By Jay Eby
The First Congregational Church building, at Gurley and Alarcon Streets, is a part of the East Prescott Historic District. This building, an example of Romanesque Revival architecture in Prescott, was constructed in 1904, and nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
The scaffolding that surrounds the church these weeks is in place to support workers that are restoring the mortar that holds and protects the brick work comprising the face of the structure.
The Congregational Society first organized in a meeting at the T. W. Otis home on North Mt. Vernon in September 1880. The Reverend Theodore C. Hunt was called as the first minister and the first worship services were as guests of the Methodist Episcopal Church on Marina Street.
A very plain frame structure was constructed on Gurley Street, facing what was then the territorial government buildings in 1881, on a lot that had previously belonged to the Presbyterian Church. That fellowship had not built on the lot and when it dissolved the deed went to Theodore W. Otis, a teacher and local merchant. Brother Otis then gave the property to the First Congregational Church. Many of the new members of the Congregational Society had been affiliated with the early Presbyterian fellowship. It was not long after the transfer of property that Rev. Hunt married Virginia A. Merrill the daughter of Rev. John Merrill pastor of the Presbyterian Church.
The white frame building escaped damage from the Great Fire of 1900, but an internal blaze in 1903 evidently convinced the congregation to match the downtown reconstruction with a brick building. The Church Record shows "on Sunday night August 16th a fire occurred in the church and was promptly put out after incurring some damage to the carpet, pulpit, and moldings. It was caused by an explosion of gas from a stiraoptican (sic.) machine which was being used to throw pictures on a screen."
The Manse, the Victorian style home that now serves as the church office, was constructed in 1898 on the lot to the east and moved to the present location with the start of the brick structure in 1904.
Funds from the sale of the Governors Mansion, now a part of our Sharlot Hall Museum, financed the construction of the brick building that is now being restored. Henry W. Fleury, secretary to Governor Goodwin had stayed in residence in the Mansion when the government was moved to Tucson. The Honorable C. G. W. French, Chief Justice of the Territorial Court, joined Mr. Fleury at the Mansion when the government returned to Prescott. He, the judge, gained title to the property after he returned to California. His Honor Mr. French, being a friend of the First Congregational Church, donated the Territorial Governors Mansion and its land to the church providing a life estate to Henry Fleury.
The brick used in 1904 was produced at a plant in Government Canyon to the east of town. Rain water soon invaded the soft brick and the brick was replaced in 1911, and again in 1916. It is this harder brick that the current effort is to preserve.
In addition to the sale of the Governors Mansion, the original subscription list for the construction of this building includes these names that I recognized from Prescott's past: R. H. Burmister, R.C.Burmister, M.B. Hazeltine, F.M. Murphy, E.C. Payne, J.I. Gardner, H. Brinkmeyer, G.H.Ruffner, D. Fagerberg, Dr. Southworth, and Dr. Yount.
The church building has seen some changes over the past 95 years besides the new brick. By excavating under the original structure a lower level was added. This added Sunday school rooms and the Hazeltine Room dedicated to Moses B. Hazeltine. The sanctuary was extended to the west slightly and a rose glass window installed. An addition to the north created additional sunday school rooms, Perkins Hall and the Favour Room. T hese rooms were dedicated to Capt. Robert M. Perkins and Alpheus H. Favour.
The first Boy Scout troop in the State of Arizona, Troop #1, was organized in Prescott by Morris Payne in 1916 and still meets in the Favour room at First Congregational Church.
Through all of this, and in keeping with the history of Prescott and Arizona, the copper plating installed to protect the massive south facing doors to the sanctuary is still in place and still resists the Arizona sun.
Jay Eby is a forester, member of the Arizona Rough Riders, and this year's Moderator at the First Congregational Church.
Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number: (buc1069p). Reuse only by permission.
T.W Otis instructed the Congregational Church Sunday School for the Chinese community in the 1890s. The font in the foreground is still being used by the church. The current building was built in 1904, and is now getting its mortar restored.