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First Presbyterian Church

November 1851 - April 7, 2002

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Exterior of the original First Presbyterian Church,
Fourth & Welsh Streets
Cornerstone Laid November 3, 1851


Interior of the original First Presbyterian Church
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Interior of the present First Presbyterian Church

Photo compliments of Dot Ferrari, Swarthmore, PA

Exterior of the present First Presbyterian Church,
2305 Edgmont Ave.
Cornerstone Laid October 30, 1921

Photo compliments of Dot Ferrari, Swarthmore, PA

A picture of the Junior Choir, April 1962

More pictures of First Presbyterian Church

2305 Edgmont Ave.
Chester, PA 19013-5130

Former Pastors | Church History | Membership Directory | Former Organists | Recollections

If you have any information and or pictures that you would like to contribute about the history of this church, please forward it to john@oldchesterpa.com

Former Pastors James O. Stedman, 1852-1854
George P. VanWyck, 1854-1856
Alexander W. Sproull, 1856-1873
Phillip H. Mowry, 1873-1916
William R. Houston, 1916-1929
William Barrow Pugh, 1929-1938
John David Lindsay, 1938-1951
Roger A. Huber, 1951-1956
Maurice W. Armstrong, Ph.D. S.S., March 31-October 1957
   (Deceased 1967)
Melvin R. Morris, November 3, 1957-Death December 3, 1958
Ralph K. Merker, D.D. S.S., January 31-August 14, 1959
Sherwood W. Anderson, Ph.D., August 15, 1959-August 15, 1970
Charles V. Hassler, Th.M. S.S., July 1, 1970-August 8, 1971 - Stated Supply
Thomas Richard Stout, August 15, 1971-August 1, 1973
Charles M. Hassler, Th.M. S.S., October 21, 1973-January 13, 1974
Robert M. Tignor, S.T.D. S.S., January 20, 1974-October 27, 1974
     (Died November 1995)
Gerhard H. Grau, M.Div. S.S., November 3, 1974-March 1, 1975
Gerhard H. Grau, M.Div. Ph.D., March 1, 1975-August 30, 1981
Stephen P. Gutridge, temp. supply, February 28, 1982-October 24, 1982
Stephen P. Gutridge, October 24, 1982-May 12, 1985
Mary Ann McPherson, Interim, August 12, 1985-June 23, 1987
Mary Ann McPherson, Stated Supply, June 23, 1987-January 31, 1988
Mary Ann McPherson, M. Div., January 31, 1988-March 12, 1991
M. Karin Nelson, Interim, March 13, 1991-February 29, 1992
Stewart E. Bair, March 1, 1992-December 31, 1997
John S. McAnlis, Stated Supply, December 1, 1998-present (2001)

Thanks to Bill Gatens, wjgatens@email.msn.com, and to Katherine Diggins, diggins3@home.com   (current secretary at First Presbyterian Church) for providing the more recent pastors beginning with Rev. Huber.

Church History "Although the Presbyterians were ... early spreading the tenets of their sect abroad in this State, it was not until 1850, they made their first efforts at Chester, under the auspices of the Rev. James W. Dale. He preached in the Court House for over a year. In 1852, the First Presbyterian Church, a fine brick building, mastic on the outside, situated at the S. E. corner of Fourth and Welsh streets, was erected. Mr. Dale was succeeded by the Rev. J. O. Steadman [Stedman], for two years. His successor for two years more, was Rev. George Van Wyck, and in 1856, the Rev. Alexander W. Sproull became the first regular pastor. The present incumbent, the Rev. Philip H. Mowry, was installed Dec. 11, 1873."

Chester (and its Vicinity,) Delaware County in PA – Published 1877 – John Hill Martin, Esq.
fully indexed by John A. Bullock III., Graphic Details Publications

From the First Presbyterian Church 100th Anniversary Booklet (1951)
by Fred Echelmeyer, Chester Times

A Century of Service

On November 3, 1851, on land donated by I. E. Cochran at Fourth and Welsh Streets, the cornerstone of the Chester Presbyterian Church was laid, and the congregation known today as the First Presbyterian Church began its century of devout worship.

This local island of Presbyterianism in the city a century ago appears to owe its origin to a fire, according to Chester F. Baker, a member of the Delaware County Historical Society.

It is interesting to examine the growth of Presbyterianism in old Chester County, now made up of Chester and Delaware Counties.  Presbyterianism had crept northward from Maryland and Delaware into Pennsylvania, first finding a stopping place south of Chadds Ford near the east bank of the Brandywine in Birmingham Township.

By 1716, Presbyterians in western Chester County belonged to the New Castle, Del., Presbytery, but in 1720 the first church to be established within what is now Delaware County was started as the Lower Brandywine Presbyterian Church.   It was erected on land purchased from Ralph Pyle of Concord, and the lot embraced 81 perches of land which Pyle conveyed to eight trustees for the amazingly small sum of five shillings.  The church was a log building, with the usual burying ground attached.  This ancient structure existed until 1773 and the last burial in the graveyard is recorded in 1820.

