For only 40 years, a longtime congregation was at home in the Kountze Place neighborhood. They built a huge church, had a successful run, but couldn’t keep going. This is a history of the First United Presbyterian Church in North Omaha.
A Pioneer Omaha Congregation
In 1867, the Presbyterian church held services at “Beal’s Schoolhouse” at North 15th and Capitol Avenue. Called the First United Presbyterian Church of Omaha, it was established by Rev. Thomas McCague. A year later, it moved to Rev. McCague’s home at South 10th and Pierce Streets. In 1873, the congregation moved to the former Baptist Tabernacle Church at North 18th and California Streets. Within 17 years, the church outgrew its second home and needed a new building.
Moving to Kountze Place
In 1890, Augustus Kountze offered the congregation a large plot for sale in his upstart streetcar suburb called Kountze Place. Within a year, the congregation acquired the services of renowned Omaha architecture firm of Mendelssohn, Fisher & Lawrie and opened a large new building in the fashionable neighborhood at North 21st and Emmet Streets. The same firm designed the nearby Sacred Heart Catholic Church in 1900. Costing $15,000 to build, there were 250 families in the church when it moved there. The sanctuary was estimated to seat 700 people.
Rev. E. Leslie Hawk was the preacher there when the new church opened. In 1897, Rev. Frank B. Foster was the new minister. Rev. John M. French preached there for several years. The congregation apparently had tumultuous relationships with many pastors who served there. In the early 1890s, Rev. E.B. Graham was forced into retirement, followed by Rev. John M. French, who was also forced out of the church. Located next door to the Omaha Presbyterian Theological Seminary staring in 1907, it was relatively easy for the church to stay pastored throughout its remaining decades. Rev. David Turnbull preached there in the first decade of the 1900s, and Rev. A.C. Douglass was the minister in the mid-1910s.
The church hosted several important speakers and guest ministers throughout the years, including politicians and others. Important Nebraska politician William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925) spoke there in 1895. It had an active women’s group and youth society, and also held social events. A youth social group called the King’s Guild gathered regularly in members’ homes throughout the high-end neighborhood surrounding the church.
In 1896, the congregation of First United Presbyterian voted against merging with the congregation of Plymouth Congregational Church, which was also in the Kountze Place neighborhood. Apparently the congregations had volleyed the idea of joining together around for six months, but it didn’t work out. The church was adjacent to the 1898 Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition, but wasn’t mentioned in reference to the event, so I assume it played no particular role.
The church was entirely remodeled in 1917, including new carpet and pews, paint and more. That same year, the church was declared as debt-free. In 1918, the congregation celebrated its 50th anniversary. There was a large service with guest speakers and a historian, and a large reception followed with former ministers, a choir performance, and more.
Post-War Rough Times
Rev. Frank Foster returned to the church in the early 1920s, and Rev. J. Clyde Mahaffey was the minister in the late 1920s. During this era the Kountze Place churches met regularly for social and religious activities, and First United Presbyterian was often the host.
In 1928, the Omaha World-Herald ran a front-page story about the closure of the church. It described sentimental feelings and talked about the future of the building, and said it was “necessary” for the congregation to merge with the Central United Presbyterian Church. However, the article never said why the church had to close. Exactly 38 years after the building was opened, the congregation held its last service ever. With members who’d been in the congregation for 40 years, it was surprising to read the paper’s report that nobody shed a tear among the ladies’ society for the church. I think its a hint that something shady happened, but I have no idea what.
For the next several decades the church was home to a Foursquare congregation. However, it found a new forever congregation in 1961.
Faith Temple COGIC Moves In
White flight swept the Kountze Place neighborhood in the 1950s, and with it every predominantly white congregation in the neighborhood fled, too. After being located in the Near North Side for a decade, one Black congregation moved to the Kountze Place neighborhood after white flight began to cool and more African American families moved in.
In 1961, the Faith Temple Church of God in Christ bought the building. Led by Rev. Vernon Richardson, Faith Temple Church of God in Christ (COGIC) started in 1951. In the 1970s, Bishop Richardson began broadcasting live from his church, and continued for several years. By the late 1990s, the church had 400 active members and was the birthplace of several other COGIC congregations. In 1999, the City of Omaha recognized then Bishop Richardson by renaming Emmet Street in front of the church in his honor.
They’ve been worshiping there since, and continue today. Maintaining the church as a beacon in the neighborhood for more than 60 years, Faith Temple has been there far longer than the original congregation.
Like much of the Kountze Place neighborhood surrounding it, the 130-plus-year-old church building has not been recognized by the City of Omaha as an official Omaha Landmark, and its not listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
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MY ARTICLES ABOUT HISTORIC BLACK CHURCHES IN NORTH OMAHA
Main Article: Historic Black Churches in North Omaha
Churches: St. John’s AME Church | Mount Moriah Baptist Church | Hope Lutheran Church| Bethel AME Church | New Bethel COGIC | Zion Baptist Church | Rising Star Baptist Church | Faith Temple COGIC | Mt. Calvary Community Church | St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Parish
Former Churches: Calvin Memorial Presbyterian Church | Hillside Presbyterian Church | St. Philip the Deacon Episcopal Church
MY ARTICLES ABOUT THE HISTORY OF KOUNTZE PLACE
General: Kountze Place | Kountze Park | North 16th Street | North 24th Street | Florence Boulevard | Wirt Street | Binney Street | 16th and Locust Historic District
Houses: Charles Storz House | Anna Wilson’s Mansion | McCreary Mansion | McLain Mansion | Redick Mansion | John E. Reagan House | George F. Shepard House
Churches: First UPC/Faith Temple COGIC | St. Paul Lutheran Church | Hartford Memorial UBC/Rising Star Baptist Church | Immanuel Baptist Church | Calvin Memorial Presbyterian Church | Omaha Presbyterian Theological Seminary | Trinity Methodist Episcopal
Education: Omaha University | Presbyterian Theological Seminary | Lothrop Elementary School | Horace Mann Junior High |
Hospitals: Salvation Army Hospital | Swedish Hospital | Kountze Place Hospital
Events: Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition | Greater America Exposition | Riots
Businesses: Hash House | 3006 Building | Grand Theater | 2936 North 24th Street | Corby Theater
Listen to the North Omaha History Podcast show #4 about the history of the Kountze Place neighborhood »