Founded in 1855, just two years after the Army abandoned its Fort Worth, First Christian Church is Cowtown’s oldest continuously operating church. Fifteen people, including the town’s first doctor, Carroll Peak, and wife Florence, founded the church, which first met in the Peak home. John Peter Smith also was a member of the church. The church’s first pastor was A. M. Dean, an itinerant farm worker who carried a hymnal and a pistol. Later pastors included Mansell Matthews. Joseph Clark and sons Addison and Randolph, founders of the college that became TCU, also preached at the church.
The congregation later bought the block bounded by Main, Houston, 4th, and 5th streets for $200 and built a wood-frame church. Later that church was replaced by a brick building.
In 1871 the congregation moved to its current location at Throckmorton and 6th streets and in 1878 built a stone church there. That building was enlarged in 1892, but a few years into the twentieth century First Christian Church again needed a new home. (Image from Greater Fort Worth, 1907.)
The cornerstone for the new building was laid March 21, 1915. Major Khleber Miller Van Zandt, chairman of the church board, had joined the church soon after it was organized. Clip is from the March 21 Star-Telegram.
This sketch from the November 21, 1914 Dallas Morning News shows the architects’ rendering of the new building. Note the cupolas. Six were planned by the architects: one on each corner of the building and two flanking the 6th Street portico.
In a December 19, 1915 Star-Telegram feature on the building as it was nearing completion, note that the cupolas seen in the 1914 DMN sketch are gone. Those six cupolas, like the twin steeples of St. Patrick Cathedral, didn’t get built, much to the disappointment of FCC architect E. W. Van Slyke.
However, Van Slyke didn’t hold a grudge. In fact, he was one of the first people to be baptized in the new church’s baptistery, which he designed! Clip is from the March 19, 1916 Star-Telegram.
The building was completed in early 1916, and the first sermon was preached on March 5. Major Van Zandt recalled that Fort Worth had only about two hundred people when he moved to town in 1865. Clip is from the March 6 Star-Telegram.
View from the Waggoner Building in 1920 shows First Christian Church when it had some elbow room. North of the church on Throckmorton Street are the Chamber of Commerce Auditorium (where the congregation met while its new home was under construction) and William Capps’s Denver-Record Building. Also behind First Christian Church is First Presbyterian Church. (What Sunday Looked Like a Century Ago) (Photo from Tarrant County College NE.)
Some views of First Christian Church: