Filed Under Religion

Bethany Presbyterian Church

The West Side's First Presbyterian Church

The small stone church on the southeast corner of West Clinton Avenue and West 65th Street, almost shrouded with trees, is Bethany Presbyterian Church. It was originally a west side Sunday school mission of the Old Stone Church that evolved into a new parish, which was organized in 1889. For the first five years of its existence, the new parish, which had about 60 members when it was organized, worshiped in rented quarters: first in a building near Pearl (West 25th) and Lorain Streets, and later in the Wieber Block at the corner of Pearl and Jay Street. In June 1894, when, according to its founding pastor Rev. Giles H. Dunning, membership had "boomed," the parish purchased two lots on the corner of West Clinton and Gordon (West 65th) to build a church that would provide it with sufficient space as well as a permanent home.

Construction of the new church began in 1894, with the cornerstone laid on November 4. It was completed in 1895, and dedicated on June 2 of that year. The church, as originally built, was 52 feet by 89 feet, had an exterior facade of stone and brick, and fronted on West Clinton. At the time, church officials planned to add onto the church and construct a grander front facing Gordon (West 65th). That never happened. The new church had a capacity of between 500-600. It was designed by architect William Warren Sabin, who designed several Presbyterian churches in Cleveland, as well as two Cleveland police precinct stations. Total construction cost of the church was approximately $10,000.

This was the neighborhood church where Raymond L. Pianka, Cleveland's long-time Housing Court Judge, worshiped as a boy. His family lived at 6310 West Clinton, just down and across the street from Bethany Presbyterian. Ray's mother was a deacon and a member of the session at the church, and later, so was Ray. According to Rev. Don Gordon, pastor of the church from 1964-1968, Ray Pianka, though just a teenager at the time, was one of the most helpful of his parishioners. He ran errands, assisted the secretary, and brought to the church the neighborhood news--both good and bad. What Rev. Gordon remembered most though about young Ray Pianka was his love of church and community.

Bethany Presbyterian's original parish was composed of Scottish, Welsh and Irish immigrants. The parish peaked in size in the 1940s when it had about 700 members. By the time the Pianka family began worshiping there a decade later, Italian-Americans, especially after the closing of the Church of the Redeemer on West 69th Street, were added to the ethnic mix. By the 1970s, parish membership had declined to about 140. In recent years, however, the church has experienced a renewal as it has become home to neighborhood Hispanic parishioners. In 2014, the parish celebrated its 125th anniversary.


Bethany Presbyterian Church
Bethany Presbyterian Church This photograph shows the historic church on the corner of West 65th Street and West Clinton Avenue. In this year, the church celebrated the 121st anniversary of its arrival in the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood. Date: 2016
Rev. Giles H. Dunning (1851-1911)
Rev. Giles H. Dunning (1851-1911) The first pastor of Bethany Presbyterian Church, he served in this position from 1889-1901. Rev Dunning was ordained in 1882 and came to Cleveland in 1888 to become assistant pastor at the Old Stone Church. In 1889, he organized Bethany as the first west side Presbyterian parish, and five years later successfully shepherded the building of the parish's first (and to date only) church on the corner of West Clinton Avenue and West 65th Street. Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwarz Library, Special Collections
The Founders
The Founders This undated Bethany Presbyterian church document shows a photograph of Rev. Giles Dunning (center) surrounded by photographs of early era church elders and deacons. Source: Bethany Presbyterian Church
Church Sketch - 1894
Church Sketch - 1894 This sketch of the new Bethany Presbyterian Church appeared n the October 20, 1894 edition of the Cleveland Leader. The entrance faced West Clinton, because the parish intended it to eventually become a chapel, with a new and larger church fronting on West 65th Street. Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections
Cornerstone Laid
Cornerstone Laid This event, important in the building of every church, was reported in the November 5, 1894 edition of the Cleveland Leader. The article notes the items placed in the cornerstone. Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections
Dedication of New Church
Dedication of New Church On June 2, 1895, the new Bethany Presbyterian Church on the corner of West Clinton Avenue and W. 65th Street was formally dedicated. It was a remarkable achievement for the parish, which was small compared to other neighborhood congregations. Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections
1898 Cleveland Map
1898 Cleveland Map Bethany Presbyterian Church, erected in 1893-1894, is shown on this map on the southeast corner of Gordon Avenue (West 65th Street) and West Clinton Avenue. The house circled on the map is 6310 West Clinton, the childhood home of long-time Cleveland Housing Court Judge Raymond L. Pianka, whose family worshiped at the church. The house was built in 1889, several years before the church arrived. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Map Collection
Sixtieth Anniversary Celebration
Sixtieth Anniversary Celebration A crowd of parishioners gathers outside Bethany Presbyterian church as a cornerstone for the new addition to the church is laid on November 13, 1949. The ceremony was part of the church's celebration of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the parish in 1889. Source: Bethany Presbyterian Church
Bethany Presbyterian - 1975
Bethany Presbyterian - 1975 In this year, the Church's pastor reported that the parish had a member ship of 120, and that the peak membership had been in the 1940s when more than 700 worshiped at the church founded by Irish, Scottish and Welsh immigrants. Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections


6415 W Clinton Ave, Cleveland, OH 44102


Jim Dubelko, “Bethany Presbyterian Church,” Cleveland Historical, accessed July 20, 2024,