In 1909, Missoula was a town to be talked about. Its second railroad, the Milwaukee, had finally reached town, an electric streetcar system ran the streets, and a new modern Higgins Avenue bridge had been recently completed.
Reverend Dr. John Maclean was also just arriving to town, delivering his first sermons at the First Presbyterian Church of Missoula. At that time, church buildings were not just used for worship, but were social centers for town as well. On a daily basis the Brotherhood Club, Boy Scouts and a variety of women’s groups were using the small church. By 1910, Maclean and local architect and congregation member, A.J. Gibson, began plans for a larger church.
In 1912, lots were purchased on the south side of Missoula, at South Fifth and Myrtle street, and the current church was finished three years later. Though Gibson had retired in 1913, he came out of retirement to design the large scale Gothic Revival-style brick church as his last official project. The building includes an enormous square bell tower, steep central gable, and pointed-arch windows. Its large size and nod to European style of architecture makes it the showcase of the South Side.
John Maclean was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church from 1909 to 1925. His sons, Norman and Pual, grew up in Missoula and learned to fly fish in the surrounding rivers. It was their adventures in Missoula that sparked Norman to write “A River Runs Through It.”
On September 13th, 2015 the First Presbyterian Church will be celebrating its 100th year with a variety of events. Check out their website for more information: http://fpcmissoula.org/site/homepage.html.