Walsh County, North Dakota


“Walsh Heritage” Vol 2, pg 671

     The First Presbyterian Church of Park River was organized in the Kensington school house, a log structure just east of the present site of Park River, by Rev. D.G. McKay in 1881, and the church was built a few years thereafter. Three Elders constituting the first session were Roger Allin, the fourth Governor of the state of North Dakota, William Bruce and John Baird.

     The church was built in the shape of a cross and had a very high steeple which was conspicuous on many early pictures taken of the city of Park River. The church was originally built at ground level, but was later raised and a basement constructed—probably in 1918. The large window which now faces the west was originally on the east. There was also a balcony along the east wall for the choir and also was used for a Sunday School class. The manse was built prior to 1899, but the date is not known. Church records show that the manse was “fully renovated” in 1899.

     Minutes of the session for March 18, 1899, indicate there were 120 members in good standing. Persons wishing to become members of the church presented themselves to the session and were examined as to their sincerity,knowledge and faith in Christ to become members in full communion. Minutes of the session noted that when the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was observed “nearly all the members were present.”

     A gas lighting “plant” was installed in the church in 1901. Electricity came to the manse in 1902 and to the church in 1903. The church was gutted by fire in February of 1913. It was repaired and redecorated at a cost of $5,000. Rev. D.G. McKay, the first pastor, was present when the church was re0opened. There was also a fire in 1921, but damage was minor.

Early members of the Presbyterian Church included:

Aitken, David and Laura

Allin, Roger

Baird, John

Bruce, Alexander and Flora

Bruce, William and Elizabeth

Campbell, Neil and Mary

Craig, John, Robert and Ena

Davis, Inkermand and Margaret

Ferguson, Mr. and Mrs. Dougald

Ferguson, Mrs. Angus

Ford, David and Mary

Holmes, James, Jane and John

Landsborough, W.G. And Fannie L.

McKay, Emma

McKenzie, James and Helen

Mills, James and Mary Ann

Robb, Jessie

Ross, James, William, John, Annie and Lizzie

Smith, Alexander, Thomas and Maggie

Stewart, Robert and Aggie

Wylie, Mary and Matilda


The first baptism listed in records available was Lillian Jane McKenzie, daughter of James and Ellen McKenzie, who was baptized in October 1892.  The first marriage on record was on Nov. 30, 1898 when William J. Burbidge and Lizzie O. Griever were married. Witnesses were Annie and John Burbidge. The first deaths recorded were early in 1899 when three small children died: Feb. 10, 1899—Lilly Peoples “Infant Child”; Feb. 28 1899—Margaret Aird, “aged 9 months”; April 10, 1899—Baby McCracken, “aged 2 yrs.” On Sept. 15, 1899, funeral services were held for an “unknown man—Dark complexion, killed by train.” On Jan. 22, 1902—Mrs. Archibald Gillespie who was “about 100 years old.”

     Outside activities of the Ladies’ Aid Society included a memorial service in September 1901 for “our beloved President McKinley.” In January 1903 and for several years thereafter a “Burns Day” was held, an indication that many members of the Society were of  Scottish ancestry. Also, in Oct 1914 a request was made to the session that they allow the church to be used for a meeting in the interest of women’s suffrage, and this request was granted.

     In December 1917, a call was extended to a Rev. E.E. Parkes to become pastor of the church. The salary was to be $1400 a year and manse, and one month vacation each year.

     Curing the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, declining attendance and finances were mentioned in minutes of the session. On May 2, 1931, it was decided that current receipts were no longer adequate to take care of the minister’s salary and church expense, and the pastor was notified that unless other arrangements could be made, the church would be closed 3 months from that date.

     On June 14, 1931, the First Presbyterian Church celebrated its Golden Anniversary, holding three services during the day. The principal speaker during the afternoon service was Rev. D.G. McKay of Park River, the minister who organized the church in 1881. Also present was ex-Governor Roger Allin, who was one of the first elders elected to the session. Another speaker was Rev. Duncan Matheson, who had been ordained in the Park River church 33 years earlier.

     Aug. 5, 1931, found the session still struggling with finances and ways to keep the church open. On Sept. 5, 1931, the pastor Rev. E.V. Headen, was notified that his salary would be reduced from $150 per month to $50 per month, but that he would be given every second Sunday to preach at any other point should he so desire. Negotiations were being had with the Fordville Presbyterian Church in regard to uniting in the hiring of a pastor, at least for the summer months.

     On May 15, 1932, it was announced that Fordville would have Rev. Headen fill their pulpit from May 22 to October 1, and that Fordville wished to have the morning service. It was decided that Park River would have only the Sunday evening services during this time. This arrangement continued until the following spring. In September 1934, Rev. Headen submitted his resignation and it was decided that preaching services in this church would be discontinued at least until April 1935. In April 1936, it was decided to unite with Fordville in the hiring of a pastor, and on Aug. 28, 1938, the Articles of Federation with the Methodist Church were adopted.

Pastors who served the First Presbyterian Church prior to the Federation were:

Acheson, T. Davius

Burr, Alexander

Finlyson, Donald

Headen, E.V.

McInnis, James

McIntosh, D.M.

McKay, D.G.

Parkes, E.E.

Robertson, James

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