Located in Malden, West Virginia, Kanawha Salines Presbyterian Church is the oldest Presbyterian church in the Kanawha Valley. The congregation was established in March 1819 by Reverend Henry Ruffner. The Ruffner family arrived in the valley during the 1790s, and proved instrumental in the early development of the area’s salt industry. The congregation initially held services alternately in Malden and Charleston, until today’s Kanawha Salines Presbyterian Church was built and dedicated in 1840. The church has remained open ever since, through the peak of Malden’s commercial activity in the 1850s and the decline of the salt industry and migration of business to Charleston in the decades following the Civil War. The structure has largely retained its original appearance over the years, though a Sunday school wing was added and various renovations have been completed in order to preserve the building. The congregation celebrated its 200th anniversary in March 2019 and continues to maintain a strong presence in the community with Sunday services and other events.
During the nineteenth century, the Kanawha Valley was the site of a booming salt industry. The town of Malden, originally referred to as Terra Salis and then Kanawha Salines, emerged as the commercial center of the region, with businesses, hotels, and the fine homes of the saltworks’ owners. One of Malden’s most prominent families was the Ruffner family, which had come to the Kanawha Valley in the 1790s. In 1794, Joseph Ruffner and his wife, Elizabeth, had purchased 502 acres of land, and eventually came to own an additional 900 acres along the Kanawha River, including all of present-day downtown Charleston. When Joseph Ruffner passed away in March 1803, his estate passed on to three of his sons, David, Joseph, and Tobias. David and Joseph Ruffner went on to drill the first salt well into the Kanawha bedrock, and David became the first to use coal in salt manufacturing.
On March 14, 1819, Henry, the eldest son of David Ruffner and the grandson of Joseph Sr., organized the first Presbyterian church in the Kanawha Valley. Ruffner was also the author of the anti-slavery ‘‘Ruffner Pamphlet’’ and served as president of Washington College, now Washington and Lee University. In its early years, members of the Kanawha Presbyterian Church met alternately at Kanawha Salines - now Malden - and in Charleston. At Malden, the church’s first services were held in homes, and later in a cabin built by David Ruffner that was known as “Colonel Ruffner’s Meeting House.” The two congregations held joint services until 1841, when the Malden congregation decided to form an organization of their own.
Kanawha Salines Presbyterian Church was constructed between 1839 and 1840 on a lot that was donated by Colonel David Ruffner. The building was dedicated on December 13, 1840, with Reverends James M. Brown and Henry Ruffner officiating. Reverend Stuart Robinson was installed on April 4, 1843 as Kanawha Salines Presbyterian Church’s first resident pastor. Robinson went on to hold that position until 1847. Over the years, several pastors served the congregation for extended periods of time: Reverend John Calvin Brown served from 1867 to 18992, Reverend John W. Carpenter served from 1907 to 1918, and Reverend J.E. Wayland served from 1930 to 1944. Additionally, the Kanawha Presbytery was organized in the church on April 9, 1895.
During Reverend Wayland’s ten-year pastorship, the Sunday School building was added to the church. The addition was dedicated on January 28, 1934. In 1951-52, the sanctuary was renovated in order to save the original building. Supporting steel for the walls allowed for a large pillar in front of the pulpit to be removed, and a concrete base replaced the floor as a means of strengthening the church’s foundation. At the same time, the choir loft and pulpit areas were enlarged and the church’s lighting was also improved. In 1974, the New River Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America was organized at Kanawha Salines Presbyterian Church. In 1980, the church was rated as one of three pivotal structures in the Malden Historic District. The Martin property east of the building was gifted to Kanawha Salines Presbyterian in 1987. On March 14, 2019, Kanawha Salines celebrated its 200th anniversary. Upon the occasion, the church was awarded a Certificate of Recognition that was signed by Governor James Justice.