On Monday, January 8, 1821, Rev. Dr. William Patton and his wife, Mary, invited four other people to their home on Elm Street (now called Lafayette Street) and founded Central Presbyterian Church after praying together. Soon afterwards the young congregation purchased a site for the new church on the north side of Broome Street and opened its doors there on May 7, 1822. Central grew rapidly from its small initial congregation to several hundred, many of whom became Christians through the ministry of the church.
From such an inauspicious beginning, Central quickly became influential in New York City and around the globe. Leaders of the church played an instrumental role in the founding of New York University (1831) and Union Theological Seminary (1836) as well as the Big Brothers mentoring program of New York City (1904). In addition to its commitment to New York, Central also began sending teams of people to start churches, schools, and hospitals in Appalachia (1894) as well as inland China (1895).
Over the course of its first 100 years, Central moved locations several times in response to rapid demographic changes in the city. Central’s current building, located at the corner of 64th Street and Park Avenue, was constructed in 1922 as the home for Park Avenue Baptist Church with funding provided by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Park Avenue Baptist called Harry Emerson Fosdick to serve as its pastor in 1925 after Fosdick left the church he was serving due to a controversy sparked by his theological views.
At Park Avenue Baptist, Fosdick drew such large crowds that Rockefeller soon decided to build Riverside Church in Morningside Heights for the Baptist congregation, providing Central with the opportunity in 1926 to agree to purchase the nearly new Park Avenue church building. Central, however, could not take occupancy of the building until Riverside was completed. In the interim, Central met at the Plaza Hotel and, after closing on the purchase, held its first service in its new home at 593 Park Avenue on Sunday, September 22, 1929, shortly before the October 1929 stock market crash.
Despite its storied past, Central experienced a period of decline during the second half of the twentieth century. The future looked bleak as membership dropped and much-needed funds became scarce. But, by God’s grace, a group of young professionals, families, and others started attending Central during Douglas Grangeorge's tenure as pastor in an attempt to turn around the beleaguered church.
Under the subsequent leadership of Howard Edington, Douglas Webster, and music director, Seth Ward, the church re-centered its focus on the historic gospel, emphasizing strong biblical teaching, robust Christian community, and God-honoring worship. As an extension of the revitalization effort, Central recently teamed up with the New City Commons Foundation to retain Jason Harris as Central’s Director of Church Renewal in order to build and expand upon the church’s new foundation.
We at Central thus approach the future with excitement and great anticipation of all that God will do in and through our church, convinced that Central’s best days lie ahead of us. We welcome you to become part of our story!