1851 – The McMinnville First Presbyterian Church was founded as the Yamhill Congregation of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in July, 1851. Services were held in a barn on the farm of Jesse C. Henderson, northwest of McMinnville. The organizing pastor was Rev. Josephus Adamson Cornwall, a Cumberland Presbyterian circuit rider. Cornwall, his wife and five children (they would eventually have 12 children in all) had moved west from Arkansas with the Donner-Reed party in 1846. After wintering near present-day Oakland, Oregon they traveled north via the Applegate Trail, settling on the Yamhill River south of McMinnville in the spring of 1847. Cornwall organized several churches in Oregon and was the first moderator of the Oregon Synod.
1859 – W. T. Newby offered a downtown lot to whatever “mainline” congregation would agree to build a church. The Presbyterians snapped up the proposal but for many years they shared the building and costs with the Methodists, Baptists and Campbellites (now known as the Christian Church). The Presbyterians had sole use of the building only on fifth Sundays. Cost of the new structure was $2,600. Men and women were separated during worship by a wall the length of the pew backs.
1884 – The semi-annual session of Oregon Presbytery, held April 4 and 5 in McMinnville changed the name to McMinnville Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
1887 – “Church Number 1” was sold and moved off the property to make room for a new building, completed the same year. The other churches had found new homes so this building was used exclusively by the Presbyterians.
1896 – “Church Number 2” burned to the ground. Only three items were saved: the pulpit now used in Calvin Hall, the bell now housed in the bell tower, and the pulpit bible. During construction of the new building the congregation worshiped in the McMinnville Opera House.
1897 – The new building, Church Number 3, was dedicated on October 25.
1904 – The name of the church was changed to McMinnville First Presbyterian Church.
1908 – The church building was rotated 90 degrees, the basement was excavated, the present sanctuary was built, and the brick facing was added. Total cost: $8,000.
1918 – The pipe organ was installed in March and dedicated to lifelong member Frank E. Rogers who died in 1917. His widow, Nellie Rogers and her daughter, Zonweiss Rogers, donated $1,100. The Carnegie Foundation donated $750. The balance was raised by private subscription.
1940 – The organ was remodeled and electrified.
1948 – Classrooms, offices and a kitchen were built in the old sanctuary area. Today that area houses the Whitman and Witherspoon rooms, a small kitchen and the library.
1951 – The church marked the 100th anniversary with special services from September to January. A “Centennial Sunday” included a special Sunday service where Dr. Charles Barnes, church pastor, spoke on Heritage and Destiny. A tea at 3 p.m. was sponsored by the Martha Circle (Mrs. Fred Koch Jr., president). Pictures and other items depicting the church history were on display.
1964 – The education wing, including Calvin Hall, was constructed with a foyer to the Sanctuary area.
1977 – The sanctuary was remodeled. Rooms on either side of the organ that previously housed a pastor’s office and choir room were opened and the area made part of the sanctuary. The balcony was added. During the renovations the congregation worshiped in Calvin Hall.
1980 – Calvin Hall and the kitchen were remodeled. The office was rebuilt.
1981 – An expansion and renovation project cost $500,000, took 15 months, and included more than 6,000 square feet of new space. Work included restoration of the original church built in 1897, a new gallery entrance and office area, renovated kitchen, new basement area, and new library, conference room and small “deacons” kitchen. The sanctuary was enlarged, increasing seating capacity from 200 to 325. Dedication ceremonies in October included an open house and exhibit featuring art of Sadao Watanabe, a Japanese Christian artist. Four permanent Watanabe prints and a large wood-relief carving by Sheridan artist Roy Setziol were hung in the new facility.
1993 – The sanctuary was retrofitted to comply with modern earthquake codes. The roof and heating system were replaced. Air conditioning was added in some areas of the church.
2001 – First Presbyterian Church celebrated its 150th Anniversary with a special worship service. An evening presentation, “Always the Women” by Nina Thiel was offered free to the public.
2008 – The church again underwent an extensive renovation. The heating and air condition system was updated. The kitchen was remodeled with new appliances. Calvin Hall was redone to accommodate more types of activities. Classrooms were moved. A new entrance and garden area featured a labyrinth patio.