Introduction to the history of the First Presbyterian Church
Since the year 1843 Presbyterian families in Wellsboro have worshiped together. Our church was first convened by Mrs. Curtis (Jane) Parkhurst of Lawrenceville. She was temporarily living in Wellsborough during her husband’s term as sheriff. Responding to her invitation to form a Presbyterian church, twenty-five citizens convened in the courthouse for Presbyterian worship services
On February 11th 1843 the Presbytery of Chemung of New York organized the First Presbyterian Church of Wellsborough. Mr. Sylvester P. Scoville was elected and ordained as our first ruling elder. For ten years the church continued to meet in the Tioga County Court House.
The Rev. Thomas Forrester of Harrisburg was appointed as organizing pastor. He didn’t much enjoy the frontier country of Tioga and spent only three months here. During this time of vacancy, Elder Scoville conducted services.
James Frederick Calkins, a recent graduate of Auburn Seminary in New York, was called to Wellsborough in the summer of 1844. That same year the Chemung Presbytery formed the Missionary Presbytery of Pennsylvania for the Northern Tier counties of PA.
Calkins was the first pastor the newly formed Presbytery ordained and installed. He grew up in the frontier community of Painted Post, which today is the “eastern half” of Corning, NY. His brother was also a pastor. Under his leadership our church’s dream for a new church building became a reality. In 1853 a New England-style meetinghouse was erected.
Calkins and William Dodge, a businessman from New York, became very close friends. Dodge, who was logging the Pine Creek gorge, contributed much of the lumber for the new building.
Dodge also built in 1838 the Manchester Presbyterian Church in Ansonia as a chapel for his workers. For many years the Manchester church was a sub parish of the Wellsboro church. The old church building is still standing and is today the oldest church building in Tioga County.
In 1854 Rev. Calkins was appointed to be Tioga County’s first Superintendent of Schools. He was again appointed in 1867.
Calkins, along with other members of this church, was a strong advocate for the abolition of slavery. Fugitives of slavery traveled through our community on to Auburn, New York.
Many residents of Tioga County fought in the Civil War. Records show that of all northern counties, Tioga had the largest percentage of its young men serving in combat and it also experienced the largest percentage of casualties.
With the number of casualties mounting, in 1863 Pastor Calkins took a leave of absence from our church to serve as chaplain of the 149th Regiment of the Union Army.
After he returned to Wellsboro, our church experienced a significant growth in membership.
When Calkins left Wellsboro in 1879, active membership of First Presbyterian was 280. During his tenure as pastor he received 443 members. In 1880 the population of Wellsboro was not more than 400 people.
In that year the Rev. Augustus C. Shaw succeeded Calkins as pastor. Shaw was born in Attica, New York and his father was the distinguished pastor of the Brick Presbyterian Church in Rochester, NY. Whereas Calkins was remembered for his fiery eloquence and high energy, Shaw was appreciated for his organizational skills, scholarship and deliberateness.
Shaw served as Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of Wellsboro from 1883 to 1915. Under Dr. Shaw’s pastorate the congregation built the present impressive stone edifice, which was dedicated February 12, 1895. Due to his leadership the Wellsboro church functioned much like the Presbytery’s mother church.
The Presbyterian Women, led by Mrs. Unicy Shaw, formed one of the most influential missionary societies of the Synod of Pennsylvania. Our church was also a strong advocate for temperance and actively worked for the prohibition of the liquor sales in Tioga County.
Dr. Shaw was followed by the Rev. Peter Hershey (1910-1916) and the Rev. David Evans (1918-1922).
In 1917 the Presbytery of Wellsboro was merged with the Presbytery of Northumberland.
The Rev. Orrin G. Cocks served our church from 1922 to 1942. His son, the Rev. Robert Cocks, who grew up in Wellsboro, was pastor to churches in Osceola, Elkland and Galeton. The Rev. Robert Cocks, was our Presbytery Executive from 1949 to 1976.
In 1938 following the church’s celebration of 90 years of ministry, the beautiful Rose Window was installed. Pastor Cocks designed this window to illustrate the emerald rainbow emanating from the throne of heaven (Rev. 4).
In December of 1942 Pastor Cocks retired and the Rev. Robert Marks then served our church for fifteen years.
