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100+ years of history.

First Presbyterian Church of Bay City
Established September 5, 1856.
  • Present location, north east corner of Center Avenue & Jackson Street.
  • View map location

  • Winter view of present church looking north west.
    (Painting by Paul Kusmierz)

    Judge Albert Miller

    Judge Albert Miller, one of Bay City's most prominent pioneers, and the first President of the Michigan Pioneer Society, was a major player in organizing the First Presbyterian church during a time when Bay City was known as the village of Lower Saginaw. A native of Vermont, Judge Miller, left his home town of Hartland in 1832. He was only 21 at the time when he decided to head to the Far West territory of Michigan. After a brief stay at Grand Blanc, he moved onto the settlement at Saginaw arriving there in 1833. Two years later, the area was detached from Oakland county and organized as Saginaw County. Albert Miller was appointed the county's Probate Judge and Justice of the Peace. Shortly thereafter, he purchased property in the northern part of the county from members of the Trombley family (Benoit and nephew, Joseph.) which became the village of Portsmouth, the first settlement community in the area that is now Bay County. A year later, Mary Ann Daglish left New England to join her brother, William Daglish who owned a number of lots in Portsmouth. Mary Ann and Albert had an immediate attraction to each other which led to a very short courtship before being married that year.

    Hon. James G. Birney

    Judge Miller and James G. Birney, a prominate national figure of the abolitionist movement, were close friends. James strongly encouraged Albert to act on his desire to establish a Presbyterian church. Their friendship was born out of a mutual desire to grow this community and their common belief in the principles of their Presbyterian faith.

    Birney retired to this area shortly after Albert settled in here. Living in New York at the time, he made a visit to this area and was so impressed by it's beauty -- that he decide to settle here with his wife Elizabeth (Fitzhugh). Birney, a native Kentuckian, twice ran for the Presidency under the banner of the Liberty party (formed by abolitionist). The latter of his unsuccessful compaigns was waged while living here. Also, Birney, was secretary and a shoreholder in the Saginaw Bay Company that platted the village of Lower Saginaw a little over a year after Judge Miller founded the village of Portsmouth.

    Both were aggressive leaders in the development of these communities that led to their detachment from Saginaw County and the organization of Bay County in 1857.

    In the early part of 1856, Judge Miller made several trips over to Saginaw to meet with Rev. Luscius Root. Rev. Root at that time was attending to pulpit need of the Presbyterian Congregational church there. Albert was soliciting help Rev. Root in organization a new Presbyterian church. On July 7, 1856, the first organization meeting was held and Judged Miller reported to the group of interested parties that Rev. Root was willing and reading to provide his services to their cause. Besides Judge Miller, attendees at this meeting were:

    H.W. Jennison, R.C. Newton, Leon Tromble Jr., B.B. Hart, John McEwan, William McEwan, Charles. E. Jennison, William L. Sherman, George E. Smith and Elijah Stanton.

    Rev. L.I. Root

    On July 28, 1856 -- the "Citizens of Lower Saginaw for the Purpose of Organizing a Presbyterian Church" held a meeting. Rev. Root was elected President of the Board of Trustees, and the organization's name was changed to, "The First Presbyterian Society of Lower Saginaw." Annual meetings were established to take place during the month of July each year.

    In September of that year, the first organized meeting of The First Presbyterian Society of Lower Saginaw was held. The first members were:

    Judge Albert Miller and his wife, Mary Ann; Mrs. Abigail Smith (Rev. Root's wife); Francis; Mrs. Angeline Miller; Mrs. Mary Trombley; Mr. Jesse Calkins; and Mrs. Nancy M. Hart.

    At the annual meeting of 1857, it was concluded that the Society would raise $350.00 for the pulpit to help support Rev. Root, this was in addition to any funds provided by the Home Missionary Society. Church services were now being held in various temporary locations including Birney Hall and a court room.

    In 1861, the first church building was completed. A year earlier, Rev. Root left the church and the pulpit vacancy was filled by Rev. E.J. Stewart. Funding for the new building came from local contributions and a fund raising trip by Rev. Stewart to the east. Lots 9 and 10 in block 107 were chosen by the trustees (East side of Washington, between 9th and 10th streets). The first church building was erected that year, but in December it was tragically destroyed by fire due to a malfunctioning furnace. Members of the church rededicated their efforts and with the help of others in the community, they were able to erect a second building in 1863 on the same property. This building was expanded in 1872 to serve the needs of a growing membership. Thirty years later, the present church building opened on June 25, 1893 on the north east corner of Center avenue and Jackson street.

