HISTORY OF FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
On September 28, 1854 the first Presbyterian Church of Kankakee was organized by a committee of ten men and women in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Jepatha Ripley on West Court Street. The committee was headed by Reverend Wilson of Chicago and Reverend Peck of Rockville, who was appointed by the Chicago New School Presbytery. The first church built in Kankakee was also the Presbyterian Church which consisted of a wooden chapel 26 by 36 feet constructed in the fall1855 on the west end of the location where the present church now stands. Land was presented to the congregation by the Illinois Central Railroad with the stipulation that the land only be used for a Presbyterian Church site.
In the summer of 1858 the church congregation decided to change the worship structure of the church from the New School to the Old School body which resulted in a renewal of faith in the Presbyterian standards which culminated in a unification of the Old School branch of the Presbyterian Church. Shortly after this change, the Reverend M.W. Staples of Janesville, Wisconsin was called as the first pastor. Later that year a 20 foot extension was added to the north of the original building. In 1859 another 30 by 32 foot addition was built on the east end of the structure.
The original wooden church was removed and the current brick church was erected in 1879 and dedicated in 1880. The builder of the new red brick church was James Lillie, a prominent Kankakee citizen who was responsible for the construction of many of the significant structures in Kankakee, including the Illinois Eastern Hospital for the Insane (now Shapiro Mental Health Center), Arcade Building (now Clock Tower Center), Hotel Riverview (destroyed by fire in 1897), and Emergency Hospital which was the forerunner of today’s Presence St. Mary’s Hospital. Mr. Lillie’s home stood on the corner of Harrison and River Streets where the current Temple B’Nai Israel now stands.
The bronze bell in the bell tower weighs 2000 lbs and was cast in 1879 in West Troy New York at the Meneely Bellfoundry which closed its doors in 1950. First Presbyterian Church is the only church in downtown Kankakee that still manually rings its bell every Sunday.
Soon after the turn of the century, the building was extended to the south and east to its present structure, except for the kitchen, which was added in 1934. During the 30's and 40's, the interior of the church was improved with new pews. The chancel was remodeled around a hand carved reredos made of Appalachian oak, along with a new organ. During this time, 13 art-glass windows were put in place in the sanctuary. Among the most striking is the large arched Last Supper window which was installed in the south wall of the building in 1944. Members of the congregation paid for the windows and a plaque is placed below each window indicating who bought each window.
The large Good Shepherd and Last Supper Windows were paid for by donations of the congregants.
A manse (Scottish term for parsonage) was built for the pastor in 1871 north of the church. That building was replaced in 1904. A new manse was purchased on South Evergreen in Kankakee and the old manse was used to hold Sunday school classes.
By the 1950s, the Sunday school department outgrew the old manse which was being used for Sunday school classes. Later the YWCA bought the building and used it for many years but sold it back to First Presbyterian so that they could use the land to build the Christian Education addition. After a successful Christian Education building campaign, First Presbyterian built the new addition which added seven classrooms, a pastor's study, a library and an office area. The new wing was dedicated in 1960.
The chancel was remodeled in 1966 with a second remodeling completed shortly before the 34-rank Keates pipe organ was installed in 1976.