A small religious group known as the Disciples of Christ formally began meeting in New Castle, Pennsylvania, in early 1856. They held services in the Covenanter Church, possibly located on Oak Street in the Croton area, before they built their own Disciples of Christ Church on North Street. The congregation quickly expanded and the small church, built on property donated by Seth Rigby, had to be vacated. The group rented out White Hall, the public meeting house located on “the Diamond,” in the early 1860’s as a temporary location to conduct their Sunday services.
The Disciples of Christ in New Castle were formally organized during a meeting on December 10, 1864, when they elected elders and decided to build a new church. The structure was funded in part by the generosity of Thomas W. Phillips and his brothers, wealthy Christians who made a fortune in the oil industry. Work on a massive new brick edifice, known as the Disciples of Christ Church, was immediately started on Washington Street right on the Diamond. P. Ross Berry, the well-known and prominent African-American brick and stone mason, was hired to do much of the exterior work. The towering structure was dedicated on February 14, 1868, in ceremonies led by Isaac Errett, the editor of the Christian Standard magazine.
John T. Phillips led the first services until B.J. Pinkerton of Kentucky was hired as the first regular pastor. In late 1871 the church absorbed many members of the local Baptist congregation, who had grown dissatisfied with their own church. The Disciples congregation was soon renamed as the Park Christian Church. It thrived and by 1900 the Park Christian Church, which was remodeled in 1899, was renamed as the First Christian Church.
The church opened a mission along East Long Avenue in 1896. This mission grew out of a Sunday school that had been organized in about 1893. It was designed to cater to the crowded population, mostly tinplate workers, on the South Side of New Castle. The mission was an immediate success and was chartered as the independent Central Christian Church in 1902.
For much of 1911 the congregation held services in the YMCA building across the street as a major remodeling effort was undertaken and a small addition was made. A special service was held by the Reverend Philip Y. Pendleton at the reopening of the First Christian Church on Sunday, November 26, 1911. Another major remodeling was completed in 1930, highlighted by a large electric clock, donated by the wealthy Grace Phillips Johnson, being added to the tall spire.
Years later, in late March 1956, the congregation marked its 100th anniversary with a week-long celebration. A $100,000 eleven-room education wing, designed by architect William G. Eckles, was dedicated in early November 1962. A year later, due to dwindling attendance, an initiative was undertaken (but defeated) to merge congregations with its former mission – the Central Christian Church. The church had about 800 active members at the time, but dwindling attendance figures would plague it and other houses of worship in the coming years.
In April 1974 the Central Christian Church was lost to a devastating fire and was never rebuilt. The remaining members of that church generally rejoined the First Christian Church in downtown New Castle.
In March 2006 the congregation of the First Christian Church, with vastly reduced numbers, celebrated their 150th anniversary. Faced with financial crisis the small congregation, down to about thirty active members, was forced to put the church up for sale in May 2012. The church, valued at just over $703,000, was put on the market for $149,900. The following September it was purchased by the Reverend Kris Kauffman, pastor of the Family Worship Center on Long Avenue and a brick mason by trade. The Family Worship Center, a small but growing religious body formed in New Castle in 2007, is part of the Family Worship Center Ministries International based in Fremont, Ohio. The ambitious congregation, though faced with some costly repair work, plans to keep one of New Castle’s recognizable landmarks in shape for many years to come.
The towering spire of the First Christian Church makes the edifice one of the most recognizable landmarks in all of Lawrence County. This photo of “the Diamond” pretty much personifies New Castle. (c1900) Full Size
The back of the same postcard above. Retta McKee of the “Section One” woman’s missionary group of the church is inviting Mrs. Otis Main to a meeting. The old style Japanese writing on right side means nothing more than, “Mail or Postal Card.” (1915) Full Size
I believe this old postcard may depict a First Christian Church member (right inset) on a mission in the Far East. Writing on the back indicates this is a Japanese settlement. (1915) Full Size
A group of parishioners inside the First Christian Church. The woman and baby in center are both dressed in white – could this be a baptism? (c1935) (Photo courtesy of Joan Hemming) Full Size
An advertisement appearing in the New Castle News of Saturday, July 5, 1975. (1975) Full Size
The First Christian Church, down to only thirty members or so, was forced to put the iconic landmark on the market in May 2012. It sold in September 2012 and is now the new home of the upstart Family Worship Center. (Jan 2012) Full Size
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(Mar 2012) Full Size
(Mar 2013) Full Size