FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH HISTORY
In response to a petition from 'Presbyterians living in the town of Eastman, Georgia, the Macon Presbytery appointed the Reverend William McKay to visit the field and if the “way be clear” to organize the petitioners into a church. On Sunday, June 23, 1877, services were held in the county courthouse and the First Presbyterian Church of Eastman, Georgia was organized.
Of the 12 charter members, not one was native to the new town of Eastman. Most had moved to the young village from New York, Illinois, and North Carolina. Two Elders were elected J. W. Sheldon and William Pitt Eastman (the town had been named for its most prominent citizen, Mr. Eastman). Mr. Sheldon was ordained and elected Clerk of Session.
The church continued to meet in the courthouse until 1892, when the first sanctuary was erected. That structure, a frame building with one room and a small narthex would serve the church until 1928. It still serves though it has been moved. It has housed several other congregations over the years as well as law offices and a home. Faith in Action Baptist Church is currently using the structure.
In the 1920's the need for Sunday school space and a better location prompted the congregation to sell their property and construct a larger sanctuary. We are meeting today in that building. The architecture is a modified "Akron Plan.” Sunday school classrooms around the sanctuary opened with folding doors to provide extra room for large meetings. The doors on the left wall of the seating area are the only ones still in use. That room is used as a parlor. The Reverend J. S. Davis (1926-31) was the pastor during this period of planning and construction.
The stained glass windows were given by members and friends of the church to honor or memorialize relatives or friends. Two or three are worthy of special mention. The "Gethsemane" window behind the pulpit was given by Mrs. Mona Coleman Dickens and her brother T. T. Coleman and reflects their devotion and commitment to their church. Mrs. Dickens was a long time Sunday school teacher, pianist, W. 0. C. Leader, and the “get things done" person for the church. Since she seemed to always be at the church, one young member once asked his father if “this was Miss Mona's Church." The window on the front right inscribed, "In honor of friends who so generously helped us build this church" honors the people in the community who helped finance the construction. One story relates that vendors and wholesale suppliers contributed merchandise to the local merchants who sold the wares to raise funds for the building. The window at the rear on the right reading "In Memory of Mrs. Mary Russell," is a unique memorial to a person "with no means.” Mrs. Russell came to Eastman from Liverpool England via Macon. A person of gentility she had no source of income or skills to work. She subsisted upon the generosity of friends and the church upon whom "she called as she had need." Church records indicate that she served as Sunday School Superintendent for a time.
In 1961 the building was enlarged with the addition of a fellowship hall, kitchen, and classrooms. Hal Lyons had come to the church during 1960, as a student supply from Columbia Seminary. His business and planning background was instrumental in developing this addition that had been under discussion for some time. He was called to serve this church upon graduation and was ordained in 1961.
The church has been blessed by good and faithful lay leadership through the years and with many good pastors. Among them The Reverend Blake Breitenhirt, who is a current member of the Savannah Presbytery, Leighton Ford preached here as a student, Howard Cameron, who went into foreign mission work from here, James Gailey served here as a student, Fielding Russell as Hal Lyons, Don Hendrix, Jack Walker, Wayne McDaniel and our present pastor, Anne Gibbons. Eastman First became a part of the Savannah Presbytery in January of 1988.