top of page

Welcome to The Park Church
Congregational, United Church of Christ

Our History Set Our Course:

  • Incorporated on January 3, 1846 by 41 abolitionists who broke away from First Presbyterian Church over the issue of slavery to form a new congregation.

  • Original bylaws include this statement: “That the using, holding, or trading in men as slaves is a sin in the sight of God, a great wrong to its subjects and a great moral and political evil, inconsistent with the Christian profession. And that this church will admit no person into its pulpit or communion who is known to be guilty of the same.”

Early Leaders: Four Key Families

Although many people define “church” as a building, the word actually refers to a group of people who meet and work together to serve God in the world. Those individuals who founded and continue to lead it are what make The Park Church so special. Our earliest and most notable leaders are:

1. Jervis and Olivia Lewis Langdon:

  • Helped Frederick Douglass escape from slavery.

  • Were two of 41 founders of the Independent Congregational Church of Elmira.

  • Helped create Elmira College, first college where women could receive education identical to men (est. 1855).

  • Supported the efforts of John W. Jones, conductor of Elmira’s Underground Railroad

  • Gave their blessing to Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) to marry their daughter Olivia Louise Langdon (“Livy”)

2. Thomas K. and Julia Jones Beecher:

  • Son of famous preacher Lyman Beecher; she was granddaughter of Noah Webster (dictionary fame).

  • Younger brother of Henry Ward Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe.

  • Teacher, principal and naturalist before becoming a minister, taught science from the pulpit.

  • Served as pastor at Park from 1854 to his death in 1900.

  • Both were beloved in the community – many memorials to the pair were funded by the city, not the church.

3. Samuel (“Mark Twain”) and Livy Langdon Clemens:

  • Married by Rev. Beecher in 1870 at her home, the Langdon mansion, which was located directly across Church Street.

  • Livy attended Park her whole life, and brought her husband with her during the 20 summers they spent at Quarry Farm.

  • Clemens played billiards with Rev. Beecher and wrote effusively about the importance of the church.

  • Three of their four children were born in Elmira assisted by Dr. Rachel Gleason of the Watercure.

  • The entire Clemens family is buried in the Langdon family plot in Elmira’s Woodlawn Cemetery. Memorial services for Sam, Livy and their children all held in this church.

  • Twain was influenced as an author by the abolitionist citizens he met in Elmira, including the Langdon family.

4. The Reverends Samuel and Annis Ford Eastman:

  • Were chosen by Rev. Beecher to be associate pastors in 1894.

  • We believe they were the first ordained clergy couple in America.

  • Rev. Samuel’s ill health meant that his wife played a primary role, especially in early years. They lived on the top floor of the church with their three children: Anstice, Max, and Crystal.

  • Max and Crystal were key leaders in movements for women’s suffrage, peace, industrial safety and working conditions. She co-founded the American Civil Liberties Union and is credited with giving one of the 100 most important speeches of the 20th century.

Why is The Park Church so big?

  • Under the Beecher ministry, the church grew rapidly. So meeting at the 25th anniversary of the church on January 3, 1871, the members decided to build something new. But the new building wasn’t going to be just another church. Designed by Horatio Nelson White it opened in three sections, 1874-76.

  • It has been called “the first institutional church in America,” as the building housed the first public library in Elmira, a gymnasium, health clinics, kitchen and feeding programs for the homeless, and parlors that were open for all to use.

  • In pushing for the large structure, Beecher argued: “Let us see whether the rich man can love the poor, and not feel them a burden; whether the so-called refined and the unrefined can find some common bond; whether the aversions of race and caste are somewhat mitigated in us. Let us see whether we can make our children happy in fellowships and sports that are without taint of sin.”

  • In short, the building is so big because it was designed to be a place for fellowship, education, and service for all of Elmira, not just church members. This is our ongoing vision.

What’s Happening Here Now?

  • 10 AM Sunday morning worship includes a thoughtful sermon relating gospel readings to contemporary life, prayers and concerns, pipe organ music and a welcome for all. We are compassionate friends who gather together to become a force greater than ourselves. We support LBGTQ inclusion, racial and climate justice efforts, reproductive freedom, science, truth, love and hope.

  • Ongoing church-sponsored programs include:

    • Twice annual community rummage sales

    • Spirit Café & Meaningful Movies

    • Adult vocal and bell choirs, open to all

    • Katy Leary Community Garden vegetable beds

    • Climate Justice and Racial Justice lending library

    • Women’s March Elmira

    • Community dinners, Advent and Lenten recitals

  • The building is regularly used by:

    • Common Time choral group

    • Chemung County Reading Partnership Traveling Books

    • Local artists and music teachers, studios and lessons

    • Elmira Little Theatre

    • Orchestra of the Southern Finger Lakes

    • Cantata Singers

    • Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College

    • Various benefit concerts and programs

bottom of page