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June 14: 150th Anniversary of the Presbyterian Church in Bismarck

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State Historical Society of North Dakota

In the spring of 1873, the Reverend D. C. Lyon arrived by train at the newly established townsite of Bismarck. His purpose was missionary work, to “look after the interest of the Presbyterian Church” at the “end of the track.”

One correspondent of the Minneapolis Tribune met Rev. Lyon while visiting the new settlement. His report, printed in the Bismarck Tribune, noted that “[Lyon] found plenty of work, but comparatively few workers.” On Sunday, May 11, Rev. Lyon preached morning and evening in a tent on Main Street, holding the town’s first religious service.

Lyon left town briefly, returning in June with the Reverend Isaac Oliver Sloane of Belle Plaine, Minnesota. On June 15, the two men organized a Presbyterian Church with four members. Shortly thereafter, a meeting was held to elect trustees, and a committee was formed to solicit funds for the new church. Rev. Sloane became the first pastor, a post he would hold for five years. In September, the Bismarck Tribune reported:

“The Rev. Mr. Sloan, who preached here last Sabbath… will have charge of the Presbyterian church now in course of erection. This edifice when finished will be an ornament to our new and thriving town.”

The church was built in the fall of 1873. Although it was not yet completed, the church was used for its first service on December 14th. The church was “enclosed and made habitable” in January, though by April it still needed “to be plastered and [was] about half seated.”

“A beautiful heavily plated communion set” had been donated to the church from the Central Presbyterian Church in St. Paul. It was most likely used at the first service with communion, of which the earliest known date is April 19, 1874.

The church stayed busy, offering a morning and evening service every Sunday, a prayer service every Wednesday, and gathering to collect for the church. A nondenominational Sunday school, which had formed after the Reverend Lyon’s initial visit was headed by Linda Slaughter. This school boasted “an excellent little library” provided by various church entities.

The church building has changed and grown over the years, and this year, on this date, the First Presbyterian Church celebrates 150 years in the community.

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker

The Bismarck Tribune, July 11, 1873, p3; p4
The Bismarck Tribune, September 10, 1873, p4
First Presbyterian Church, Bismarck, North Dakota, 1873-1913 Fortieth Anniversary May 11-12, 1913, Published by the Christian Endeavor Society of Bismarck
Services of Commemoration of Our Seventy-Fifth Anniversary, 1873-1948
Dedication of the Educational Building, The First Presbyterian Church, September 29, 1957
State Historical Society of North Dakota MSS 20490, Presbyterian Church Collection
The Bismarck Tribune, April 15, 1874, p1; p2
The Bismarck Tribune, August 13, 1873, p1
The Bismarck Tribune, July 16, 1873, p4

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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