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Our History

1965: Stained Glass Windows

In 1965, new windows were installed in the sanctuary, as well as the rest of the church. Read More...

1918: Our Centennial Celebration

The most significant change to our church building in the years leading up to our Centennial Celebration was the installation of a new pipe organ in 1917. Read More...

1818: Our Foundation and the Church Building

Our congregation first met on September 8, 1818, when a group of five men and eleven women gathered in a barn... Read More...

1968: Remodeling for Our Sesquicentennial

During the 29-year pastorate of Rev. William J. Cartmell, our building expanded to better serve our community. Read More...

1990s: The Broadcast Era

Starting in the mid-1990s and continuing for about a decade, our Sunday worship services were broadcast on network television. Read More...

2004: Millennial Modernization

The new millennium brought many changes to the church building under our new pastor, Rev. Bev's guidance. The steeple was structurally repaired in 1998. The Allen Room was completely redecorated and refurnished at that time; and a new Church Library was added to the room the following year. New pew cushions arrived in time for the Christmas Eve Service in 1999. Restroom facilities were expanded in 2000, greatly increasing the accessibility of the basement Fellowship Hall.


One particularly noteworthy addition during this time frame still graces Fifth Street, directly across from Lafayette Park. The Labyrinth and Memorial Garden were constructed for the mindful participation of the congregation and our greater community. Dedication services were performed for this beautifully meditative space in May of 2003.

our Labyrinth and Memorial Garden


Then in 2004, a major renovation was undertaken to lovingly update and renovate our sanctuary and manse, and bring both aging structures up to modern building standards. This involved both practical and esthetic changes, and included several modifications for handicap accessibility. Much time and effort was invested in planning the changes so that improvements could be made while maintaining the sanctuary's character.

our Sanctuary under renovation

Little had been done to the interior of the sanctuary since the last face-lift in 1968; so with the 2004 renovation, the entire interior of the church sanctuary was updated. The project was started on the first day of the year, and astonishingly, completed by Mothers Day.

Because the sanctuary was filled with floor-to-ceiling scaffolding, worship was held downstairs in the Fellowship Hall as work was underway.

The project included a new drywall application to the ceiling and sidewalls in the sanctuary and vestibule. The stained glass windows were enhanced with 12" wide decorative, off-white molding with arched tops and keystones that frame the beautiful stained glass. New windowsills were also added. The same molding enhancement was used on the arch behind the pulpit.


Interior doors were replaced with stained white oak doors with raised panels and arched transom tops. Inset beveled glass panels further enhance the doors. The blue-green carpeting was replaced with a commercial crimson carpet with a fleck of teal that blends nicely with the existing teal pew cushions and compliments the stained glass windows. The sidewalls and ceiling were painted a soft light sand color.

our sanctuary under renovation


Brand new electrical wiring and a modern sound system were added, with speakers throughout the sanctuary; all this was driven by a state-of-the-art soundboard capable of amplification for personal hearing assistance. Before this renovation, light could barely reach the central pews; so the additions of ten Victorian-style ceiling fixtures along with ten wall sconces and seven new recessed lights in the new ceiling over the choir area greatly improved the lighting in the sanctuary. This provided a totally new look, and the installation of independently switched dimmers to all new lights gave many more options for lighting during worship and other events.

Pews were cut down to widen the aisles and to allow for six handicapped accessible spaces. The new finish was chosen to match the wainscoting and other woodwork in the sanctuary.

our Sanctuary from 1916 to 2016

The back and sidewalls of the choir area were given a rich new look with a wall covering of crimson with soft highlights of gold that complements the new decor. Decorative framed screens were installed over the organ speakers that blend well with the wall covering. The focal point in the sanctuary became our lighted seven-foot gold cross hanging against the exquisite wall covering, showcased behind the newly enhanced arch.

Our newly transformed sanctuary and entrances were dedicated on June 6, using folding chairs as the pews were still being refinished. Pastors from the neighboring Episcopal Church and the Presbytery of Geneva, along with the Schuyler Hospital Chaplain, joined Rev. Bev in leading our celebration.

Then in late 2014, two technical professionals moved to Watkins Glen and noticed that there was very little online presence for any of the local area churches. In fact, the ONLY web hit for First Presbyterian Church was a phone number in a long document spreadsheet, which listed the Presbytery of Geneva's affiliate churches. Although they were still "church shopping", the couple quickly added an online navigational entry, with the physical address, phone number and email id. After joining the congregation, they approached First Presbyterian's session of elders, offering to create a professional website according to their desired specifications. This site came online in 2015 as, and without it, our COVID-era "physically distanced" ministries would have been much more difficult to undertake. More on that below.

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2018: Our Bicentennial Celebration

In 2018, our newly installed pastor, the Reverend Cara S. Milne, created a small group of dedicated workers to organize an exciting Bicentennial gathering of new and former ministers, members and congregants. Read More...

2020: COVID Shutdown

With only two years in Watkins Glen, Pastor Cara found herself at the helm of another turning point in our congregation's history; or rather, in all of history! A new strain of coronavirus ravaged the world's population as nothing had in the previous century. Read More...

Ongoing: Charitable Programs

As we continue to maintain, repair and refurbish our beautiful Romanesque building, of course, we are ever mindful of the fact that the true Church is the body of believers, and not just a piece of architecture. Read More...

Additional Resources

Much of this information was taken from "A Brief History: United Presbyterian Church of Watkins Glen, N.Y." by Abigail O'Daniels, dtd. October 20, 1968. (Get PDF Reader)


For additional information about the history of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, please refer to extensive resources available at "Presbyterian Historical Society: The National Archives of the PC(USA)."

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Pastors Through the Years
Sixth & Decatur (1868-Present)

2017 Rev. Cara S. Milne

2016 Rev. Cynthia A. Weaver *

2015 Rev. Nancy Meehan Yao *

1997 Rev. Beverly Karr-Lyon †

1996 Rev. Thomas C. Montgomery *

1987 Rev. W. David Ashby
1985 Rev. William R. Knox *
1969 Rev. Clark N. McKinney
1939 Rev. William J. Cartmell
1934 Rev. Clayton T. Griswold
1916 Rev. Arthur B. Herr, D.D.
1910 Rev. James Elmer Russell
1905 Rev. Selden L. Haynes
1893 Rev. Louis F. Ruf
1888 Rev. Bryce K. Douglas
1882 Rev. George D. Meigs
1877 Rev. Milton Waldo D.D.
1876 Rev. William Lowrie
1870 Rev. J.S. McNair

* interim pastor

pastor emeritus


Fifth & Decatur (1847-1868)

1860 Rev. Franklin S. Howe
1855 Rev. Benjamin Russell
1847 Rev. S.B. Shearer


The Savoy Site (1833-1847)

1843 Rev. Samuel Stryker
1838 Rev. Samuel Scott
1836 Rev. Royal West
1835 Rev. Egbert Roosa


The Diven Barn (1818-1833)

1832 Rev. Charles Goodrich
1831 Rev. David Harrower
1829 Rev. Richard Williams
1826 Rev. Jabez Chadwick
1826 Rev. Samuel White
1825 Rev. Henry Ford
1822 Rev. Joseph Crawford
1821 Rev. Lyman Barrett
1818 Rev. Samuel Parker
1818 Rev. David Higgins

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