Beginnings of Community and Church
The community known now as Burlington had its genesis in the 1850s when officials of the North Carolina Railroad developed an area of one and one-half square miles to house their maintenance and repair shops in the Northern Piedmont. The little village that grew up around this activity became known as Company Shops. Very soon, The Rev. Archibald Currie, pastor of the Graham Presbyterian Church, held the first religious service in the village. This was followed by other services, first held in an open shed of the railroad shops, then in a school building, later in the dining room and parlor of the railroad hotel, and finally in a union church building constructed in 1869. A commission of Orange Presbytery established the Presbyterian Church in the Company Shops community on June 15, 1879. The Rev. Benjamin Mebane was called to serve as pastor to the 21 women and men who signed a covenant and became charter members. (At the time, Dr. Mebane was also serving the Graham church as pastor.) After the railroad shops moved to Spencer, N.C., in 1886, the town’s name was changed from Company Shops to Burlington, and the church became known as the First Presbyterian Church of Burlington. The initial Presbyterian church building in Burlington was completed in June 1891, and in 1895 the congregation called its first full-time pastor, The Rev. Malcolm Shields. A building program in 1909 resulted in a new sanctuary, classrooms, and a new tower and steeple for the First Church on a prominent downtown Burlington corner lot now occupied by the Burlington’s Headquarters Fire Station.
As early as 1900, the need for a mission church in a northwest Burlington community was observed. The congregation built a chapel and conducted services until 1913, when a new congregation (now known as Westminster and now a part of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church denomination), was officially organized. Soon afterwards, the clergy and members of the First Church helped Presbytery officials to organize Piedmont Presbyterian, Eldermont (now Shiloh) Presbyterian, and East Burlington Presbyterian (now merged with the Westminster congregation). About 1943, the First Church led in the development of a mission congregation in east Burlington that has evolved into the Northside Presbyterian Church (now affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in America).
20th Century Ministries Development
The Rev. Rupert McGregor began his ministry at the First Church in 1934 and showed an outstanding enthusiasm for pastoral responsibility and personal evangelism. In 1941, Dr. McGregor and church officers initiated plans for the construction of a new church building, but McGregor soon left to accept a call to Birmingham, Alabama. The Rev. Chester Alexander arrived from Tarboro and was installed as pastor of the First Church in November 1942. The building plans were revised in 1945, and on March 2, 1952, the congregation began an ambitious building program on the present West Davis Street church campus. The first Sunday service of worship in this facility was held on June 7, 1953. During Dr. Alexander’s tenure, this congregation led in missions work in other southeastern states. Dr. Alexander served this congregation until his sudden death, which occurred immediately following a Sunday morning communion service in 1961.
Dr. Tom Anderson (Pastor, 1962-1979) and Dr. Charles Williams (Pastor, 1980-2001) led the congregation for the next nearly 40 years. Dr. Anderson’s pastorate saw continued development of the physical plant and church programs, and in the development of our Child Development Center, a highly-accredited day care operation. Dr. Williams was active in the work of Orange and Salem presbyteries, had significant leadership roles in the development of social and mission-related community ministries in our region, and oversaw a dramatic increase in educational, outreach, and worship programming in our congregation. Following Dr. Williams’ retirement, the Rev. Ronald Shive became the pastor in August 2002.