Dr. George Smith, in his "History of Delaware County," states that there were other attempts to organize Presbyterian churches, notably in Newtown Township, and prior to this time, but if so, the meetings were held in the homes of a few worshippers.

Lower Brandywine was too small and too poor to support its own minister except for short periods of time commencing in 1730 and in 1769.  For the most part it depended on stated Sundays by uniting at times with White Clay Creek Church in Delaware and with Middletown Church in what is now Delaware County.

The congregation was split by dissension in 1773, when the majority voted for uniting with the First Church of Wilmington.  This led the next year to the removal of Lower Brandywine Presbyterian Church west of the Brandywine into Delaware.  The records are then silent on the fate of this old church, but it is reported a visitor to the old site may still see traces of the abandoned graveyard.

Living quickened in old Chester County in the years after the Revolutionary War and the establishment of the nation, and by 1840 the Presbyterians of Chester were traveling several miles each way on Sundays to services at the old Leiper or Ridley Church in Ridley Township or to the Middletown Presbyterian Church.

As Mr. Baker recalls, our ancestors were accustomed to travel long distances for Sunday services.  Although Middletown Presbyterian Church was not the oldest congregation in the county as has sometimes been said, there were many residents of what is now lower Delaware County who made the Sunday jaunt to the county church.

This long journey has not failed to make its mark geographically.  Where the Mt. Alverno Bridge crosses Chester Creek near Rockdale is a shallow place still known as Presbyterian Ford.  The ford is located on the north side of the bridge.  Chester residents traveled to Middletown Presbyterian Church, and buried their dead there, although after the establishment of Chester Rural Cemetery in 1863 many of the Presbyterians of Chester removed their dead from Middletown.

Many other Chester Presbyterians journeyed to the Ridley or Leiper Church across Ridley Creek.  At that time, dating back to May 17, 1846, the Reverend James W. Dale was pastor of both the Middletown and Ridley congregations.

In November of that year, the twenty-second to be exact, Middletown reopened after being rebuilt that summer.  The rededication took place at 10 a.m. that Sunday morning, and congregations from Mt. Gilead and Ridley were present to hear Dr. Dale preach the sermon.

Then tragedy struck in the form of fire.  A blaze attributed to an overheated stove pipe in the Presbyterian Church at Ridley totally destroyed the church building on January 28, 1849.

Looking about for a temporary place in which to hold services, the pastor was asked to consider the court house in Chester.  This historic old public building had hit on sorry times.   There was a great discussion which eventually resulted in the removal of the county seat from this ancient shire town to a new town called Media out beyond the Middletown Presbyterian Church several years later.

The congregation settled down to their temporary place of worship after Dr. Dale gave his first sermon on March 18, 1849.  Meanwhile, plans were made to rebuild the Ridley Church and the cornerstone was laid on Monday morning, June 17, 1850.

On August 16, 1850, the Presbyterian worshippers got in on the early formation of Media, and at the suggestion of Dr. Dale a drive was started that netted $4,000 to build a temperance house in the newly-chartered borough.  The building was to cost no less than $5,000 and was to be called the Charter House.   Part of this building, its use altered, still stands today.

Dr. Dale was back in Chester preaching on November 17, 1850, after a tour of ministerial duties at Crookton, or Crookville, now Sackville, in Nether Providence Township.  On December 12, 1850 the Presbyterians wondered about the fate of their temporary church meeting house, as the old court house was offered to public sale.

It would appear that as soon as the Ridley Church parishioners could rebuild their church they would leave Chester, but this was not the case.  It had become exceedingly convenient to get to church in the central part of the city and not several miles out in the country.  The parishioners wanted a church near at hand.

One of those who felt in this manner was I. E. Cochran, and he proposed to do something about it.  He gave the congregation a lot from a section of land taken by him in partition of his father's (John Cochran's) estate at the southeast corner of Fourth and Welsh Streets.  Mr. Cochran and Joseph H. Hinkson gave handsomely from their own funds to build a new Presbyterian Church in Chester.

On September 12, 1851 Mr. Hinkson received bids for building the church, and at 3 p.m. on November 3, the cornerstone was laid.

Steady progress marked the founding of the Chester Church.   Dr. Dale was still riding the circuit, for we know from the files of the Delaware County Republican that the pastor was preaching on November 16, 1851 at Mount Gilead Church, now no longer existent, which was located northwest of Aston Mills.

On Sunday, July 18, 1852 the new church was dedicated, with the Reverend Jones of Philadelphia preaching the dedicatory sermon.

