Historic Detroit

Every building in Detroit has a story — we're here to share it

Fort Street Presbyterian Church

Fort Street Presbyterian Church was first organized in 1849 as the Second Presbyterian church. The congregation met in the old state Capitol on Capitol Park in Detroit until they could build their church on the corner of Lafayette and Wayne (now Washington Boulevard) in 1850.

The present structure was completed in 1855 and the name was changed to Fort Street Presbyterian Church. It is one of America's finest examples of the Gothic Revival architecture of that period. It was constructed of limestone from the quarries at Malden, Ontario. The building is on the state and national historic registers.

At the time of its construction, Lafayette and Fort Street was a fashionable part of the city, and it was surrounded by the stately homes of early Fort Street Presbyterian members such as Russell A. Alger, James, F. Joy, Theodore S. Buhl, Henry D. Shelden, and Zachariah Chandler.

The architect selected was Mr. Albert H. Jordan, originally from Connecticut. His firm was the leader in the church building boom of the 1850s. His young draftsman, James Anderson was responsible for a large portion of our building. Anderson went on to design Detroit's Old City Hall.

The membership at this time was only 167, and the total cost of building and site about $70,000 (about $1.7 million, when adjusted for inflation). Insufficient funds made it necessary to only partially complete the interior furnishings. In March 1870, a reconditioning program was instituted to complete the original design that included the installation of the crescent gallery and black walnut pews.

On March 25, 1876, the church was destroyed by fire. Nothing remained of "one of the finest church edifices in the city" but the "cold gray walls," the Detroit Free Press reported the following morning.

"No ancient and time-dried wooden building could have been more swiftly swept out of existence than was everything within reach of those fierce flames except the stone walls," the Free Press continued. "The fire department responded with great promptness, but when the firemen reached the scene, the fire had burst forth from every window and aperture in the edifice. It needed no experienced eye to discover the utter impossibility of subduing the flames."

The loss was estimated at more than $100,000. The parish was rebuilt to the original design.

On Sept. 21, 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt worshipped at the church.

Despite being rebuilt, the church was damaged by fire, yet again, in 1914. Again, it was rebuilt.

The church's slate roof was replaced in August and September 2013.