First Presbyterian Church and Manse, Forsyth

When an overheated furnace set fire to the First Presbyterian Church in December 1919, the congregation lost everything but the Prairie style manse built next door in 1910. While church members temporarily held services in the Masonic Hall, news of the fire and pleas for help rebuilding spread through the national Presbyterian press. Among those who responded was an unnamed benefactress from Illinois, a member of Chicago’s distinguished Fourth Presbyterian Church. Because she admired her own church building, the benefactress hired Howard Van Doren Shaw, a Chicago architect associated with Fourth Presbyterian, to design a new church for Forsyth. Shaw’s design, as adapted by Montana architects McIver and Cohagen, echoed on a much smaller scale the basic lines of the prestigious Chicago church. The result: this beautiful single-story yellow brick building with a tall gabled clerestory flanked by three small cross gables. Its simplified Gothic style details include buttressed walls and a prominent pointed-arch entranceway. Although church trustees originally estimated reconstruction would cost $30,000 to $35,000, Shaw’s design was more ambitious than they expected, and more than the small congregation, hit hard by the declining homesteading economy, could afford—even with substantial national support. Compromises were made; for example, many of the church’s rectangular windows lie beneath window arches originally intended to frame dramatic stained glass, and some of the interior detailing remained uncompleted until the 1970s. In 1950, Forsyth’s Presbyterians and Methodists joined together to form the Federated Church; the united congregation continues to meet in this downtown landmark.

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1160-1180 Cedar Street, Forsyth, Montana ~ Private