During that day more than $1,000 was subscribed by the worshippers.  The new church called the Reverend James O. Stedman, formerly of Wilmington, N.C., to the pulpit.  He remained until April 28, 1854 when he left for another pulpit, this one at the First Church of Memphis, Tenn.  The change was brought about by the death of Mrs. Stedman.

By June 11, the Chester church had a new pastor, the Reverend George P. Van Wyck, who on this day preached his first sermon.

In two years' time the church had another pastor, the Reverend Alexander W. Sproull.  The new minister preached his first sermon on July 13, 1856.  While Mr. Sproull went about his pastoral duties, spreading the gospel in the county, and addressing meetings around the fringes of what is now known as the city of Chester, the church folk decided the building needed a tower, and on September 16, 1856, the tower was completed.  It was on the same day this announcement was made that Mr. Sproull was formally installed as pastor.

Ten days later the congregation was thrilled.   Illuminating gas was brought into the building.  The frugal church fathers announced the sale of four pulpit and eight hanging lamps for burning lard oil.

That old church which had only 17 members when formally organized in 1853, with a Sunday School of 30, marched steadily ahead with Robert Benedict as ruling elder.  The church soon became too small for the congregation.  In October, 1860 the parishioners trooped back to the Court House while extensive renovations were made.

On January 27, 1861, the Chester Presbyterian Church was re-dedicated, after renovating and enlarging at a cost of $5,000.  There was now room for 600 persons in the auditorium which measured 80 by 38 1/2 feet.  Behind the pulpit, and raised about 18 inches, was a choir gallery facing the congregation.  On each side of this room was a smaller room, one for the pastor and the other an entrance to the basement Sabbath School room and the choir gallery.

The ceiling was flat, and divided into seven panels.   The side walls were blocked to imitate stone.  Three large painted glass windows ornamented the front.  This beautiful building is now the location of Cornwall's Garage at Fourth (formerly Clinton) and Welsh Streets.  Part of its pre-Civil War grandeur may still be caught today.

The congregation was shocked in April when Joseph H. Hinkson, one of the founders of the church, was killed on the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore (now the PRR) Railroad at Welsh Street.  This gentleman was the grandfather of the late John Caldwell Hinkson, and great-grandfather of J. H. Ward Hinkson, widely-known Chester attorney.  On April 25, 1864 a meeting was held to pay respects to this founder of the church.

Apparently the renovations of 1861 did not include the tower, for it was not until December 14, 1866 that mention is made of the completion of the structure.  A parsonage then was constructed in the old South Ward (west of Chester River) in 1869 through the generosity of Thomas Reaney.

On April 29, 1870 the new church organ arrived.  It had 24 stops and nearly 1,000 pipes, being at that time the largest or at least one of the largest in Delaware County.  It cost $2500, and on May 5 it was officially dedicated to the ministry of music by Professor Harry E. Thunder of Philadelphia, who presented a concert at the time.

On December 8, 1871 a new Presbyterian chapel was underway on Upland Street just south of Twelfth Street.  This brick edifice became first the Third Presbyterian Church and today it is the Siloam Methodist Church.

On April 2, 1873, the Reverend A. W. Sproull resigned and left for a church at Sag Harbor, Long Island, and on July 4, the Reverend George F. Robinson, a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, was chosen to fill the pulpit.   It is interesting to note that right in this period the name Chester Presbyterian Church was dropped for the title used today, the First Presbyterian Church.   Apparently Mr. Robinson was unable to accept the call, for on September 19 the church extended a call to the Reverend Phillip H. Mowry of Springfield, Ohio, who consented to take charge.  He was to receive a salary of $2,600, and joined a congregation that had just completed a new lecture room which was to be used for Sunday School purposes.

Dr. Mowry was installed as pastor on December 11, and moved in at 225 E. Fifth Street.  Shortly after the arrival of Dr. Mowry, who did much for First Presbyterian Church, there came the death of the real organizer of the church, Mr. Dale on April 19, 1881.  The church folk did not forget this stern advocate of temperance, learned in law as well as the Gospel, and on September 30, 1884, R. Rawnsley of Chester received a contract to erect a monument in his memory.

Dr. Mowry served the growing parish well and relinquished his duties in 1916 after 43 years of service that endeared him to his parishioners and his community as well.  Mowry Street in the First Ward is named for this eminent clergyman.  He continued to live in Chester as pastor emeritus until his death in 1920.  He was succeeded as pastor of the First Church by the Reverend William R. Houston.

The movement of the residential population uptown affected the First Presbyterian Church, and a new location at 23rd Street and Edgmont Avenue was decided upon.  The new edifice was modeled along the beautiful lines of typical New England places of worship.  Clarence Wilson Brazer, who maintained his architectural offices in the Crozer Building (now of New York City), was selected to plan the church.

