In 1888 the twin cities of Tonawanda and North Tonawanda constituted the largest lumber trading center in the United Sates, some say the world. Those were bustling, busy times. Many new industries were being developed. In 1888 getting around the streets of these two small cities was difficult, particularly during a rainy or snowy time, and especially getting from one side of the Erie Canal to the other.
North Tonawanda had a population of around 4,500 people, but it had very few churches. Over in Tonawanda, our mother church was very successful. The Tonawanda Church of Christ (today it is known as Grove Street Christian Church) was located on the corner of Broad and Seymour Streets. Several members of that church lived in North Tonawanda. They complained about how difficult it was for them to cross the canal for services. With the help of Rev. Frank Talmadge, the pastor of the Tonawanda Church of Christ, on August 5, 1888 a group of 69 members of the Tonawanda church signed a charter, establishing a Disciples of Christ Church in North Tonawanda. The first name of our church was the North Christian Church.
The first services were held in the Ironton School house near the intersection of Oliver and Wheatfield Streets. That school is gone. Today the new apartment complex for the blind stands on that spot. Leaving the school, the North Christian Church met in the Zimmerman home on Lincoln Avenue, and settled for about one year meeting in the German Evangelical Church on Schenck Street. (That church became Frieden's United Church of Christ. Today that building houses the Ghost Light Theater group.) The two most prominent members and leaders of the church were B. L. Rand (of Remington Rand) and George F. Rand, Sr. (the president of Marine Midland Bank, now HSBC).
North Christian Church purchased the lot at the corner of Payne's Avenue and Christiana Street for $1,710 and started building its first home. That church building was dedicated on January 28, 1890. It cost $11,496. From the outside, it looked like things were going smoothly at the church. But the insiders knew better. There was a falling out between B. L. Rand and George F. Rand, Sr. They no longer seemed to be able to worship together. So, George F. Rand, Sr. decided to establish another congregation.
On February 19, 1899 George F. Rand, Sr. organized a Mission Sunday School. He purchased an old bar and tavern and had it moved across the street to the corner of Oliver and Wheatfield Streets. The mission was a success and a church was officially organized with 46 charter members. They named themselves the Central Church of Christ. In 1902, Central Church of Christ erected on the opposite corner of Oliver and Wheatfield Streets its first building, a church school, at a cost of $20,000. It was called The Tabernacle. The assembly room had a seating capacity of 690 and was often filled to capacity. The Tabernacle boasted its own orchestra. Plans were drawn up for a Spanish style sanctuary wing, but it was never built.
In 1919, while touring war-torn Europe, George F. Rand, Sr. was killed in an airplane crash in France. His children made a gift of $50,000 to the Tabernacle to construct a new, modern church building as a memorial to their parents. George F. Rand, Jr. was very wealthy. He and his family lived in a stone mansion on Delaware Avenue in Buffalo. (His home is Canisius High School today.) In the 1920's George, Jr. and his wife would have the members of the congregation come to their home for dinner. The church guests would all sit in the Rand's ballroom and were served goat cheese sandwiches (Mrs. Rand's favorite).