The Green River Presbyterian Church / Green River Bible Church
Built in 1907, this small wooden church is a good example of the Victorian Gothic architectural style. It is composed of intersecting wings with a tower set into the entrance angle. The principal wing is nearly two stories high and has a broad, steeply pitched gable roof. The front projecting wing is smaller, perhaps a story-and-a-half, but has the same pointed roof shape as the larger section to the rear. The tower is a full two stories and the roof a unique mixture of hip and tower element. The tower roof itself is hipped, but it is clipped at each corner by square battlements that protrude upward to a point just below the apex of the hip. Each wing contains large Gothic arched, stained-glass windows with
pointed-arch wooden tracery. The two visible sides of the tower have round-arched paired windows on the second story. Above each of these windows is another small round window which is framed beneath a decorative pointed arch of applied wood. Over the tower’s front door is a slightly flared hipped roof canopy. The wooden frame sits on a rusticated stone foundation and is covered with clapboard siding. Originally, the building was white with brown trim.
In 1963 a four room addition was put on the west end for Sunday School rooms, and storage. In 1986 the old paint was removed and the church repainted white with gold trim. The interior walls were originally painted plaster and moveable chairs were used for seating. In the 1970’s, carpet was placed over the wooden floors, and pine pews replaced moveable chairs. In 1985, the interior plaster walls were replaced with insulation and sheetrock and all woodwork was restored and refinished. In 1986, the church received a new asphalt roof. Despite these changes and perhaps because of them the building retains much of its historic integrity.
Constructed in 1906-07, the Green River Presbyterian Church is architecturally significant at the local level as an excellent example of the Victorian Gothic style. It is also historically significant as the first church built in the town and as an important early example of the “community church” phase of Protestant church activity in predominantly Mormon Utah. Unlike nineteenth-century Protestant church buildings in Utah, which were erected as part of the missionary effort among the Mormons, twentieth-century churches were constructed with the sole purpose of serving local congregations. The relatively small number of non-Mormons in Utah communities often prompted members of various Protestant backgrounds to band together in a community church arrangement, even though one faith may have sponsored the congregation and the construction of the building. Such was the case with the Green River church, which was loosely affiliated with the Presbyterian Church but had several different denominations represented among its original members. Although the church acted solely as a religious structure, its significance is derived from its unique architecture and early representation of the historical theme of Protestant community churches.
The first Protestant congregation in Green River was established in March 1906 under the direction of Rev. J.K. McGillivray, a Presbyterian pastor. There were 29 members of the original congregation, representing eight different denominations. Immediately after Rev. McLain W. Davis took over the pastorate in December 1906, he proposed the project to construct a building for the congregation. Land for the new church (five lots valued at $1000) was donated by the Green River Land and Townsite Company, and over $2200 were raised locally through donations, labor subscriptions and a variety of fund-raising activities, such as chicken pie suppers. There was also a $1000 grant from the “Board of Church Erection” of the Utah Presbytery to assist with construction costs. Ware & Treganza, a prominent architectural firm from Salt Lake City, was hired at a cost of $125 to design the new structure. Work on the project probably started in the spring or summer of 1907. The building was dedicated on October 20, 1907, though it had been used for some time before its completion. Total cost of the facility, which included an organ and chairs, was almost $4500. The building functioned as a Presbyterian church until 1958, when the Presbytery of Utah was no longer able to provide a full-time minister. Since 1959 the church has been a nondenominational community church, though its historical role has always been that of a community church.
The Green River Presbyterian Church was constructed at a time when the community of Green River was emerging as an official town. A makeshift settlement known as Blake City had been located at this site as early as 1879 along the newly established mail route connecting Salina, Utah, and Ouray, Colorado. The site of the settlement was at a favorable crossing of the Green River. In 1883 the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad established an east/west line along that route, helping ensure the existence of the settlement. The town took on the name Green River in 1895, but it was not until 1906 that the first town council was elected and a new townsite laid out. Green River was officially incorporated in 1910. This period of municipal growth corresponded with the local “Peach Boom,” during which the peach industry was introduced and thrived. Other community advances at that time were the construction of a two-story brick school in 1910, the erection of a metal-truss wagon bridge across the Green River in 1910, the establishment of a Mormon ward (congregation) in 1904, and the formation of a Presbyterian congregation in 1906 and the construction of their building in 1907.
The Green River Presbyterian Church represents a new phase of Protestant activity in Utah cities, a “community church” phase. The evangelical zeal that had sustained Protestant missionary efforts in Utah during the 1870s-90s was extinguished by the turn of the century. Nationwide economic depressions during the 1890s greatly reduced donations from church contributors in the eastern U.S., and the perceived need for missionary work among the Mormons was significantly lessened with the 1890 Manifesto denouncing polygamy by Mormon church president Wilford Woodruff. The establishment of a viable Utah public school system in the 1890s also had a negative effect on Protestant missionary efforts in Utah. These efforts focused on providing Mormon children with schooling as a first step toward conversion. The combination of these factors in the 1890s brought an end to the Protestant evangelical missionary period in Utah.
The community church phase of Protestantism in Utah represents a local desire for Protestant religious services and the willingness of the various churches to support congregations of mixed denominational background. Most Utah towns were at overwhelmingly Mormon, so there were relatively few Protestant churches, usually only one per community (except in the larger cities). No single denomination had enough congregants to justify the expense of a building and minister, so ecumenical community churches were the practical solution. Affiliations with the sponsoring institutions were maintained for a number of years (e.g. Green River Presbyterian Church, Magna Community Baptist Church), but they usually became weaker with time. Most of the congregations eventually became nondenominational community churches.