Members of the Session of 1922 all are now deceased.   Lee P. Wray, a consulting engineer of Swarthmore, former administrator of the Chester Hospital, and Harry G. Innis are among the few trustees who survive.  Ground was broken for the new church on March 8, 1920, and the cornerstone was laid on October 30, 1921.  Cost of the building, exclusive of land, was approximately $100,000.

While the Chester School District was building Wetherill School the first public kindergarten class ever conducted in the city was held in a temporary frame chapel which had been built on 23rd Street off Edgmont Avenue.  After 1922, this chapel was used as a Sunday School, the primary department being conducted in one of the rear rooms of the church building.  For many years the neighborhood children assembled in this old frame chapel to see motion pictures on Friday evenings, but it was condemned as a fire hazard and eventually removed.

A bright young man, the Reverend William Barrow Pugh took over the pulpit in 1929, and through his life and activities spread the name of the First Presbyterian Church around the globe.  A forceful, informed organizer, Dr. Pugh was for years associated with the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of the United States as an assistant to the stated clerk.  He continued his local duties until 1938 when he stepped into the position of stated clerk, and proved to be one of the most effective Presbyterian officials in church history.

Dr. Pugh was appointed by the United States Government to inspect the manner and quality of religious instruction in the armed forces of the country during World War II, and afterward he was largely instrumental in gathering together many large Protestant denominations into a unified group, working toward global union of Protestant faiths.

This great work was tragically stopped when an automobile accident on a mountain side near Thermopolis, Wyoming, in September, 1950, snuffed out his life.  As usual, he was "about his Father's business."

When Dr. Pugh was appointed stated clerk of the General Assembly in 1938, the congregation called the Reverend John David Lindsay, of Findlay, Ohio, to the pulpit.  The Reverend Lindsay very quickly integrated himself into the church and the community, as did his wife, his two sons and daughter.  It was not long before he was prominently known throughout the area and there were few civic undertakings which did not find him in the forefront.

The Reverend Lindsay was particularly fond of young people and well knew that the future of the church was dependent on the youth of the day.  A drive for funds was started to build a new Sunday School building which would attract young people to the church and replace the old frame building which had become entirely unsuited and, in fact, unsafe.  Under his leadership this project was successfully concluded, and ground was broken on December 10, 1941, for the present beautiful building, matching the church proper in architecture.  The cornerstone of the building was laid on July 12, 1942.  Frank J. Kerr was the builder and the architect was Norman Hulme.

This building will be formally dedicated as Lindsay Hall on the one hundredth anniversary of the church on November 3 in memory of the Reverend Lindsay who passed away on February 6, 1951, following an illness of several months.

During the Reverend Lindsay's illness, and until September 9 of this year, when the church was without a pastor, the pulpit was effectively filled by the Reverend Hubert Broyles who did magnificent work in tiding the church over such a difficult time.

Meanwhile, a pastoral committee appointed by the congregation was busy seeking and interviewing candidates for the pastorate of the church.   After traveling hundreds of miles, and listening to and interviewing many possible candidates, they reported back to the congregation that they had found a truly outstanding young minister, the Reverend Roger A. Huber.  On the basis of the committee's recommendations, and the Reverend Huber's candidating sermon, the congregation called him to the pulpit on September 9.

In the short time ensuing he has done a truly remarkable job of leadership and he and Mrs. Huber have already endeared themselves to the members of the congregation.

Thus, through the century, the First Presbyterian Church, marching along hand in hand with Divine Providence, has grown and still grows in strength, fed by the devotion of its ministers and its congregation.

Today, under the inspiring leadership of the Reverend Roger Huber, it is surging ahead spiritually in eager anticipation of still greater service to Christ and the community.

During the 1980's, the congregation of Chester's Third Presbyterian Church merged with this congregation.

* Important Notice   - February 26, 2002 *

The congregation of First Presbyterian Church of Chester voted to dissolve our church as of April 7, 2002.  This was done with much prayer, thought, discussion, and sadness. However, with an ever declining and aging congregation we felt we had no alternative.

After April 7th, The Way Through Christ Ministry will be holding services at the church.

Former Organists: Helen Wood Riley (? - ?)
The organist in 1950 was Mrs. Bessie Hawthorne Edwards.
Dr. Kresel (? - 1962 - ?)
Dawn C. Stevens (1979-1981), oreflyfish@aol.com
The current organist (2000) is Lilah Mittelstaedt

Recollections: "...The history of the First Pres. Church also was interesting as that is where my father [R. Calvert "Woody" Wood] grew up. He told stories of climbing up a very tall ladder to change the light bulbs in the chandeliers. My Aunt also played the organ in that church--her name was Helen Wood Riley."

Pat Bartusik, Bartusik@RCN.com

2000, 2001, 2002, 2006 John A. Bullock III.

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This page last updated 02/24/07