Dedicated in 1957


Central Reformed Church is a merger of two Reformed congregations, First Reformed and Second Reformed Churches. The Reformed Church in America, as we know it, came directly from the Netherlands. The church took its name from the "Reformation". It dates back to 1556. The Dutch were among our earliest settlers. It was known as the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church in America until 1819 when it was changed to Reformed Dutch Church. In 1867, it was again changed to Reformed Church in America.


First Reformed Church of Grand Rapids was founded in 1840. In 1840, Grand Rapids was a small mill town of 400 souls. The Baptists had a mission, and the Methodists had a circuit rider. In 1836, the Congregationalists were 22 strong; the Episcopalians also had formed a group in 1836 to be served by a lay preacher from Detroit. This was the same year that Michigan applied for statehood. Actual settlement of Grand Rapids did not began until 1833 when Louis Campau and a few others secured land and platted it. George Young, a descendant of those first immigrants from the Netherlands, was one of the first drawn to this land from Ovid, New York. A Ithaca, N.Y. Reformed Church gave $300 to support a missionary in this wilderness. Rev. Hart E. Waring journeyed west via the Erie Canal, the Great Lakes to Chicago then to Grand Haven and, finally, up the Grand River. He arrived soon after the financial crash of 1837 with $5 in his pocket to begin housekeeping. He called at the post office and found a letter held for him with $.50 due on it. He didn't have the money but the postmaster let him open the letter anyway. Inside he found $10 from a church in Berne, New York. On 12 August 1840, the church was organized in the home of Rev. Waring with 12 members.

Mr. & Mrs. Samuel Butler
James S. Horton
Mr. & Mrs. Hezekiah R. Osborn
Abraham Horton
Mrs. Adelaide Waring
Daniel C. Stocking
Mr. & Mrs. Bilius Stocking
Mr. & Mrs. George Young

Soon after John Ball became an active member. The board consisted of 2 elders and 2 deacons. A Sunday School was begun and a choir of ten singers with Elias Young as the chorister. All services were in English. The first services were held in the village schoolhouse, then in the upper part of a building at Fountain and Ottawa for $.50 per week. By the fall of 1841, it was decided that a church was needed. They began drawing stone from the river bed for a structure with 18" walls. At that time there were two towns 1) Grand Rapids was the land south of Pearl Street, 2) Kent was north of Lyon. Messrs. Carroll and Lyon of Kent offered to donate land to the church. A large lot on the southwest corner of Bridge and Ottawa was accepted. At first only the basement was completed. So well were the stones laid, that they were not entirely demolished until the renewal project of the city in 1966. Elder Young went east to solicit funds for the church. He secured $949.93 in 24 churches. This was the leading church at this time. The growth of the town moved away from the church and a rapids succession of ministers made the church suffer. From 1848 - 1860, the church steadily declined. Elders Young and Butler and Deacon Osborn maintained the church largely at their own expense. A request was made to Second Reformed Church, which they had befriended in their early days, for the loan of some of their members as they were steadily growing. This request was refused but four of the families came anyway. These were the families of Hermanus Liesveld, Bernard Grootenhuis, Herman H. VanderStoop and Marinus Harting. It was a turning point for the church. The Rev. Christian VanderVeen was called in 1868 by the church and he served for 3 years. Rev. Jacob VanderMeulen was taken as a supply for twelve months service. One week after he left, the church was destroyed by fire. It was a blessing in disguise. Now they could move to a more advantageous site. For a short time they worshipped with the Westminster Presbyterians. Soon they had a chance to secure the old house of worship and parsonage of the Baptists on Lyon Street. They could do it as they had received a good price from the old First site because of its business potential. In 1877, the Rev. Peter Moerdyke was called and he remained for 19 years during which the church steadily grew. By 1894 a large house of worship was built and dedicated by the church on the southwest corner of Fountain and Barclay. It had a tower of 102 feet and a seating capacity of 700. The estimated cost was $20,000. At the beginning of the Moerdyke pastorate there were 50 members and at the close, 320.


It is generally conceded that Frank Van Driele was the first Dutchman to settle here, but many followed him through the years. By 1880, there were 8,000 Dutch people here. In 1849, the Second Reformed Church was organized by Dr. Van Raalte with the help of Frank Driele. This then was the oldest Holland church in the city. Through the kindness of the trustees of the First Church, the Second Church was given the use of their building without cost. When Father Van Driele married, he fitted part of the basement of the church for his dwelling where he resided for several months, even adding some boarders, young men who had come from the Old Country. In 1854, the first building for this church was erected on Bostwick Avenue and that same year they received their first minister, Rev. H. G. Klyn. In 1849, a document was drawn up by Van Raalte and signed by all representatives of the Michigan settlements, 20 in all, to petition to be enrolled in the Reformed Dutch Church under the care of the Synod of Albany and were so enrolled in June, 1850. Not all agreed with this move, Rev. Klyn was one of them. He persuaded half of his congregation to secede in January, 1857. Eight months later he repented and sought to return but his usefulness among this church was at an end. This secession group calling themselves the "True Reformed Church" later became the "Christian Reformed Church". Despite these difficulties the Second Reformed Church rallied. Rev. W. H. Houbolt stepped into the breach for one year and the Rev. Cornelius VanderMeulen came in 1861 and stayed until 1873. During his stay the church had grown to 486 families and new churches were being mothered in outlying areas. In 1895 while Rev. Egbert Winter was the pastor, the church was destroyed by fire. Rev. Matthew Kolyn, in 1901, increased the Americanization process and by 1905 all services were in English.


In 1918, First and Second Churches decided to join together. They were both without pastors and both now used the English language and were located within a couple of blocks of each other. The union took place on the 23rd of April 1918 with 95% of the joint membership affiliating.

The name chosen was "Central Reformed Church".Four Elders and Deacons were chosen from each church. The First Church building was to be the church and the Second Church parsonage was to be the parsonage. Rev. John A. Dykstra, pastor of Hamilton Grange Church in New York City was called. He was a native of Grand Rapids, a graduate of Central High School and Hope College. He had done graduate work at Princeton University and graduated from New Brunswick Theogical Seminary in 1912. He was called by unanimous vote but declined as he had not been in the New York church very long. They waited 6 months and called him again-once more he declined. Some time later, a committee from the church visited him in New York and one of them said, "You are the person we all agree on. We have come far with this wonderful union. There is nothing to do but wait for you". He was impressed by their desire and need and was installed as their pastor on October 31, 1919 with a church membership of 579. Rev. Dykstra remained as pastor until his retirement on November 1, 1954 when he became pastor emeritus. In 1940 when the church observed First Church's 100th Anniversary, there were more than 1,000 on her rolls. On a Tuesday morning, February 10, 1953, the telephone rang at the parsonage at 5 A.M. and the message was that the church was on fire. One of the stained glass windows had been sent out to have work done on it and it was the only one that was saved. The James Leenhouts window now is divided into lancets and occupies a place on each side of the chancel in the new church. The Board of Education offered us Central High School on a cost basis for Sunday services and they began meeting there the next Sunday. The sermon that Sunday by Dr. Dykstra was "We have a building not made with hands, eternal in the heavens". A new site was found at the northeast corner of College and Fulton Avenues. Ground-breaking took place Sunday, September 25, 1955 and on April 7, 1957, the congregation used the new building for the first service.

In the record book for First Reformed Church, 1860 - 1910 there is only one marriage and one death listed. There are no others before 1917.

Marriage Record - Albert VanZoeren and Lena Esseburger, no date
Death Record - James Sawery died March 8, 1902