Ithaca Builds

Mapping, photos and information for Ithaca construction and development projects

Historic Structures: First Presbyterian Church

February 20, 2014 // by Jason Henderson

First Presbyterian Church (1900), southeast corner of Cayuga Street and Court Street

From Ithaca and its Past:

Presbyterians organized the first permanent church in Ithaca in 1804. On this spot in 1816 they built the first church building, a Federal structure that faced the park. In 1853 they replaced it with a Gothic structure designed by James Renwick, who designed Grace Church in New York City [his first major design commission- he went on to design many other famous works in America, perhaps best known for the landmark St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City]. The current Romanesque building is thus the third church to occupy this site. It was designed by New York City architect J. Cleaveland Cady [South End, American Museum of Natural History] and is most noted for the stained-glass windows in the western apse.

And, concerning DeWitt Park: When Simeon DeWitt began laying out the area, he planned for a town green… and gave some of his land to religious denominations and donated a lot for the courthouse in 1817. Around the green he laid out a few very desirable house lots. In the late 1810s he sold about half of the present park area to the Presbyterian Church, which actually built the first park here. (The church acquired the rest of the land in an exchange with DeWitt.) The park became known as the Publick Square, but the name was later changed to honor DeWitt. The original deed contained the stipulation that the land be maintained as a public walk and promenade. In 1856 the church and the village made an agreement whereby the village took over the care and control of the park but the church retained the title, an agreement still in force.

Courtesy of The History Center in Tompkins County

Photographs of the previous churches built in 1816 and 1853 from the history page of the First Presbyterian Church website:

Church Buildings 1816Church Buildings 1853