Write-up by Courtney Worthen
Placed by: National Register Division of State History, No. 306
GPS Coordinates: 40.37815, -111.796178
75 N 100 E, American Fork, UT 84003
Historical Marker Text: “The First Presbyterian Church of American Fork: In 1877 Reverend George R. Bird arrived to begin activities of the Presbyterian Church in American Fork. Work on this modified Gothic revival church began in 1878. The cornerstone for the completed building was laid in September 1881 by Reverend Thomas F. Day. This building was used as both a church and a school until the school was closed in 1909. It has served as a Presbyterian church continuously since its construction. It was listed on the national register of Historic Places May 23, 1980.”
On September 7, 1877, Reverend George R. Bird arrived in American Fork to establish the Presbyterian faith in the area. The history of the American Fork Presbyterian Church is part of a wider history of the Presbyterian mission in Utah Territory. Presbyterianism was among the first protestant faiths to enter Utah amongst an overwhelmingly dominant Mormon population. This broader history adds context to the church’s activities in American Fork.
Presbyterian influence first came to Utah through a Presbyterian clergyman named John Anderson in 1862. As a California volunteer who helped establish Fort Douglas, which overlooked the Salt Lake Valley during the Civil War, Anderson was in Utah on military assignment. While in Salt Lake City, Anderson held Presbyterian services in a tent he brought with him from California. Evangelizing in portable tents was a common practice in territories where Presbyterian churches were not yet established. This was especially true in Farron, a city in Emery County, where it is argued that Presbyterianism was first organized in Utah. Other historians argue that the first Presbyterian churches in Utah Territory were organized in predominantly “Gentile,”or non-Mormon communites such as the railroad town of Corinne, or the mining community in Alta. In 1871, Reverend Norman McLeod officially organized a congregation in Salt Lake City. 
The Presbyterian mission in Utah had both religious and educational purposes. Before 1890, Utah did not have a free public school system. When Presbyterian missionaires realized their proselyting efforts were not very successful among Mormon adults they decided youth education might be an effecitve means to bring Christianity and American values to Utah. By 1880 the Presbyterian mission had twenty four schools ranging across Utah and by 1890 they reported thirty three schools and four academies. In American Fork, Ida Kingsbury and other teachers offered a Presbyterian education to children in their community. Kingsbury opened American Fork’s day school in 1879 with eleven students enrolled. In 1890, the Utah legislature passed laws to begin a public school system in the state; as a result, the Presbyterian educational mission began to decline. American Fork’s day school continued to operate until 1909.
The relationship between the Presbyterian mission and the Mormons in Utah was hostile for many years. However, one historian claims that the relationship between Presbyterians and Mormons “varied due to time frame, geographical setting, and the interactions of different personalities.” For example, in 1871, Brigham Young invited Presbyterian Henry Kendall to speak in the Salt Lake City Tabernacle to a large Mormon audience. The audience was respectful and attentive and Young later encouraged members to allow “every reputable person” who wished to preach “the privilage of doing so” no matter what their religion. Alternatively, in 1872, Reverend Norman McLeod’s anti-Mormon speeches created so much anger amongst Salt Lake City’s Mormon population that he fled East after receiving harrasment and death threats. During the nineteenth century, Presbyterians and Mormons struggled to understand each other, and they frequently perceived each other harshly. Prebyterian day schools, anti-Mormon publications, along with polygamy and other Mormon doctrines exacerbated unkind feelings between the faiths.
The Mormons were well aware of the Presbyterian’s “Christianizing” agenda in providing education to Utah’s youth. In order to raise funds for day schools, Presbyterians published newspapers and pamphlets such as The Kinsman, which accused Mormons of being un-American, attacked polygamy as barbaric, and highlighed other doctrines Presbyterians perceived to be heretical. Presbyterians raised money in the East on the grounds that their mission efforts might rescue Mormon youth from their parents’ religion. They especially concentrated their efforts on Mormon girls. Knowing of the Presbyterian’s mission to reach Mormon children, and finding their anti-Mormon publications to be offensive, Mormon authorities discourgaged their members from allowing their children to participate in Presbyterian schools.
Presbyterians, in turn, reported harrasment from Mormons. In an 1880 letter, the Presbytery of Utah complained to Mormon leaders that in Logan, American Fork, Springville, and Payson Presbyterian meetings were “frequently disturbed by hooting through the windows, cursing against the teachers, and by boisterous singing and shouting round the doors.” Presbyterians further claimed that buildings had been “defiled in unmentionable ways, our property injured by stoning, and our books cut to pieces and scattered under the seats by those attending our services.” According to one historian, Mormon apologists were equally fierce in their condemnation of Presbyterians as Presbyterians were of Mormons. Charles W. Penrose, then editor of the Deseret News, called Presbyterian ministers “snuffling, collection-taking hypocrites” who Satan himself would not be seen with. During these years Presbyterians felt ostracized as religious minorites and their claims of harrasment were often dismissed by Mormon leadrship. As Utah gained statehood and assimilated into the United States, Presbyterian periodicals reduced their coverage of Mormons and fortunately, both denominations learned to coexist as friends as they strove to build good relationships.
Beginning his ministry in American Fork, Reverend George R. Bird was more fortunate than many of his collegues. Upon arriving, Bird rented a social hall, in the upstairs of “Chipman’s Store,” and held American Fork’s first Presbyterian service two days later on September 9, 1877.  According to a history written by Ruth Teuscher, Bird had thirty Sunday School students in attendance by September 30. On November 27, Bird was able to offically establish a congregation with five members. The Board of National Missions of the Presbyterian Church helped Bird purchase a log house near Main Street in American Fork to use as a temporary chapel. Bird’s growing congregation was made up of, “mostly Scots, some English, and a few Scandinavians and Americans.” Reverend Bird ministered to his congregants in American Fork for three years before Reverend Thomas F. Day replaced him in 1880. Before leaving American Fork, Bird appointed Ida Kingsbury, from Indiana, to oversee the day school. Reverend Day later married Kingsbury.
