Calvin Memorial Presbyterian Church was a short-lived attempt by a fleeting denomination to maintain a significant presence in North Omaha. Despite the hard work and commitment by African American members, the congregation ultimately failed. However, they did succeed in ensuring a gorgeous landmark that celebrated its 110th anniversary of existence in 2020. This is a history of Calvin Memorial Presbyterian Church at 3105 North 24th Street in North Omaha.
Second Presbyterian Church
Second Presbyterian Church was one of the oldest churches in Nebraska, originally established in 1861. When it reestablished itself as part of the Saunders Street Mission Chapel in 1881, the church was renamed North Presbyterian and grew more. Then, with a vigorous new minister in 1887, the congregation doubled its size. With a new building at North 24th and Nicholas Streets, it became Second Presbyterian Church in 1890. When they moved, the church sold Second Presbyterian to a Jewish congregation called B’nai Jacob Anshe Sholem.
Knox Presbyterian Church
In October 1887, Knox Presbyterian Church was organized in North Omaha. Built on hopes and dreams of a thriving congregation, they first met in a storefront at North 19th and Lake Streets in the Near North Side neighborhood. After that, the church grew quickly and they bought a church, then grew some more and built a church.
Becoming North Presbyterian Church
In 1908, Second Presbyterian and Knox Presbyterian merged to become the North Presbyterian Church. They built a grand church at the corner of North 24th and Wirt Streets on the edge of the wealthy suburban Kountze Place neighborhood in 1910. Designed by Frederick Henninger in the Neo-Classical Revival style, the building features four colossal limestone Ionic columns holding large portico in front of a gigantic dome. Henninger was clearly inspired by the 1898 Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition that happened on this site just a decade before North Presbyterian was established.
Merger to form Calvin Memorial Presbyterian
White flight took exacted a toll on the Kountze Place neighborhood. With their fears stoked by racist media and politicians, white residents were afraid of their new African American neighbors who started moving in during the late 1940s. That decade, middle- and upper-class white congregants of North Presbyterian Church started moving en masse to west Omaha. The toll on the church included members and money.
In 1954, the church was merged with Hillside Presbyterian Church, a historically Black church in the Near Northside Neighborhood. Prior to this, Hillside had absorbed a formerly all-white congregation called Bethany Presbyterian Church. Bethany was Omaha’s first German Presbyterian church that was founded in 1881 and located at North 20th and Willis Streets. When they merged, both African American and white congregants formed the new Calvin Memorial Presbyterian Church.
Funded as an outreach mission by the Nebraska Presbyterians, the congregation thrived for several decades. Initially celebrated as an integrated congregation, the African American minister of Hillside, Rev. Charles Tyler, became minister of the new congregation in May 1954. In 1962, after redlining was formally ended by the federal Fair Housing Act, white flight intensified and Calvin Memorial’s congregation became all African American. Rev. Tyler guided the congregation into the Civil Rights movement, including joining the Search Results Web results March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963. He left Calvin by 1964.
In 1985, the church building was declared an Omaha Landmark by the Omaha Landmark Heritage Preservation Commission. The next year in 1986, the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Loosing the Presbyterian Church
After years of diminishing congregation size and a lack of support for their missionary purpose, Calvin Memorial Presbyterian Church was merged with Fairview Presbyterian Church in 1991, and the new congregation was named the New Life Presbyterian. They stayed at the site of the former Fairview Presbyterian Church at North 40th and Pratt Streets, and are still there today.
The former North Presbyterian / Calvin Memorial Presbyterian building became home to a new ministry called the Church of Jesus Christ Whole Truth in 1992. In 2015, the congregation hosted a Thanksgiving dinner at the North Omaha Salvation Army on 24th Street, serving 500 people under the leadership of Pastor Frank Parker. The IRS lists the church active today, although its Facebook hasn’t been updated in years and they don’t have an online presence otherwise.
The building stands though, and is a spectacular landmark for the renaissance of North 24th Street. Between its status as a local landmark and its listing as a nationally important building, I hope a plaque is installed outside insisting the entire city recognizes its beauty and history.
You Might Like…
- “‘A Different Kind of Church’: Historic North Omaha Church Envisioned as a Community Center” Erin Duffy Omaha World-Herald (February 26, 2020)
- “Calvin Memorial / North Presbyterian Church” listing on the Omaha Landmark Heritage Preservation Commission website.
- “National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form for North Presbyterian Church” for the United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service in 1986.