The nine oldest houses of worship in Cincinnati that still hold services
200 years and still going strong
Kevin Eigelbach, WCPO contributor
12:00 PM, Jun 3, 2016
I recently wrote about Whitewater Crossing Christian Church in Cleves celebrating its 150th anniversary.
That got me thinking, “What are the oldest houses of worship in Cincinnati that still hold services?” I thought surely Whitewater would be among them.
Several Cincinnati houses of worship have celebrated their .200th anniversaries, and they’re still in business today.
Here, then, are the oldest local houses of worship I could find, with help from the folks at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.
No. 1: Four Presbyterian churches. I’m lumping them together to give this list some diversity. Otherwise, it would be half Presbyterian.
According to Claire Kroger, business manager for the Presbytery of Cincinnati, the ur-church locally is Cincinnati Columbia Presbyterian, founded in Columbia Tusculum in 1790.
Because the preacher had to ride through Native American territory to get to the church, Kroger said, in 1796, it split into two churches. The flooding in the area probably also influenced the decision, she added.
The resulting congregations celebrated their 225th anniversaries last fall. They are First Presbyterian, which initially moved to Fourth and Main in Downtown but now is at 717 Elm St.; and Pleasant Ridge Presbyterian, which initially moved to Duck Creek, but in 1800 moved the church log-by-log to Montgomery Road, its present location.
In 1792, another Presbyterian church formed in Fort Washington. The congregation moved north to Woodlawn, but moved back to the fort in 1794 because of nearby skirmishes with Native Americans. In 1801 they built the first church building in what’s now Springdale, and it later became the Springdale Presbyterian Church, which still exists today.
In 1811, a group of farmers in western Hamilton County started a Presbyterian church that initially met in one-another’s homes. Two years later, that area became the town of Harrison, and in 1821, First Presbyterian Church was built, and it’s still around today, having celebrated its bicentennial in 2011.
No. 2: Cincinnati Friends Meeting, 8075 Keller Road, Indian Hill. This group of Quakers began meeting in one-another’s homes in 1811, and in 1813 purchased their first meeting house on Fifth Street.
The church has weathered various splits since then. In 1828, followers of Elias Hicks, a traveling Quaker preacher from New York who caused the first major schism among the Friends nationally, left and built their own meeting house on the same property as the Orthodox believers.
The Hicksite congregation died out in the late 1800s, while the Orthodox moved to Corryville in 1930 and to Indian Hill in 1963. It just hired a new pastor, James Newby, who previously served as pastor from 1975-79 and spoke at the bicentennial celebration in 2015.
About 30-35 of the church’s 75 members meet for worship any given Sunday, said Sabrina Darnowsky, a member of the church council.
The church has endured, she said, because its commitment to principles is hard to find in other Christian denominations. For example, the longstanding Quaker commitments to peace and to equality for everyone. Worship services are also unique, with lots of silence and waiting for members to feel led to speak or request a hymn.
No. 3: St. John’s Unitarian Universalist Church, 320 Resor Ave., Clifton. Founded in 1814 as an independent church for religious liberals, it built a sanctuary at 12th and Elm streets that served as the church home for 78 years. It’s now The Transept, a bar and meeting place.
The church joined the American Unitarian Association in 1924, and when that organization merged with the Universalist churches in 1961, St. John’s became a Unitarian Universalist church.
No. 4: Christ Church Cathedral, 318 E. Fourth St., Downtown, was founded in 1871, but didn’t move into its present home until 1835. In the early days, pew rentals funded church operations.
According to its website, the church has a long history of social action. Parishioners were active in founding Children’s Hospital and the United Appeal. Its Community Issues Forum sponsors public panels on civic issues, and this year, its 5000 Club celebrated 10 years of providing meals for Downtown residents.
In recent years, it’s also become known as a space for the performing arts. At 12:10 each Tuesday, September through May, it offers its Music Live at Lunch program of free music and $5 lunches.
No. 5: St. Peter-in-Chains Cathedral, 100 E. Eighth St., Downtown. According to the website of St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church, seven Roman Catholic families banded together in 1819 to create Cincinnati’s first Catholic Church, a small wooden building at Liberty and Vine, where St. Francis Seraph now stands.
Two years later, Cincinnati became a diocese led by Bishop Edward Fenwick. He had the building put on rollers and moved to Sycamore Street, closer to his home in what’s now Lytle Park, and changed the name to St. Peter’s.
In 1845, a new cathedral was dedicated at the present site and given the name St. Peter-in-Chains. The church on Sycamore, renamed St. Francis Xavier, remains there to this day.
No. 6: Anderson Hills United Methodist Church, 7515 Forest Road, Anderson Township. Founded in 1820, with its first building at Forest and Asbury roads, the church moved several places before settling at Forest and Beechmont in 1952.
It now averages 950 worshippers on Sunday, executive pastor Mark Putnam said. The congregation has thrived by “being outwardly focused, and realizing the good news of Jesus is not just for us,” Putnam said. To that end, the church does much outreach, locally and worldwide.
Nos. 7 and 8: A tie between K.K. Bene Israel synagogue, also known as Rockdale Temple, 8501 Ridge Road, and Allen Temple African Methodist Episcopal Church, 7080 Reading Road.
Both founded in 1824, these congregations have some things in common despite their religious differences. Rockdale is the oldest Jewish congregation and Allen Temple the oldest African-American congregation west of the Alleghenies.
Rockdale built its first synagogue in 1836 at Sixth and Broadway, then moved in 1917 to a new temple on Rockdale Avenue — hence the name.
The African-American founders of Allen Temple left predominately white Methodist Episcopal churches in 1824 because they didn’t like sitting in segregated pews. In 1870, the congregation purchased Rockdale’s old temple at Sixth and Broadway, where it worshiped until 1979, when it moved to Roselawn. According to its website, in 2004, the church moved to its present home on Reading Road, and in 2014, opened a new Life Activity Center there.
No. 9: Union Baptist Church, 405 W. Seventh St. Downtown. According to its website, it’s the oldest African-American Baptist church in Cincinnati. It was organized in 1831 by 10 men and four women who had been attending the Enon Baptist Church but, like the founders of Allen Temple, didn’t like the segregation they experienced.
According to its website, this church has a long history of starting other churches, including Zion Baptist in Xenia, Mount Zion Baptist in Lockland, First Baptist of Walnut Hills and Second Baptist in Springfield. Before the Civil War, it fed, clothed and taught runaway slaves.