The area in which Siloam Springs sits has a long history of religious practice. The history of several of the churches here stretches back to the days of the Hico township, well before the town of Siloam Springs was ever founded. Before the founding of Siloam Springs, several religious groups already had a presence here, including the Baptists, the Methodists, the Presbyterians, and others. This week’s featured photo, donated in 1988, shows the 1949 groundbreaking of First Presbyterian Church’s current building.
Records for the history of Baptists and Methodists in this area reach back to the founding of the Hico township around 1845, but records of the Presbyterians before the 1890’s are more difficult to acquire. According to Maggie Smith’s book, Hico, a Heritage: Siloam Springs History, many of these records were likely lost in the 1892 flooding of Sager Creek. Much information is still known, however, and can be found in Smith’s book. According to Smith, a Presbyterian Sunday School and informal congregation were set up in 1855 at the Hico school. The first recorded Presbyterian minister in the area was George Reed, who appears in Hico in the 1860 census as a Presbyterian preacher. In 1874, the Presbyterian Church in Hico was officially received into the national denomination, Cumberland Presbyterian Church. The church’s first elders at this time were J. H. Carl and William Hubbard.
The congregation built their first building at the intersection of Alpine and Maxwell Streets in 1890. Twelve years later, the congregation apparently split. Part of the congregation stayed at the Alpine and Maxwell location, while the other bought a building at Central and Maxwell. The new building had previously belonged to the Congregational Church of Siloam Springs. When the Cumberland Presbyterian Church bought the building for $850 in 1902, the 24 members of the Congregational Church were absorbed into the Presbyterian Church.
The Cumberland Presbyterian Church changed its name to First Presbyterian Church in 1906 when the Cumberland Presbyterians and the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. merged into one denomination. However, the two Presbyterian congregations in Siloam springs would remain separated until 1920. It was at this point that a fire broke out in the First Presbyterian Church building at Central and Maxwell, and its members temporarily reunited with their previous congregation. After one year, the Central and Maxwell location was repaired, and the two congregations chose to merge and move to the newly repaired location as a unit. The location at Alpine and Maxwell changed hands two times before it was torn down in 1969 for parking.
By 1946, the First Presbyterian Church was outgrowing its location at Central and Maxwell, and plans began for a new, larger building at the intersection of Ashley and Maxwell Streets. After three years of planning, the church was able to break ground on the new building on Palm Sunday, 1949.
In this photo are Arthur Sebastian, Leslie M. and Gertrude Greene, Leah Hoke, Jerry Rank, Barbara Phillips, Ann Darling, Margarette Elrod, Rev. Edmund Kornfield, Betty Nell Hastings, Dorothy Bast, Charles W. Brown, Robert Stephens, and Charles Hoke with the shovel. The church set a date stone on Easter Sunday, 1950 and has remained at this location since.
In its current location, the church received several gifts in the form of stained glass windows crafted and donated by Beatrice Stebbing. Known by many as the first person to be named an “Arkansas Living Treasure” by the Arkansas Arts Council, Stebbing was greatly involved in the First Presbyterian Church in Siloam Springs. Her husband, Franklin, spent several years as the church’s minister. During her career, Stebbing shared her craft with Siloam Springs students for 13 years, teaching art at both the junior high and high school level and teaching classes at Northwest Arkansas Vocational Technical School. In 1982, she received the Art Educator Award from the National Art Education Association, Western Region. After retiring from teaching, she continued to teach workshops, teaching more than 250 people the art of stained glass. In 2002, she was named an “Arkansas Living Treasure” by the Arkansas Arts Council, and her work continues to be treasured still. The following photos are three examples of Stebbing’s work visible at First Presbyterian Church, Siloam Springs.
Today, First Presbyterian Church still enjoys the same location at the intersection of Ashley and Maxwell Streets. The congregation meets every sunday under the direction of Pastor Jonathan Buisch.
Written by Chuck McClary
arkansasarts.org, Arkansas Arts Council
Hico, a Heritage: Siloam Springs History by Maggie Smith
Siloam Springs Museum archives
Siloam Springs Museum
Siloam Springs Museum archives