On March 8, 1803, the founding fathers of Butler County plotted ground designed for a church lot. The county seat designated this space for a future congregation. The First Presbyterian Church, or Covenant United Presbyterian Church as it is known today, was established in 1813. Today the edifice sits at 230 E Jefferson Street in Butler, PA.
The church is the oldest congregation in the city. Thirty years prior to its establishment a large number of Presbyterians settled in Western PA. These settlers maintained domestic and social worship until a few years before the close of the eighteenth century, but they were not a regularly organized congregation. Numerous pastors preached the gospel in a tent and then on the “church lot” property in 1803. On April 7, 1813, the Presbytery of Erie installed Reverend John McPherrin as pastor of the Butler and Concord congregations. Reverend McPherrin's installation marks the official establishment of the First Presbyterian Church.
The church originally met in the courthouse. The first movement towards building a stone church began in 1814. Congregational members and pastors made donations ranging from one to fifty dollars. John McPherrin set the precedent for the donation process, who, along with twelve other pastors, “agreed to pay an equal share of whatever may be lacking to the Trustees of Butler congregation for building a meeting-house.” The stone building was finished in 1815 and not renovated again until 1833 when they remodeled the entire building in brick. The church that is present today was built in 1862 as a reflection of the city’s continual development.
Preceding and during the Civil War, thousands of slaves used the Underground Railroad to escape the south and follow the path to freedom in the northern states and, for some, in Canada. The first goal along the escape routes was to reach either Ohio or Pennsylvania. Many New England-ers settled in the northern areas of these states, while many southerners who were against slavery settled in the southern parts. Pennsylvania housed slaves from Virginia and North Carolina on their way to the northwest corner of the state, which provided a quicker route to Canada. First Presbyterian Church was one stop along the way. Unfortunately, there are not many accounts of the church's role in hiding runaway slaves due to fear of having the church closed or torn down. The only documentation that exists is an autobiographical account from the minister’s son. Three holes found at the back of the foundation of the church serve as an intriguing piece of evidence. The holes lead to three chambers underneath the church, which are twenty feet long and barely tall enough to crawl through. Reverend Loyal Young, the minister at the time, hid the slaves in these secret chambers, giving no other account or documentation of the event.
The Covenant United Presbyterian Church was also the home of numerous organizations. When the US entered World War I, the the women of Butler established a Red Cross Unit and used the church as a meeting place. Though there were only twenty-one members of the unit, they worked their hardest for the war effort. Their work included rolling bandages, knitting socks, and campaigning for more volunteers. The Red Cross unit in Butler lasted until April 9, 1919. Covenant United Presbyterian also housed the Women’s Missionary Society in 1948 along with the Young Women’s Missionary Society and the Alice Wick Missionary Society.
Today, the Covenant United Presbyterian Church is still a significant congregation in Butler County. Aside from a few renovations, the church has remained a place of worship over the years, welcoming all who wish to join.