National Presbyterian Church (Church of the Covenant) (1887 - 1966)

Fondly remembered as the “Church of the Government,” the Church of the Covenant served not only the community but offered solace and a place of worship to a few of America’s first families.

With J. Cleveland Cady as its architect, the Church of the Covenant (eventually named National Presbyterian Church) was the pinnacle of High Victorian taste. Cady’s design was based on Henry Hobson Richardson’s personal interpretation of the Romanesque style (termed Richardsonian Romanesque), having taken inspiration from one of Richardson’s greatest works, the Alleghany County Courthouse in Pittsburgh, as well as the Trinity Church in Boston. An architectural wonder when compared to its early beginnings as a small chapel, the Church of the Covenant’s cornerstone was laid in 1887 and consisted of a 150 foot tower that was carved with romanesque details. It included monumental entrances, vaults inspired by imperial Roman buildings, carved angels with spandrels and tracery, and boasted Tiffany Glass and Booth Glass stained glass windows.

Established in 1883, the Church of the Covenant started as a small chapel erected on N Street NW in 1884, and saw attendance in its early days from the who’s who of Washington, DC. It was considered one of the most prestigious of all Presbyterian churches, and within the grand and substantial building was the grandeur of a 15 foot high brass, gas chandelier that was inspired by a similar, ancient fixture found in Saint Sophia in Constantinople, as well as an illustrated life of Christ on three sides of the nave, created by Tiffany Glass and Booth Glass. Those who witnessed its beauty would eventually lead to the church being referred to as the “Church of the Government,” due to the prominence with the famous figures who attended. Particularly important parishioners, such as President Benjamin Harrison and President Dwight D. Eisenhower (who would lay the cornerstone of the present National Presbyterian Church in 1967), attended throughout the church’s history. Not only did they participate in the services, but they also all sat in what was named the “President’s Pew.” Those in attendance throughout the years also included the likes of many US Secretaries of State, such as James G. Blaine (who served in the 1880s and 1890s) and John Foster Dulles (who served in the 1950s).

The Church of the Covenant went through many different iterations from when it was established in 1883 to its demolition in 1966. Beginning as the Church of the Covenant, it would be renamed the Covenant First Presbyterian Church (when it merged with the congregation of the First Presbyterian Church) in 1930, and would then become the National Presbyterian Church in 1947. 

During the 1950s, many Washingtonians moved into suburban Maryland and Virginia. The National Presbyterian Church responded by purchasing two different sites in DC’s Upper Northwest. The first site just off Massachusetts Avenue NW, was the home of Charles C. Glover, Sr. (known as Westover), and was sold in 1959 to be used as the potential home for the church. However, due to the increased real-estate value of the neighborhood and the fact that the grounds were unsuitable for building, the church looked more favorably upon the proposed second site on Nebraska Avenue NW that was purchased in 1967. Its Nebraska Avenue address would become the site of the current National Presbyterian Church. The then pastor Reverend Edward L.R. Elson resisted the pleas of the church congregation who wanted to preserve the old Church of the Covenant, which had stood on Connecticut Avenue NW for almost eight decades, and it would be razed in 1966. The Tiffany Glass and Booth Glass windows, however, would find their new home in the present-day National Presbyterian Church. 

DC Inventory: November 8, 1964 (Joint Committee on Landmarks)
Demolished in 1966 



18th & N Streets NW