The year 1863 brought much tumult to this nation with the Civil War dividing our land. Perhaps it was partly in response to this upheaval that many involved in the war efforts sought some relief by escaping to the serenity of “country living,” and building homes in Riverdale. It was in the spring of 1863 that five business leaders of the community established the Riverdale Presbyterian Church. They were: William Earl Dodge, Jr., Robert Colgate, Samuel W. Dodge, J. Joseph Eagleton and John Mott.
The architect who had also designed St. Patrick’s Cathedral, James Renwick, was commissioned to design the church. On June 24, 1863 with 65 attending in the morning and 50 in the afternoon, the church was organized. The building was constructed during that same summer. It was built of native stone quarried in the immediate vicinity. Now well known as “the beautiful stone church with the red doors”, the first service in the completed structure took place in a special dedication on October 11, 1863. Riverdale Avenue was a dirt road then and people arrived on foot or by horse and carriage.
Over the course of the next 100 years, the neighborhood changed from a quiet country place to a busy residential area. The church changed with it reaching its present size through renovations and additions. The present Duff House, renamed to honor George M. Duff, the pastor from 1922 to 1953, was originally the minister’s residence. In 1963, a century after the founding of the church, both Duff House and the church were designated New York City landmarks. As the physical buildings changed, so changed the congregation. From its early start with the five prominent business leaders to its present diverse congregation, RPC has steadfastly maintained a strong and unified congregation and continues to be a vital Presbyterian presence in Riverdale and throughout the denomination.