First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh is one of the oldest Protestant entities west of the Allegheny Mountains. Roots of Presbyterianism in Pittsburgh go back to 1758 when the British defeated the French at Fort Duquesne at the point of Pittsburgh's three rivers. Upon this defeat, the name was changed to Fort Pitt, later to become "Pittsburg." In thanksgiving to God, a small group of Presbyterians gathered with a young Presbyterian minister, Charles Beatty (Chaplain to General Forbes), for a service of praise. This group of believers continued meeting together in residents' homes, and on April 14, 1773 their first "call" for a minister was delivered to Donegal Presbytery. Two young men, David McClure and Levi Frisbie, were supplied to serve the area and, thus, the First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh was born.
The period following the end of the American Revolutionary War (1775 - 1783) saw the city begin to grow to national and international importance, with First Church an integral part of Pittsburgh's life as it still is today-"The Church in the Heart of the City with the City in its Heart!"
First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh was incorporated by an Act of the Legislature of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on September 29, 1787. In that same year, 2.5 lots of ground-originally used as an Indian burial ground-were deeded to the congregation by the heirs of William Penn. On this land the church's first building was constructed, using the material of the day-logs. As membership grew, the second building—this one of yellow brick-was erected in 1805 in a unique way. The new structure was put up around the small log church, and services could continue in the little log cabin while progress was made on the new structure! Upon completion, the logs were handed out through the windows and doors for use elsewhere in this early "frontier town." This building served until 1853 when an even larger Gothic style building designed by Charles Bartberger was erected and used for 50 years.
In 1903, the cornerstone was laid for the present building (our fourth), which was dedicated on Palm Sunday, April 16, 1905. At this service, Dr. Maitland Alexander, senior minister, dedicated the new church "to Almighty God; to His worship and service, to the cause of His Kingdom, to the salvation of the men and women of this great city, through the cross of Christ.
In this new millennium, First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh continues its strong ministry. In its long history, First Church has had only 15 senior pastors, all of whom were dedicated to the mission of Jesus Christ not only in this city but throughout the world.
More detailed history of our church can be found in two books written by a former associate pastor of First Church, the Rev. Ernest E. Logan, The Church That Was Twice Born and The Church That Kept On Being Born Again. Both can be found in the church library.
The organ of First Presbyterian Church is a 4-manual, 77 rank instrument built by Casavant Freres in 1988, and contains nearly 4,400 individual pipes. The organ is located in the rear gallery of the church in front of the historic Willet stained glass window visible from Sixth Avenue. A central Baroque-style case containing the Choeur, Grand Orgue, and Positif divisions is flanked on both sides with cases containing the Recit and Pedale divisions of the organ.
The sanctuary is distinguished by 14 memorial stained-glass windows; 13 were designed and installed by the Tiffany Studios (New York). The 14th window is a product of J & R Lamb Studios (New York). In addition to these major stained glass windows—along with the Medallion window by William Willet (Pittsburgh) (behind the pipe organ) and the “Stem of Jesse” window in the rear of the chapel produced by Clayton and Bell (London), First Presbyterian Church possesses some 253 other stained and leaded glass windows.
The 13 Tiffany windows were designed by Frederick Wilson, one of the studio’s most prominent designers. The Tiffany windows are unique in that they are painted on fine, specially made Tiffany pastel cathedrals and then backed with a plating of Tiffany opalescent Favrile glass, all set in specially milled double-high heart lead made to house the double layer of glass. These may be the only such windows in which this process using extensive painting was executed by Tiffany Studios. Because of the placement of the balcony in the sanctuary, it appears that each window is two separate windows, upper and lower. However, each is 26 feet high and 7.5 feet wide, and one complete window. The lower sections contain more earthly type scenes, mostly from the first four Gospels of the New Testament, depicting Christ's ministry on earth. In the upper portions are more heavenly images, with many angels.