When the Rev. Bruce Porter assumed the helm, our church undertook major renovations and made additions to the church building. In 1963 the Fellowship Hall was completed, the old Sunday School rooms were revamped and the sanctuary was totally remodeled. Elder Manford Hart provided much valued volunteer supervision of the whole construction project.
During the Rev. Porter’s pastorate, we began broadcasting Sunday services over WNBT.
Once the new facilities were completed, the church created the Presbyterian Child Development Center (PCDC). PCDC was Tioga County’s first licensed early child-care program.
PCDC continued until 2002. In 1994 the church also welcomed Head Start, which held classes at the church until 2002.
In 1971 the church obtained the current manse at 14 West Avenue. This was the former home of State Sen. G. Mason and Susan Owlett. Six generations of that family have been active in our church. The old manse located next to the church was taken down to provide a playground for community youngsters.
In 1993 the Rev. Dr. Robert and Anne Greer moved from Philadelphia to Wellsboro. They covenanted to work in ministry as partners in ministry. Anne served as Director of the Gmeiner Art and Cultural Center. Along with Pastor Greer she actively served the Presbytery in a variety of positions, including that of Presbytery Moderator.
The church has formed, hosted and sponsored many programs that serve all sorts of people of all ages and circumstances. In 1994 the church was vital in reforming Partners In Progress, a vocational habilitation workshop for people who are disabled. Currently PIP serves 60 clients and operates its many programs from a new state-of-the-art facility in Mansfield.
Our church is a strong participant in youth ministries and especially of Krislund Camp. Over the years, dozens of young men and women from Wellsboro have served on Krislund’s staff. We have given much to establishing Krislund and are proud to be one of its chief supporters.
A few years ago our Christian Education program began sponsoring a Vacation Church School. The program adopted Heifer International as its chief mission concern. For several years due to the VBS program’s efforts to raise funds, First Presbyterian has contributed sufficient funds to Heifer for the purchase of an arc of animals.
And the work goes on.
For 80 years the church has sponsored a Boy Scout Troop. Troop #24 is one of the longest running units in the county. Through the years it has produced more than 50 Eagle Scouts.
The church works in close partnership with the Gmeiner Art and Cultural Center, the Green Free Library, the Wellsboro Men’s Chorus, Community Concerts, Mansfield University, the Endless Mountain Music Festival and Hamilton-Gibson Community Productions. Since 1994 H-G has used church facilities for rehearsals and meetings. In 1997, music teacher and musician Art Lofgren honored and recognized our ministry with the arts in the gift of a stained-glass window.
The church endeavors to forge a strong partnership with other churches and neighborhood organizations. In 2005 our church joined with the Vineyard Church of Wellsboro as a Partner-In-Ministry and Mission.
First Presbyterian is committed to the shared and collegial work of the Wellsboro Ministerium.
In answer to the prophet’s plea, we work for the community’s well-being and recognize that in its well-being is our well-being (Jer. 29:7).
Our mission is to increase in our people love for God, love for one another and love for our common work. For the glory of God we work to make Wellsboro a place of well-being and good doing.
The succession of pastors of First Presbyterian Church, Wellsboro
- Thomas Forster, Organizing Pastor – 1843
- James Frederick Calkins – 1844-1880
- W. R Boggs, Interim while Calkins was Chaplain, Civil War – 1863-1865
- Augustus Chesterman Shaw, D.D. – 1880-1910
- Peter Hess Hershey – 1910-1916
- David R. Evans – 1918-1922
- Orin G. Cocks, D.D. – 10/6/1922 – 12/1/1942
- Robert W. L. Marks – 5/25/1943 – 8/24/1958
- Bruce W. Porter – 6/14/1959 – 2/20/1966
- R. Blair Moffett – 6/30/1966- 9/16/1972
- Roger G. Patton – 4/1/1973 – 1/31/1975
- Stephen P. McCutcheon – 6/29/1975 – 8/31/1983
- Jeffrey B. Cheadle – 9/9/1984 – 8/31/1988
- Paul Bench, Interim – 12/1/1988 – 9/30/1989
- Harry F. MacCall – 10/1/1989 – 2/15/1991
- Robert Upton, Interim – 8/1/1991 – 5/15/1993
- Robert K. Greer, D.D. – 7/1/1993 – 12/24/2008
- Glen James Hallead, 9/8/2008 – 9/14/2014
- Roger Wagner D.D., Interim – 9/15/2014 – 11/20/2015
- Michael Birbeck – 11/21/2015