Eastern Presbyterian Church dates back to the spring of 1871 when the Fourth Presbyterian Church developed an interest in the cause of home mission work. A committee was appointed to visit several areas in the District where a church might be needed. The committee concluded that the near Northeast section of DC would be a good location for a church. (Metropolitan, about a mile away in Southeast DC, had been organized in 1864.)
On June 11, 1871 the committee from Fourth Presbyterian recommended starting a Sunday school in Northeast DC. On June 16, 1871 the first Sunday session was held at a home in that area. The Sunday school grew in size and a campaign was started for the erection of a “Union” chapel. The chapel was erected on 8th Street between F and G Street NE and a Sunday school program began in the chapel on June 28, 1872 with Joseph T. Kelly, then a student at Princeton Theological Seminary, presiding.
Early in 1875 a petition was tendered to the Pastor of the Fourth Presbyterian Church, requesting letters of dismissal for 26 members for the purpose of organizing “Eastern Presbyterian Church” in Northeast Washington. Eastern Presbyterian Church was formally organized May 19, 1875 with 33 members (26 transferred from Fourth Presbyterian, 2 transferred from Metropolitan, and 5 came from other churches or were baptized). The organization of Eastern took place in the “Eight Street Chapel” also called the “Union Chapel.”
First Pastor – Rev. George B. Patch (1875 – 1881). Rev. Patch, D.D. was born in 1838 in Vermont and graduated from Dartmouth College. At the time of his death in 1898 he was Pastor Emeritus of the Gunton-Temple Presbyterian Church at 14th and R Streets, NW).
Second Pastor – Rev. S. S. Wallen (1882 – 1883)
Third Pastor – Rev. Eugene Peck (1884 – 1888)
Fourth Pastor – Rev. T. K. Noble, D.D. (1888 – 1889)
Fifth Pastor – Rev. Maxwell N. Cornelius, D.D. (1890 – 1893). Dr. Cornelius was born in 1843 in Ohio. Shortly after he was called Eastern was incorporated so that property could be legally held. Land at 6th and Maryland Avenue was acquired and a contract for the building was signed in November 1891 (estimated cost of $44,923). The cornerstone was laid April 11, 1892. The Union Chapel lots and building were sold May 1892 with the provision that the Eastern Church could continue to meet there until they could move into the new building. The first service in the new building was held in its basement on April 30, 1893 (one month after Dr. Cornelius died of an accident). On November 24, 1893 the Rev. T. DeWitt Talmadge preached at the service opening the new building. The final cost of the building was approximately $77,000 and the mortgage was $30,000. In 1893 Eastern’s membership was 290.
Sixth Pastor – Dr. Thomas C. Easton (1893 – 1907). The next period of history (1893-1914) was dominated by struggles with financial problems related to the loan to erect the Church building. In 1907 a new organ was purchased, half of which cost was paid by Andrew Carnegie.
Seventh Pastor – Charles L. Neibel (1908 – 1912). Rev. Neibel secured financial assistance for the congregation from the Washington City Presbytery.
Eighth Pastor –The Rev. Dr. Alfred E. Barrows (1912 – 1940). Born in Rantoul, Illinois, Dr. Barrows graduated from Hastings Presbyterian College (Nebraska) in 1897 and from Union Theological Seminary in New York in 1901. He spent three years as an instructor at the American University in Beirut, Lebanon and traveled widely in the near East. Before coming to Washington he was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Homer, IL and then at the Wyckoff Heights Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, NY
In 1927 Church member and Elder, Alfred D. Calvert, who was also a leader in the National Prohibition Party, charged Dr. Barrows with conduct unbecoming a minister. Mr. Calvert took the case to Presbytery and a closed proceeding by Presbytery followed. The result was that Presbytery asked Dr. Barrows to submit to the congregation of the Eastern Presbyterian Church his resignation as Pastor.
On May 27, 1927 Dr. Barrows submitted his resignation to the congregation. Instead of accepting his resignation, the congregation by a vote of 320 to 72 moved “This Church hereby expresses its full confidence in its Pastor, Dr. Alfred E. Barrows, and that the Presbytery of Washington City, be requested to decline to sever the relations of Church and Pastor now existing between this Church and Dr. Alfred E. Barrows.” After the congregational meeting, Elder Calvert got into a struggle with two members of the congregation, fisticuffs ensued, and Mr. Calvert’s glasses were broken. Some 200 or more people surrounded the three men and the police were called. Mr. Calvert charged the two members with assault. The newspapers at the time reported that traffic was stalled for much of the area because of the street fight. When contacted by the press, Dr. Barrows, who had not attended the meeting, said “It’s silly. It is a personal matter between Mr. Calvert and me.”
Based on the positive action of the congregation, Dr.. Barrows withdrew his letter of resignation and continued to serve the Eastern congregation for another 12 years, retiring as Pastor Emeritus in 1940. When Dr. Barrows died in 1953, the newspapers reported that he had served on most of the committees of Presbytery and was Presbytery Treasurer for 30 years. He was active in the Baltimore Synod, chaired the Synod Committee that started the summer conference at Hood College, moderated both the Presbytery and Synod, represented the Presbytery at a number of General Assemblies, served on the Committee that organized the Washington Federation of Churches, and was president of the Ministerial Council of the Central Union Mission for 3 years. After his retirement he helped organize the Tabor Presbyterian Church for Black citizens and worshiped there on the last Sunday of his life.
Ninth Pastor – Rev. William Nesbit Vincent (1940 – 1950). Rev. Nesbit went on military leave as a Navy Chaplin from 1944 to 1949; and during his absence Rev. Elwood Reeves served as Interim Pastor.
Tenth Pastor – Rev. Donald Freeman Keith (1951 – 1956). After the merger of Metropolitan and Eastern on June 20, 1954 he continued as Associate Pastor of the merged congregations until a new Pastor could be called. Dr. J. Lewis Hutton was called in October 1955o as the first minister of the merged congregations and he was installed on November 20, 1955.
Written by Gene Larkin with edits by Sue Van Slyke (published 4/21/14)
Read about the merger of Metropolitan and Eastern churches here.
Read a personal account of the merger of Metropolitan and Eastern churches by Barbara Beach.