Our History

The spiritual lineage of First Congregational Church of Akron traces back through the ages to the life and ministry of Jesus. Rooted in the Christian tradition, we are descendants of the Reformation and of the Pilgrims who embarked for North America in search of religious freedom. Like those early Congregationalists, we take to heart the sentiment expressed aboard the Speedwell in 1620 by John Robinson, pastor of the first band to leave Europe: “I am persuaded that the Lord hath more truth and light yet to break forth from His holy word.”

First Church, established in 1833, was Akron’s first formally organized church congregation. At that time in our history, the seventh President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, was in the White House. There were only 24 states in the Union, and Ohio was just 30 years old. It would be almost another 40 years before the first rubber factory opened for business in 1870. These were pre-railroad times; the Ohio and Erie Canal was a mere five years old. Slavery was legal. Some significant milestones:

1834 – State of Ohio recognized petition to incorporate the First Congregational Church. Rev. John Pettit becomes first minister. First building was located on High Street, where the courthouse is currently.

1844 – Having grown out of first building, second building at N. Main Street and Tallmadge Avenue is built.

1868 – 34 S. High Street became the third church building following a devastating fire that leveled the N. Main Street church. An 1881 fire damaged but did not destroy this building, which was restored (though eventually outgrown).

June 1908 – Ground was broken and cornerstone laid for current Bedford limestone building at East Market and Union Streets. The congregation marched from the old church to the new on June 7 to witness the laying of the cornerstone. Plans included today’s distinctive bell and clock tower, 100 feet high and 18 feet square.

March 20, 1910 – First service was held in the still-unfinished building.

Christmas Day, 1910 – First service held in the present Meetinghouse (sanctuary).

1951 – A Casavant Freres pipe organ was installed. Built in Quebec, Canada, it currently contains more than 3,500 individual pipes controlled from a console of four keyboards and a pedalboard.

1958 – A new wing added a chapel, offices, meeting rooms and lounge to the existing church building.

2006 – Major Restoration to the Meetinghouse and Organ Completed:

Exterior and Structural ~ Our roof was completely rebuilt and structural damage to the roof elements, clock tower, chimneys and the foundation was repaired. The new slate roof was installed by the Durable Slate Company, beginning in November 2004 and completed in July 2005. It is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship and should last at least one hundred years with proper maintenance. The most noticeable changes are the restored copper elements such as the massive monitor (skylight) over the Meetinghouse dome, covered for half a century by shingles. New light fixtures will illuminate our parking lots.<

Interior ~ Upon arrival in the Narthex, most will immediately notice the beautiful mosaic porcelain tile that had been covered by layers of carpet and linoleum. The Meetinghouse looks completely different and more closely resembles the original state. The space is dominated by the Casavant Frères organ pipe façade with hand stencils to match the originals. The wall color is a rich ochre similar to the Narthex color. The ceiling is a dramatic change too, with beautiful decorative painting uncovered when the ceiling tiles were removed. Special attention has been given to restoring the original molding and stenciled wainscot borders that encircle the walls on both levels. Air conditioning and heating ducts have been included in the new framework to maintain a comfortable atmosphere throughout the year. New carpet and pew cushions in shades of green match our beautiful windows much better, just as the originals did. Much of the floor is uncovered oak. Improved lighting and sound is less obtrusive to the eye.

Pipe Organ ~ The firm of Casavant Frères in Quebec, Canada restored and refurbished the original 1951 instrument. The refurbished instrument features an entirely new four manual moveable console with solid state coupler and combination action (containing 128 levels of memory), midi interface, transposer, and adjustable music rack. The organ contains 4,039 pipes, including new principals and reeds on the Great division, new mixtures on the Swell and Choir divisions, and new principals and flutes in the Pedal division. New digital stops include harp, celesta and two 32’ pedal stops. In order to enhance the organ’s ability to support congregational singing and maintain better airflow in and out of the pipe chambers, Casavant built a beautiful working façade of stenciled pipes surrounded by decorative plaster and woodwork. The façade and surround replicate elements of the church’s first pipe organ (of 1911) and Meetinghouse (Sanctuary) as shown in historic photos.

We pride ourselves on having a rich history of inspirational spiritual leaders. Our senior ministers have led us to and through missions of social justice, periods of faith discernment, hardships and tribulations, and so much more. We are blessed to have become the congregation we are through the grace of God, a community with abundant love for one another and the talented ministers our Creator has bestowed upon us:

1833: Roswell Brooks
1835: James W. Petitt
1839: James D. Pickands
1843: Isaac Jennings
1847: W. R. Stephens
1849: N.F. Bailey
1856: A. Duncasson
1858: Abram Baldwin
1862: Carlos Smith
1873: Thomas E. Monroe
1901: Howard S. MacAyeal
1921: Lloyd C. Douglas
1927: John M. Phillips
1930: Noble S. Elderkin
1947: Paul S. Kershner
1961: Charles H. Stem
1980: Gabe L. Campbell
1997: Dwight E. Mexcur
2000: Jay Marshall Groat
2015: Nanette P. Pitt
2024: Jeff Jackson