Central Presbyterian Church (USA) stands at 206 West Main Street, Princeton, KY. There has been a Presbyterian Church at this location since the early pioneer days. Central's history can be traced back to the early explorers and church pioneers of Kentucky.
James, George, and Robert McAfee, early explorers and surveyors, brought the Presbyterian heritage with them when they settled in 1775 at McAfee Station, and in 1784 established the New Providence Presbyterian Church in what is now Mercer County, KY. The site is along the old Wilderness Road, once used by the early settlers. The log building serving as the first house of worship for this historic congregation was also used as an early school. The early Presbyterians encouraged and supported education. Many of the Bluegrass settlers of Kentucky in the 1770s and early 1780s came from Presbyterian congregations in Virginia, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.
Rev. Terah Templin conducted Kentucky's first Presbyterian service in 1781. Rev. David Rice settled in Danville in 1783. Over a period of eighteen months, Rice with Templin and others helped found seven Presbyterian churches in KY: Concord, in Danville; New Providence, at McAfee Station; Cane Run, at Trigg's Station; the Fork of Dick's (now Dix) River Church; Paint Lick, on Jessamine Creek; Pisgah, in what is now Woodford County; and Mt. Zion, in Lexington.
In 1797, Gen. John Caldwell with his pastor, Rev. Terah Templin and members of Templin's congregation, settled at Centerville on Livingston Creek, near present day Fredonia, in what is now Caldwell County. They established the Livingston Presbyterian Church USA. This was the first church south of the Green River and the first Presbyterian church in the lower Ohio River Valley. Central Presbyterian is an offspring of the Livingston Church.
Gen. Caldwell, Terah Templin and their group came overland by way of Russellville, Hopkinsville, and the Big Spring location at Princeton. From Princeton to their final place of settlement, Centerville, they used the old Indian trail known as the Saline Trace.
In 1800 Rev. James McGready was pastor of three small churches in Logan County, KY, Red River, Muddy River and Gasper River Presbyterian Churches. McGready started holding joint communion services, which included the three churches. The services began on Friday with preaching and ended on Sunday afternoon with the sacraments. In June of 1800 several devout Christians, composed of the three churches, met for a communion service at Red River Meeting House. During one of the services one of the ministers became extremely aroused and began shouting, and a spark of excitement leaped from person to person among the normally subdued congregation. Soon many in the congregation, tired, expectant, and feverishly excited, broke into a religious frenzy. McGready and others present almost instantly interpreted this outbreak of zeal as a clear sign that God in his mysterious way had there in frontier Kentucky began the long-awaited revival.
After hearing what happened at the Red River meeting, thousands of people gathered to attend the four-day communion service at Gasper River Meeting House. The people brought necessities and food to camp on the church grounds. The Gasper meeting was the first camp meeting and set the pattern for the many others that were soon to follow during the 1800s.
Quickly, almost like an epidemic, the camp meeting revivals swept across the rural South. The largest of all the early camp meetings was held, under the sponsorship of Barton W. Stone, at Cane Ridge Presbyterian Meeting House in the Cane Ridge area of Kentucky's Bourbon County. The camp meeting began on August 8, 1801 with an attendance that was estimated at 20,000 and by some at 30,000, a number possible several times too large.
The "Great Revivals" of KY were considered by historians to be the beginning of a national "Second Great Awakening" in the South.
Throughout the region, church membership increased significantly over a two-to-five year period. Presbyterians soon withdrew from the unruly revivals. But revivalists religion - emotionally intense, focused on individual conversion, with little awareness of broader social concerns - remained characteristic of the reinvigorated Protestantism of the South.
Although some division of the Presbyterians occurred over the question of slavery in 1790s, real strife came with the Great Revival of 1800. Controversy included conduct of the revivals, slavery, education of ministers, Civil War, and what the new Cumberland Presbytery called "Extensive Calvinism." Out of this conflict came the Cumberland Presbyterian Church (CPC) denomination in 1810.
CPC congregations flourished, especially in western Kentucky. Piney Fork, of Crittenden County was the first CPC in Kentucky. In the fall of 1814, Rev. John Barnett, organized the Bethlehem CPC near Crider in Caldwell County.
Princeton became a town in 1817. All evidence indicates that the Rev. John Barnett organized the CPC of Princeton about that time. There is no description of the first church since all the records were accidentally burned when the first building, used about six years, was being removed for the second structure in 1823.
The 1823 building, used 79 years, was of brick and was elaborate for its day. Princeton very early, became a center for Cumberland Presbyterians. It was under the sponsorship of this church that Cumberland (Presbyterian) College was founded in 1826 at Princeton.
The CPC of Princeton was the only Presbyterian Church in Princeton for 21 years. On May 1, 1838 Rev. Robert Lilly, of the Livingston Church, came to Princeton and organized the First Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) of Princeton.
