A Brief History of Rocky River Presbyterian Church

Rocky River Presbyterian Church is a vibrant, growing congregation that is proud of and willing to learn from its rich history. Since celebrating our 250th anniversary in 2001, we have turned our energy toward an exciting future as we seek God’s plan for us in our rapidly growing community.


In order to appreciate where Rocky River Church is today, it is important to know a little about her history.


Rocky River Presbyterian Church was started in the home of William White, Sr. in 1751. It is first mentioned in the official records of the New Side Synod of New York in October of 1755. The first pastor, the Rev. Alexander Craighead, was installed on November 6, 1758. Mr. Craighead was very outspoken in his views against the British dating back to the 1730s. No doubt he inspired the local colonists in a spirit which led to the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence on May 20, 1775. Unfortunately, Mr. Craighead died without seeing the formation of the United States of America. Rocky River’s second pastor, the Rev. Hezekiah James Balch, was instrumental in writing the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence and the May 31, 1775, Mecklenburg Resolves.


Original sanctuary

The site of the original log sanctuary lies some two miles to the northwest of the present one. This site is now within Pharr Mill Road Park. The second sanctuary, also of logs, was erected about 1776 and was situated several hundred yards to the east of the current church. The third sanctuary, dating from 1807, was of frame construction and occupied ground now included in the cemetery to the rear of the present church.

Present Sanctuary

The present and fourth sanctuary was dedicated in 1861 and was built at a cost of $6,000. The sanctuary had a seating capacity of 750, when it was built. The last extensive work inside was done in 1969 when the ceiling was replaced after the partial collapse of the original plaster one. The exterior brick work was restored in 1974 to preserve its appearance. Fingerprints can be seen in the handmade bricks. The Wilcox Educational Building was dedicated in 1949.


The balcony of the sanctuary was designed for occupancy by the slaves who attended Rocky River. The church’s membership peaked in 1856 with 448 white and 202 African American members. Although most of the former slaves organized Bellefonte Presbyterian Church in 1867, some continued as members of Rocky River until the mid-1870s.

Session house

The frame Session House dates from 1839. In 2001, the Session House became a simple prayer chapel offering people a quiet place to pray and meditate.

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