The First Presbyterian Church has provided a remarkable witness to God’s love through its life and work. The church building sits as a reminder of God’s faithfulness in the very heart of Redlands – a downtown church in the “City of Churches”.
History of Our City and Church
The Founding of Redlands
The first pioneer settler on the site of present day Redlands is recorded to have been a sheep herder who, in 1865, erected a hut at the corner of what is now Cajon Street and Cypress Avenue. By 1880, the arrival of the Southern Pacific and Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroads, connecting Southern California to San Francisco and Salt Lake City, triggered a land boom. By mid-1882, land sales became profitable; there were 15 houses and 400 acres of fruit trees and orange groves. The Big Bear Dam provided enough water for this very dry area.
Incorporated in 1888 with Lugonia (an area northwest of the current Redlands), the promotion of the City of Redlands was on its way. Many came for the pleasant climate. There were unique businesses and agricultural opportunities as well. Growth was rapid. By 1888 the population had reached 1,300.
The Presbyterians Arrive
As early as 1887, traditional Protestant churches were being organized. The Congregationalists pre-dated all, since they had the first church building on Colton Avenue in Lugonia. The Presbyterians were here, meeting together for services as early as March 1887. On September 17, at the home of Rev. Hamilton, a prestigious group of local residents was formally elected as the first trustees. On October 29, 1887, the Citrograph newspaper reported that the certificate of the incorporation of the First Presbyterian Church had arrived from the office of the California Secretary of State.
The need for a church building was apparent. In December 1888, local residents E. G. Judson and Frank E. Brown donated two lots at the corner of Fourth and Vine. These lots were later exchanged for lots at the corner of Cajon and Vine, the current location of the church. At the congregational meeting of January 2, 1889, it was decided to erect a building on this corner, to cost about $2,500. With the congregation numbering about 20 members, ground was broken in April. By September, the First Presbyterian Church was completed and on September 18, a housewarming was held for the public. On January 23, 1890, the Session reported the building completed and the church “virtually out of debt.” A formal dedication service, held by Rev. William Donald, took place on February 2, 1890. This was a great day for the church and a great day for Redlands. As noted in the Annual Report of 1891, church membership grew to 46 by the end of 1890.
From the beginning, social activities and special groups were an integral part of the church life; children were also a part of the program in this early church. The Sunday school was strong and active. Music was also important to the church. In 1892 Miss Nellie Fowler was approached to lead the music; she would be paid $3.00 a Sunday service. Church membership rose from 50 in 1889 to 484 in 1905. Ministers came and went with astonishing regularity, although the church offered generous salaries for the times.
In June 1898, local contractor D.M. Donald was awarded the building contract to construct a larger church. The estimated cost of the first phase was $8,315. Excavation began on July 18. The first service held in the new church was January 22, 1899. The completed church was dedicated on March 26, 1905.
The first eighteen years were a period of great growth in the development of the church, which began with six members in 1887. Who could have foreseen the next one hundred twenty-four years? The church would survive through six wars, a major depression, several recessions and a decrease in citrus production, the heart of Redlands economy. There would be many more ministers and enumerable stated supply pastors.
In 1967, a catastrophic fire destroyed all that these energetic, sincere, and devoted Presbyterians had built, as well the United Methodist Church at the corner of Cajon and Vine. Those who witnessed the fire stated that the Rev. Mark Andrews and Elder Douglas Pew went into the burning church, against the orders of the Fire Department, and saved the pulpit Bible. The church, though down, was not out. It was rebuilt and dedicated in 1970, mortgage free by 1987.
Up until year 2000, most of First Presbyterian Church of Redlands’ church members were of European ancestry, with a small minority of members from Asian and Latin American backgrounds. The shift to a new millennium marks changes in demographic patterns in Southern California, with people from around the globe resettling here for religious freedom and sanctuary. As the new millennium dawned, Indonesian and Pakistani members began joining the congregation, as well as families from Malawi and Cameroon. Economic growth, with rapid paced development and an expanding population set the tone for the twenty-first century, but this was not to last. Like the rest of Southern California, Redlands has experienced job and housing decline during the Great Recession of 2008-2009, along with increases in homelessness. Throughout it all, the faithful stewardship of the church by its members has left the church with a firm financial foundation.
Due to heavy rainfall in April 2009, the sanctuary was severely damaged by a roof leak. It was at this time that the congregation moved into John Knox Hall, the fellowship hall on our campus, for worship. Our Interim Pastor at the time, spearheaded a fund drive to re-roof and refurbish the sanctuary. The work was completed and we held a Service of Celebration in October 2010.
Exciting improvements have been completed since the arrival of Rev. Cheryl Raine in January of 2017. We refurbished a number of classrooms and welcomed the Redlands Symphony Summer Music Academy to our campus in July 2017. We are exploring the development of our dirt lot, as a beautiful green space open to the public. We welcomed the Presbytery of Riverside to our campus February 2019. We also installed a new coffee bar, a custodial closet and updated our technology in our main first floor classroom.
We are excited about our intentionally multi-ethnic diversity that God has brought into our midst, as we envision our future together in the City of Redlands.