Fort Street Presbyterian Church was first organized in 1849 as the Second Presbyterian Church. The congregation met in the old Capitol Building until it could build its church on the corner of Lafayette and Wayne (now, Washington Boulevard) in 1850.
The congregation completed the present structure in 1855 and changed the name to Fort Street Presbyterian Church. It is one of America’s finest examples of the Gothic Revival architecture of that period, with the limestone sourced from the quarries at Malden, Canada. The building is now a National and State Historical Site.
At the time of its construction, Lafayette and Fort Streets were in the fashionable part of the city and the stately homes of early members, as Russell A. Alger, James F. Joy, Theodore S. Buhl, Henry D. Shelden, and Zachariah Chandler, surrounded the church.
The architect selected was Mr. Albert H. Jordan, originally from Connecticut. His firm was the leader in the church building boom of the 1850’s. His young draftsman, James Anderson, is responsible for a large part of the building.
The membership at this time was only 167, and the total cost of building and site was about $70,000 (roughly $1.7 million today). Insufficient funds made it necessary to only partially complete the interior furnishings. In March of 1870, a reconditioning program was instituted to complete the original design, which included installing the crescent gallery and black walnut pews.
Through the years Fort Street Presbyterian Church has had its woes. In 1876, fire destroyed the interior and collapsed the roof, causing the spire to crash across Fort Street. The 230-foot spire was rebuilt the next year. In 1914, when electricians were installing new lights to replace the gas lamps, fire again broke out and demolished the roof.
The same spirit that enabled the church to rise from the ashes helped its ministry adapt to changing times. By the turn of the century these members were beginning to move further out, causing the congregation to reassess its mission. Mr. James Joy gave the adjoining property and Mrs. Oren Scotten gave $50,000 in 1908 to pay for the Church House to be developed. This enabled the church to meet the needs of the families of modest means moving into the neighborhood. It set up an active gym program and sponsored one of the first Boy Scout troops west of the Alleghenies.
During World War II, the church converted the gymnasium to a dormitory for servicemen arriving at Union Station, then across the street, and housed over 60,000 men. Today a program for the homeless serves hundreds of needy persons weekly from the gymnasium.
In 2013 the church completed a five-year major capital campaign to raise $700,000 to replace the leaking slate roof. The 99-year old slate roof was replaced by Detroit Cornice and Slate with Never-Fading Green Slate, sourced from a quarry in Vermont. During the installation, engineers tested the new slate and found it to be over 3.2 times stronger than the existing. At this time, the congregation has turned its attention to the spire and is beginning a campaign to raise funds to stabilize it.