Westminster's History

Westminster Presbyterian Church was established on May 27, 1855 as the Presbyterian Church of Cedar Rapids and was located in Daniels Hall, a commercial building on First Avenue. There were twenty members in the first congregation, seven of them from Donegal, Pennsylvania. The founders of the future Westminster Church were "Old School Presbyterians" and found the "New School" doctrines of the already established First Presbyterian Church too liberal and too much influenced by congregationalism. The differences seem trivial today and largely disappeared after the two groups were reunited in 1869.


The first pastor of the new church was the Rev. Richard Morrow, a graduate of Jefferson College and Princeton Theological Seminary. He was a dedicated minister who directed the building of the congregation's first church on 3rd Avenue and 3rd street. The new church was completed during the summer of 1858 at a cost of $3,500. Morrow, the first in a long line of twenty-six pastors, suffered from consumption, and was forced to return East in 1859. The name of the church was changed to Second Presbyterian Church in 1868 and the original structure was expanded and remodeled to seat nearly 500 at an expense of $15,000 in 1872. The first Sunday School was established in 1855 and marked the beginning of today's varied programs in education, music and social events.


Many members of the congregation as well as several pastors served the Union cause during the Civil War. The church's third minister, Rev. D.H. Mitchell, left his pastorate in 1862 to become the chaplain of the 6th Iowa Cavalry. Stephen L. Dows, an elder of more than forty years and one of the most successful city entrepreneurs, was another veteran of the Civil War. It was Dows who gave Second Presbyterian Church its first organ in 1884. This organ, rebuilt in 1905, served the church until 1931. The present Shantz organ was installed in 1974.


By 1903 Second Presbyterian Church leaders decided it was time to move out of the crowded business section of the city and into the suburbs. Ground was broken for the new location on 3rd Avenue and 14th Street on April 30, 1904. The cornerstone with the inscription "Christ Jesus Our Lord" was laid in September of that year. The first services in the new church were held on Sunday, May 21, 1905 and the pastor was the Rev. U. Franklin Smiley. The new church in a new location adopted a new name-- Westminster Presbyterian Church. 


The Architect of the church was Charles Bolton of Philadelphia. The Magdalene Tower of Westminster was modeled after the tower at Oxford College, England. Some of the stained glass windows were moved from Second Presbyterian Church. A beautiful new addition to the stained glass windows in the church, The Road to Emmaus, was created by the artist Heinrich Hofman.


Additional expansion took place in 1960 and 1968 which provided a chapel as well as needed office and educational space. Membership reached a record 2,000 in 1977 during the twenty-nine year ministry (1956-1985) of the beloved Dr. John P. Woods. During the ministry of Rev. Dr. Herbert Isenberg (1995-2009), another new addition was added to the present church building to provide a new office space on the main level and a Family Life Center on the lower level. 


(excerpted from "Sharing the Spirit - The History of Westminster Presbyterian Church" by Bill Cumberland & Darald Schultz, which is available for purchase from the Church Office)