A History of Highland Park Presbyterian Church
The City of Highland Park was incorporated in 1869 while it was still a muddy clearing in the forest above Lake Michigan. Its developers established a Highland Park Religious Association, to provide home buyers an opportunity for non-denominational Protestant worship. Shortly thereafter, the Baptists in the group left to form their own church. Those remaining were mainly Presbyterians who in 1871 voted to create the Highland Park Presbyterian Church.
Within a year, a pastor was called and a building site, the same site the church sits on today, was found. One of HPPC’s charter members, Elisha Gray, used the sanctuary of the new church to demonstrate his electric telephone invention in 1874. In 1889 the chapel was added and in 1892 the property for the manse was purchased. Membership continued to grow and in 1909 plans to build a larger edifice on the double lot next door was approved. Finally in 1912 the new church was dedicated. By 1946, HPPC’s 75th anniversary, church membership stood at 1200 and church school enrollment grew to 735. Once again, the church was expanded to accommodate its growing numbers.
The end of WWII and the exodus of Jews from Europe brought dramatic demographic changes to Highland Park. By 1964 the Jewish community constituted one-third of Highland Park’s population. HPPC from the beginning maintained close relations with its Jewish neighbors. In fact, while one of the early synagogues was being built, its congregation celebrated Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in HPPC’s sanctuary. In 1996, HPPC celebrated its 125th anniversary. While membership at HPPC has stabilized around 300 in the current multi faith community, HPPC remains a historic church with a vital presence in Highland Park.
—With appreciation to Bruce L. Felknor, member of HPPC and retired editor of Encyclopedia Britannica, author and editorial consultant.
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