Filed Under Architecture

The American Fork Presbyterian Church

The Community Presbyterian Church in American Fork, Utah is a historic building that has been standing since the late 1800s. It has represented the prosperity of Presbyterianism within the majority-LDS state, while also being an institution of education and charity within the community of American Fork.

In 1877 Reverend George R. Bird arrived in American Fork to begin a religious ministry among the small Presbyterian community there. For the first year of his work, congregants met in the upstairs social hall of Chipman’s Store. They later assembled in a log cabin that Bird purchased with the help of the Board of National Missions of the Presbyterian Church. Work began on a dedicated Presbyterian Church in 1878, with architect Peter Van Houghton designing the sanctuary in a “modified Gothic revival style,” made especially evident in stained-glass windows, which are one of the church’s prominent features. Reverend Bird was replaced in 1880 by Reverend Thomas F. Day, who laid the cornerstone when the church was finished in 1881. 

The Community Presbyterian Church has functioned continuously as a place of worship ever since its completion in 1881 and served as a school until 1909. Despite on-and-off contention between Presbyterians and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during the 19th century, the First Presbyterian Church became a central part of the Christian community in American Fork. Relations between the two faiths improved as they found ways to serve the community of American Fork together. In 1940 the church was renamed the “Community Presbyterian Church” by Reverend Elias Jones to reflect the different religious backgrounds of those who made up the congregation. In 1984 the church building gained national notoriety with its appearance in the hit movie, Footloose, for which members of the congregation played extras and even had some speaking roles. The Community Presbyterian Church was listed on the National Historic Register on May 23, 1980.

Over the decades of its presence, the Community Presbyterian Church has continued to serve community members through a variety of  projects. In 1961, the congregation built the Kershaw Christian Education Building adjacent to the church. The building is used today for some Sunday meetings but is mainly leased by the church to the Belmont Classical Academy, a non-denominational, independent Christian church that offers K-12 education. Today the church hosts a community vegetable garden, a 9/11 memorial garden, and a playground dedicated to children with autism, all open to the public.

Over the years, many renovations have been needed to maintain the building. A kitchen was built onto the back of the church in the 1940s and has now been renovated as a narthex, or a traditional entrance on the western side of a church. The bell tower was struck by lightning and badly damaged on July 12, 1952, and members replaced the weathervane with a stainless-steel cross. Funds were donated to repair the tower in 1997, with the cross remaining in place. Between 1975 and 1977 many renovations to the inside of the church were made to prepare for the church’s 100th anniversary. Workers repaired the roofing, removed wallpaper, and rewired the building. Pews were purchased from the Salt Lake City Kol Ami Synagogue, and they remain in the church today. The church also had stained-glass windows designed by a Salt Lake City local, J. Fred Brown, installed. These stained-glass windows were replaced in 2013 with new windows creatde by Tom Holdman, which depict many scenes and symbols from the life of Jesus Christ. 

Today the Community Presbyterian Church of American Fork continues to serve the community. Weekly Sunday worship meetings are open to members of the congregation and visitors alike. The church also offers twelve-step and community groups and works alongside local organizations and charities to help people in the area.

Images

American Fork Presbyterian Church with congregation, 1894
American Fork Presbyterian Church with congregation, 1894 Source: Westminster College. (1894). Presbytery of Utah at American Fork, 1894: Westminster College photographs. J. Willard Marriott Digital Library. Retrieved April 25, 2023, from https://collections.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s6x66sth 
Community Presbyterian Church of American Fork
Community Presbyterian Church of American Fork Photo of Community Presbyterian Church of American Fork, 2023; displays reconstructed bell tower with a cross on top in place of a weathervane, new stained-glass windows, and the added narthex at the back of the church (formerly a kitchen). Creator: Courtesy of McKay Kimball April, 2023
Stained-glass Window
Stained-glass Window The main stained-glass window inside the church, directly behind where the pastor conducts Sunday worship services. Creator: Courtesy of McKay Kimball April, 2023
Presbyterian Pioneers
Presbyterian Pioneers First Presbyterian Pioneers standing in front of the church Source: From the compiled history of the Community Presbyterian Church
Utah Historical Marker
Utah Historical Marker Utah Historical marker outside the church Creator: Courtesy of McKay Kimball April, 2023
Kershaw Christian Education Building
Kershaw Christian Education Building The Kershaw Christian Education Building adjacent to the south of the Community Presbyterian Church, which currently houses the Belmont Classical Academy. Creator: Courtesy of McKay Kimball April, 2023

Location

Metadata

McKay Kimball, Brigham Young University, “The American Fork Presbyterian Church,” Intermountain Histories, accessed July 24, 2024, https://www.intermountainhistories.org/items/show/767.