Central Presbyterian Church has been a prominent part of Des Moines’ religious landscape for generations. Founded in 1848, we’re two years older than the city itself. And our first pastor, Rev. Thompson Bird, was the first mayor of the city of Des Moines.
Established in the midst of a national tumult over slavery, our congregation was founded by ardent abolitionists committed to living out their faith in the civic arena. And from the beginning, Central has been a church that has cared deeply about the well-being of the poor and marginalized.
Our first meeting house was a simple log cabin built in 1853 on West Fourth Street, at the confluence of the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers. For decades, starting in 1867, we were located downtown at 8th and High streets. With a large sanctuary seating 900, Central played host to the 1906 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. In 1939, under the leadership of Rev. Percy Nickless, we moved to our current location—a magnificent limestone English abbey-style building—on 39th Street and Grand Avenue.
Over the years, Central helped to start other Presbyterian congregations in the community, including Cottage Grove Avenue, Highland Park and Heartland. In 1963, we ordained our first woman elder, and in 1980 called our first woman assistant pastor.
As we look toward our 175th anniversary, Central is a vibrant church of nearly 600 members. What was at one time mostly a neighborhood church for people living in Waterbury or South of Grand, today attracts people from the wider Des Moines area; from Waukee to Winterset and Ankeny to Indianola. And just as the city of Des Moines is growing and attracting new generations of residents, our church is in an exciting time of growth and revitalization. Our history is continuing to be written.