Presbyterianism in Charleston, West Virginia started with the first settlers in the valley. The arrival of Reverend Henry Ruffner, the area’s first Presbyterian minister, marked the start of Presbyterianism in the Kanawha Valley in 1815. It wasn’t until 1819 that it flourished though, when his son, David Ruffner became the minister, thus becoming the “Father of Presbyterianism in the Kanawha Valley.” In the same year, the Kanawha Presbyterian Church was organized, with about 18 members.
The church started out in a small room inside the Mercer Academy, led by pastor Dr. Calvin Chaddock. The relics of the church were kept in an oak chest called “The Ark,” which includes a bundle of Dr. Chaddock’s sermons written in his own handwriting. Though the church’s population grew slowly, its members decided it should have its own place of worship. An old brick church was dedicated in 1830, and was the home of the Kanawha Presbyterian Church until June 1872.
The Civil War divided the church, despite its resolve not to be involved in politics. However, the pressure was too great, and the church chose to remain with the General Assembly. The congregation was split, and the “southern” faction retained the brick church. The small remaining congregation worshiped in the Senate Chamber of the State Capitol, then in the Ashbury Chapel until the new place of worship was built. Despite the small congregation, the members of the church was able to pool enough money to build a beautiful new church. The cornerstone of the current church was laid on April 20, 1873.
The construction of the church started very slowly. Just as the ground was excavated and the foundation laid, economic panic swept the community. Though the members have dwindled to 16, they were determined to finish the church’s construction. After 12 years of construction, it was finally finished and the Kanawha United Presbyterian Church was dedicated on April 25, 1885.