The Presbyterian mission enjoyed the height of its membership in nineteenth century Utah during the 1880s before experiencing a decline. The subsequent decline in membership mirrored the decline in the number of day schools. Mining in American Fork Canyon sustained church membership in American Fork better than other missions in the state, however, the church experienced a lull in membership when the mines closed. The outbreak of World War II witnessed a revival, especially when Geneva Steele brought more Protestants to the area. Church membership in American Fork peaked in the mid 1960s with about 135 members.
Architect Peter Van Houghton is thought to have designed the Presbyterian church in American Fork in a “modified Gothic Revival style”. In 2020, the exterior of the church resembles its original state even though the building has experienced a variety of modifications over the years. In the mid 1940s a kitchen was added to the back of the building. The original building had clear glass which was replaced by stained glass in 1976. On July 12, 1952, the bell tower was struck by lightning which caused fire damage to the exterior of the belfry. The damage remained for 44 years, until 1997, when the American Fork Legacy Committee helped restore the belfry as part of Utah’s sesquicentennial celebration. Minor interior renovations occurred in 1975 reversing classroom separations which were added in the 1940s. The church has also been featured in two Hollywood films: Footloose and The Butter Cream Gang. In 1940, Reverend Elias Jones changed the name of the church from The First Presbyterian Church to its current name: Community Presbyterian Church.
 American Fork Presbyterian Church, Papers, Utah Historic Building Records, Marriot Library, Utah. 55. https://collections.lib.utah.edu/details?id=1495212
 George K. Davies, “A History of the Presbyterian Church in Utah ,”Journal of the Presbyterian Historical Society (1943-1961) 25, no. 1 (1947): 46-67, Accessed February 22, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/23324258.
 Douglas R. Brackenridge, “Hostile Mormons and Persecuted Presbyterians in Utah, 1870-1900: A Reappraisal,” Journal of Mormon History 37, no. 3 (2011): 162-228, Accessed February 23, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/23292727.
 Utah Historic Building Records, 74.
 Brackenridge, “Hostile Mormons and Persecuted Presbyterians in Utah,” 167.
 Brackenridge, “Hostile Mormons and Persecuted Presbyterians in Utah,” 169.
 Brackenridge, “Hostile Mormons and Persecuted Presbyterians in Utah,” 170.
 Jana K. Riess, “Heathen in Our Fair Land’: Presbyterian Women Missionaries in Utah, 1870-90.” Journal of Mormon History 26, no. 1 (2000): 165-95, Accessed February 23, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/23288593.
 Brackenridge, “Hostile Mormons and Persecuted Presbyterians in Utah,” 213-214.
 Brackenridge, “Hostile Mormons and Persecuted Presbyterians in Utah,” 176.
 Brackenridge, “Hostile Mormons and Persecuted Presbyterians in Utah,” 166.
 Utah Historic Building Records, 74.
 Utah Historic Building Records, 55.
 Theodore D. and Marian E. Martin, “Presbyterian Work in Utah, 1869-1969,” (SLC, Wheelwright Lithography Co, 1971): 3-4, Quoted in American Fork Presbyterian Church. Papers. Utah Historic Building Records, Utah. https://collections.lib.utah.edu/details?id=1495212
 Utah Historic Building Records, 65.
 Utah Historic Building Records, 5.
 Utah Historic Building Records, 5.
 Utah Historic Building Records, 63.
For Further Reference:
Westminster College. The Presbytery of Utah at American Fork. August 1894. Photograph. American Fork, Utah. Special Collections. J. Willard Marriot Library. University of Utah. Salt Lake City Utah. https://utah-primoprod.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=digcoll_uuu_11wc_pc%2F1094197&context=L&vid=UTAH&lang=en_US&search_scope=EVERYTHING&adaptor=Local%20Search%20Engine&tab=everything&query=any,contains,american%20fork%20Presbyterian%20church&offset=0
American Fork Presbyterian Church. Papers. Utah Historic Building Records. Utah Division of State History. Salt Lake City, Utah. https://collections.lib.utah.edu/details?id=1495212
Brackenridge, R. Douglas. “Hostile Mormons and Persecuted Presbyterians in Utah, 1870-1900: A Reappraisal.” Journal of Mormon History 37, no. 3 (2011): 162-228. Accessed February 23, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/23292727.
Brackenridge, R. Douglas. “Presbyterians and Latter-day Saints in Utah: A Century of Conflict and Compromise, 1830—1930.” The Journal of Presbyterian History (1997-) 80, no. 4 (2002): 205-24. Accessed February 23, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/23336401.
Davies, George K. “A History of the Presbyterian Church in Utah (Continued).” Journal of the Presbyterian Historical Society (1943-1961) 24, no. 3 (1946): 147-81. Accessed February 23, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/23324121.
Davies, George K. “A History of the Presbyterian Church in Utah (Concluded).”Journal of the Presbyterian Historical Society (1943-1961) 25, no. 1 (1947): 46-67. Accessed February 22, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/23324258.
Molascon, Allen R. “The Presbyterian Mission in American Fork, 1887-1896.” 1968. Special Collections. J. Willard Marriot Library. University of Utah. Salt Lake City Utah.
Riess, Jana Kathryn. “”Heathen in Our Fair Land”: Presbyterian Women Missionaries in Utah, 1870-90.” Journal of Mormon History 26, no. 1 (2000): 165-95. Accessed February 23, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/23288593.