union Church. Nearly fifty were enrolled in the Sunday afternoon classes that met in the one-room school on School Street and Union Road. A worship service was held once a month. In exchange for use of the building, the school used the pump organ for chapel services.
A special fund drive in 1905 raised $1,000 and allowed building plans to proceed. Ground was broken at the purchased building site where our parking lot is now located. A year later a dedication service was conducted by Rev. J. Stitt of the Southside Presbyterian Church. On June 19, 1910, by unanimous vote of the congregation, it was reorganized as a Presbyterian church, and the name was officially changed on February 15, 1911, to the First Presbyterian Church of Gardenville. Rev. Stitt served as supply pastor and was paid by each of the elders who subscribed $1 per week, a total of $3 per service.
The New York Central Railroad had made available Mr. Klug's house on Clinton Street for $1.00. It was purchased by the church and moved to the south side of the church property. After remodeling, Rev. John McCreery moved his family to the lower flat of this house when he became the first full-time pastor in 1912. The upper flat was used for Sunday school rooms, meetings and suppers.
After Rev. McCreery built his own home at 89 Orchard Avenue in 1914. The Klug house was sold and moved to Orchard Avenue where it is now the residence of the Richard Labby family.
In 1917, the church was remodeled and raised to provide space for a basement. Excavation work was accomplished by George L. Webber and his team of horses. The added basement provided Sunday school rooms, a kitchen and a dining room that were used for meetings and suppers.
In 1922, the congregation voted to erect a hall for Christian education and social needs. Designed and built by Henry Lischer, the parish hall was completed in 1923. Equipped with two bowling alleys, kitchen, dining hall and pool room in the basement, and a spacious hall and stage on the first floor, it became a community center. Providing much needed space for Sunday school classes, it was also the setting for elaborate Christmas pageants, the women's annual bazaar and many fund-raising dinners. As Sunday school enrollments increased, the bowling alleys were removed to provide more classroom space.
Rev. McCreery's home was purchased by the church in 1948 and it served as the manse until Rev. George Walker built his own home in 1978. The manse was sold in August of that year.
By 1963 it was evident that New York State would eventually widen Union Road to a four-lane highway. In the meantime, the church had acquired most of the property on Union Road from Kron Avenue to Orchard Avenue, clearing the way for planning a new sanctuary to accommodate a growing congregation.
The old building was vacated and a temporary sanctuary was installed in what is now Called Lischer Hall. The original sanctuary, put up for sale, was eventually demolished after the furnishings were sold or donated to other churches. Building fund campaign dates were set and on "Campaign Sunday," May 5, 1963, a total of $52,588 was pledged for the three-year period from 1963-1966.
At the ground- breaking service on September 15, 1963, first ground was broken by Henry Lischer, chairman of the Long Range Planning Committee. Other participants included John Allan and Howard Lankes of the Campaign Committee, Harvey Miller and Raymond Galley. Sr., co-chairmen of the Building Committee, Earl Biles, chairman of the Board of Trustees and William Schopf, Financial Treasurer.
A dedication service was held on October 18, 1964, and was attended by over 300 individuals. Keys to the new sanctuary were presented to the Pastor, Rev. Edgar T. DeGraff. A Memorial Fund, set up to help supply furnishings, is still functioning. The total cost of the new church building and equipment was $132,118.
The ensuing years brought a time of rapid growth and change to the entire area. Gardenville became part of the Town of West Seneca. Extensive housing developments brought many new members to First Presbyterian Church. However, indicative of a more transitory society, many longtime members moved to other locations. Visually our church took on a new look when Union Road became a four-lane highway in 1978-1979.
During the following year the church's parking lot was expanded south to Kron Avenue. In the 1980s donations of labor, love, money and memorial gifts made possible major renovations of church school rooms, dining room and kitchen, nursery, library/meeting room, pastor's study, secretary's office and a new entryway to Lischer Hall through the stage area. Many energy-saving measures were incorporated throughout the buildings and a new furnace was installed. As has been evident throughout its history, this church has always maintained a strong emphasis on its Christian Education programs. Church school classes were held each Sunday during worship services for children from age 2 through Senior High School.
In 1981, Rev. Erik Spencer was called as pastor. Under his guidance, there was a very active Youth Fellowship, a Youth Club, Kerygma adult Bible class, an Adult Fellowship group and plans for a Young Adult Group. Our church also accepted an active role in the West Seneca Community of Churches.
Rev. Spencer left our church in July 1990. Rev. Dorothy Franklin was hired in July 1990 as our interim pastor.
On February 2, 1992, Rev. Elizabeth S. Hall, known as Betsey, was called as our pastor. Under her guidance, much was accomplished. Several bible study classes were formed and a senior luncheon group, the Young at Heart, was started. Lischer Hall was opened to various community groups and our youth group was very active. The time of Faith Education was changed to follow the worship service, enabling teachers and children to participate in the entire worship service. During the Christmas 1994 holiday, several adults and older youth made a mission trip to Georgia.
Craft shows and rummage sales were held to raise money for missions. Members began to participate in the Interfaith Hospitality Network, providing food and shelter to those in need.
In 1996, a $200,000 building fund was successful. From the money raised in the campaign, a new spacious entryway
was created, the pastor's study, church office and Lischer Hall were renovated, more Sunday school rooms were made, windows were replaced and the parking lot was resurfaced. A parlor was added on the lower level. Previously a handicap lift had been installed in the entryway and now another lift was added outside Lischer Hall, making all areas of the church handicap accessible.
On July 12, 1998, Rev. Hall left and the Church was served by several Interim Pastors, including the Rev. Jon Rieley-Goddard and the Rev. Gordon Foster.
On November 18, 2001 Rev. Debra Wright was ordained and installed as the new Pastor. Since her arrival Pastor Deb has helped us gain financial stablity and continued to help our church in it's transition to a small church. Under her leadership we have held serveral new and meaningful worship experiences including; healing services, a longest night service and an epiphany service. Many of our groups continue to meet and thrive. The Young at Heart group meets twice a month and we continue to be active in our mission work through the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Buffalo. The Monday Evening Adult Forum and Discussion is an opportunity for those wishing to discuss scripture or selected other topics.
On October 31, 2007 Pastor Deb left the church and worship was lead by a variety of guest pastors until the church decided to call a Stated Supply Pastor.
The Rev. Bronwen Boswell became the pastor on July 1, 2008. Rev. Boswell shares her leadership along with the Session as they guide the congregation into the future continuing the journey of faith. This year we celebrate the milestone of 100 years as a Presbyterian Church. A celebration is planned to bring together the past and present to share memories and make new ones.