    Pratt and Koeppe, a local engineering firm, designed this magnificent structure with a beautiful sandstone facing. The bell from the second church building was installed in the new structure. The bell was installed in the second church building in 1866 and it was first of its size in the community. It rang loudly and clearly at price times each day, and many in the community used it as their time keeper. Geraldine Higgs, the author of a fine pamphlet commemorating the 100th anniversary of the present church building, speaks of the national attention given to the building of this church structure by referring to a news article that appeared in the New York Observer,

    "in Bay City the Presbyterian Church is engaged in the erection of a new house of worship which will be one of the most beautiful and commodious church edifices in Michigan. The walls are complete and the roof is being placed in position."

    The late Leslie Arndt, a well known local historian and author of the book, "The Bay County Story -- Footpaths to Freeways", describes some of the church's benevolent activities over the years,

    "Like other early day Bay City churches, it assumed assisting roles for other churches and built, in 1870, the chapel which became the Memorial Presbyterian Church. In its early years, beside its own Sunday School, First Presbyterian maintained educational facilities in Kawkawlin, Essexville, Salzburg, and on Tuscola Road at Columbus Avenue. Early members also helped organize the First Congregational Church and Westminister Presbyterian in Bay City."

    Arndt also mentions the church's historical relationship to Alma College,

    "One of the greatest moments of pride in the First Presbyterian Church history was the founding of Alma College in the religious ceremony in the sanctuary. Rev. Wight put it on record that Alexander Folson, for many years a church elder and Sunday School superintendent, pledge $50,000 towards founding a college in Central Michigan in February or March, 1886. His monies became the nucleus of the kitty which made organization of Alma College at Alma, Michigan possible."

    1903: Horses and buggies along Jackson street.

    The First Presbyterian Church community will soon be celebrating its 150th anniversary. The future looks bright as they approach the midway point of a second century of faithful service to their congregation and community. The dreams of the church's founding founders are alive and in well hands of the current generation of this Presbyterian congregation assuring the continuance of their rich heritage will endure well into the future.


  • First Presbyterian Church -- Building a Memorial Edifice, pamphlet, Geraldine T. Higgs.
  • Bay County Story -- Footpaths to Freeways, book, Leslie Arndt.
  • Related Pages
    Related Pages:
    Allen, John H.
    Birney, James G.
    Bradley, Nathan B.
    Buck, Homer E.
    Clements, Henry
    Clark, Wm. H. Rev.
    McDonald, John A.
    McDonald, John N.
    Miller, Albert Judge
    Miller(Daglish), Mary A
    Shearer, G. Henry.
    Shearer, James
    Tapert, Wm. G.
    Wight, Ambrose/Caroline
    People Referenced
    Arndt, Leslie
    Birney, James G. (Hon.)
    Calkins, Jesse
    Clark, William H. (Rev.)
    Daglish, William
    Folson, Alexander
    Hart, B.B.
    Hart, Nancy M. (Mrs.)
    Higgs, Geraldine
    Howard, B.E. (Rev.)
    Jennison, C.E.
    Jennison, H.W.
    McEwan, John
    McEwan, William
    Miller, Ageline (Mrs.)
    Miller, Albert (Judge)
    Miller(Daglish), Mary Ann
    - spouse of Judge Miller.
    Newton, R.C.
    New York Observer
    Root, Luscius (Rev.)
    Sherman, William L.
    Smith, Abigail (Mrs.)
    - spouse of Rev. Root.
    Smith, George E.
    Stanton, Elijah
    Stewart, E.J. (Rev.)
    Trombley, Benoit
    Trombley, Leon Jr.
    Trombley, Mary (Mrs.)
    Trombley, Joseph
    Wight, Ambrose (Rev.)
    Subjects Referenced
    Alma College
    Alma, MI
    Bay City, MI
    Bay County, MI
    Birney Hall
    Court room
    Essexville, MI
    First Congregational church
    Hartland, VT
    Home Missionary Society
    Justice of the Peace
    Kawkawlin, MI
    Memorial Presbyterian church
    Michigan Pioneer Society
    Michigan territory
    Presidency of USA
    Probate Judge
    Saginaw Bay Co.
    Saginaw County
    Village, Lower Saginaw
    Village, Portsmouth
    Westminister Presbyterian church
    Related Notes

    Rev. Ambrose Wight

    Rev. William H. Clark

    Other Early Pastors

    Rev. E.J. Stewart

    Rev. B.E. Howard
    Internet Resources
  • Sermon (extracts)
    by Rev. J. Ambrose Wight, D.D., Pastor, May 1, 1881 - www.rootsweb.com/~mibay
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