Third Presbyterian Church
We are a traditional mainline Presbyterian Church. We are part of the Pittsburgh Presbytery, Synod of the Trinity and General Assembly of the PCUSA. We affirm the creeds and confessions held in common by the PCUSA.
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Third Presbyterian Church was organized on March 19, 1833. It was first located in downtown Pittsburgh, occupying a building at Third and Ferry Streets. In 1863, the church moved near the top of the hill on William Penn Way (then Cherry Street) near the corner of Sixth Street. By 1896, with most of its members moving east to the suburbs, the members of Third Church voted to dispose of its city property and to construct its third building at the corner of Fifth Avenue and South Negley in the East End. This present edifice was designed by the architect Theophilus Chandler in classic French Gothic style. It was constructed during the period from 1897 to 1903 by Thomas Reilly of Philadelphia at a total cost in excess of $274,000. The first worship services were conducted in the Chapel from the Fall of 1897 while the sanctuary was being constructed. Dedication of the completed sanctuary was November 1, 1903.
The exterior shell of the sanctuary and chapel is sandstone, all from a single quarry. The overall dimensions of the church are 116 feet along Fifth Avenue and 136 feet along South Negley Avenue. The height of the steeple is approximately 175 feet, and the interior height of the sanctuary is over 85 feet. Unusually, the same sandstone exterior also forms the interior wall. Woodwork is almost entirely seasoned oak, and the interior roof support is an excellent example of double-hammer-beam construction. The seating capacity is over 1,000. The large, 4-manual Moller organ located in the balcony was constructed in 1966, and contains over 6,800 pipes. The organ pipes in the front of the sanctuary were part of the original installation.
Reminiscent of a time when churches “rented” pews to parishioners in return for sustaining contributions, the old diagram showing these rentals is located on the back interior wall of the sanctuary.
In 1999, in a desire to retain the classic worship style of the chancel area, but mindful of the limitations of a single, large central pulpit, the front of the church was renewed to provide for a large red granite platform, on which the original pulpit stands, along with a new communion table, baptismal font, lectern and piano. The organ console, long located in the rear balcony, was also moved to the front. The front screen and its intricately carved woodwork complete the magnificent front worship space. The platform has accommodated not only worship services, weddings and other worship ceremonies, but also special music and dramatic presentations.
Stained glass windows were an integral part of the overall plan, but like many churches of the era, individual panels were designed and installed by different studios over a period of months. The principal panels of the windows are similar, although the tracery (the arrangement of the smaller, curved windows above the central panels) varies within the general confines of the window enclosure.
Six of the windows in this sanctuary are the product of the Tiffany Studios. Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933), son of the famous jeweler, is now internationally recognized as one of the greatest forces of the “Art Nouveau” style, and one who made significant contributions to the art of glassmaking.
Of the remaining five principal windows, three were designed by William Willet and the two others by Kenyon Cox and Robert McCausland.
A leading designer of decorative windows, William Willet’s major works include windows for the Chapels at West Point and Princeton, as well as the First Presbyterian Church and Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh. At the time of his work for Third Church, the Willet Studios were located just down the street, near the corner of Fifth and Penn Avenues.
Willet also designed and installed the decorative windows on the west wall and in the stairwells, as well as the flanking windows on the west and east transcepts and those in the Chapel.