In 1845 Rev. William C. Love organized the Cumberland Presbyterian Church of Fredonia. This was the first church in the village of Fredonia. The first members were composed mainly of members from old Livingston and Bethlehem CPC.
Old Livingston survived that exodus of members; but it did change its name to Fredonia Presbyterian Church and moved two and a half miles to the village of Fredonia.
In 1846 the PCUSA (Northern) of Princeton, built a church at 309 N. Jefferson Street. It is said that the bell in the church tower could be heard for five miles. Rev. James Hawthorn came as the fourth pastor of the church in 1846. Mr. Urey, an elder of the church, sent his wagons and teams to Nashville and moved Dr. Hawthorn and his family to Princeton. He was paid a salary of $200. Dr. Hawthorn remained until his death in 1877, a total of 31 years. After his death, the church that had remained together through all the years of the Civil War was divided over the question of his successor - should he be chosen from the USA (Northern) or the US (Southern) Assembly?
No agreement could be reached, so part of the members withdrew and organized the Presbyterian Church US (PCUS).
In 1881 the Presbyterian Church USA bought Princeton College, located on the present Butler campus. The name was changed to Princeton Collegiate Institution. In 1911 the school was forced to close on account of finances.
In 1882, the PCUS built a church at 126 W. Market Street. The PCUS used this building for 23 years until they united with the CPC and PCUSA to form the Central Presbyterian Church USA. Later this building was sold to a group that did not join in the union and it became the Barbee Memorial CPC.
In 1892 the PCUSA built the second building on the same site at 309 N. Jefferson. They abandoned this building when they united with the CPC to form Central Presbyterian Church. The church was converted into a residence and still stands today.
The CPC removed the 1823 building in 1902 to make room for the third house of worship on the original Main Street site.
In 1902-1904 ca. the CPC, PCUSA, and PCUS churches of Princeton united and formed the Central Presbyterian Church USA. The 1902 CPC at Main and Harrison Streets was designated as their house of worship.
Central Presbyterian Church was for many years after the union one of the strongest churches in the Presbytery. One of the first Christian Endeavor Societies in Kentucky was organized in this church. The Princeton young people were active in forming Presbytery's Young People's League during the twenties and the Young People's Conferences of the thirties and continued to be active in the Westminster Fellowship of the forties. Perhaps the strongest period in the life of this church was during the pastorates of Dr. W. B. Holmes and his son-in-law Rev. E. E. Diggs.
In 1953 planning began for an addition to the 1902 building, an Education and Fellowship Hall, completed in 1954.
In 1965 the 1902 church was removed to make way for a new sanctuary dedicated on March 27, 1966.
The peal of the bell used in the 1823, 1902 and in the present 1965 sanctuary has announced Sunday morning worship to generations of Princeton residents, and continues to proclaim that Central Presbyterian Church is witnessing and involved in the community. From its early days of ministering to the frontier and educating its young, to its involvement with Cub and Boy Scouts, Hilltop School, the Free Medical Clinic, and the Celebration Choir of young folks, our church continues to play an active part in our community.
Pastors Since The Union:
1904-1908 M. E, Chapell
1908-1915 R. H. Anthony
1915-1921 J. F. Claycombe
1922-1925 L. B. Hart
1925-1927 W. B. Holmes
1927-1942 E. E. Diggs
1942-1944 John Fox
1945-1946 Donald Wilmouth
1947-1949 D. W. Schuleherr
1950-1954 Floyd Loperfido
1954-1956 James Huff, Jr.
1956-1965 Orville Pearson
1965-1977 Joseph N. Suitor
1977-1982 J. Sprole Lyons
1983-1988 Gary R. Soop
1989 Dorothy M. Kipp (Interim)
1989-1990 Allard G. Smith
1991-1992 Joyce Abell (Interim)
1992-1997 George McDonald
1997-1998 Dorothy M. Kipp (Interim)
1998-1999 Sharon M. Murray (Interim)
1999-2011 James H. Stahr
2012-2013 Michael Chamberlain (Interim)
2013-2020 Kenneth Godshall
2021-2022 Donna Webster (interim)
2022 - present Steve Fortenberry
First Officers of New Central Presbyterian Church:
First Session: Frank Wood, Eli Nichols, W. H. Jones, R. R. Morgan
Elders: W. P. McLin, L. C. Lisman, G. Walter Towery, Edd L. McLin, Frank G. Wood, Robert Morgan, Dique Eldred, Leonard Groom, Littleton Groom
Deacons: Stegar Dollar, William E. Jones, Gayle Pettit, Marshall Eldred, John H. McLin
Trustees: Robert Morgan, Dique Eldred, Frank Wood