Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
History Quarterly Digital Archives

Source: April 1979 Volume 17 Number 2, Pages 27–34

St. Peter's Church in the Great Valley A National Shrine

Elizabeth Rumrill

Page 27

On October 25, 1974, a letter was received by the Rector of St. Peter's Church in Great Valley from David Berman, of the Historic Preservation section of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, from which I quote: "Enclosed are forms for the Pennsylvania Inventory of Historic Places, along with an instruction sheet. Although St. Peter's Church is already listed on the Inventory, additional information would be helpful. Please complete the inventory form and if this office can be of assistance, please let us know."

This letter was turned over to me, as historian of St. Peter's Historical Society, and thus began the interesting, yet demanding, task of complying with the instructions. With the aid of Gurney Kissinger, Chard Webb, and Anthony Morris, the last two architects, in early April of 1976 the requirements were completed. The fol­lowing items were submitted, in duplicate:

Completed copies of the Inventory Form
Photocopies of the original Deed of 1745
Floor Plan of the Church (done by Anthony Morris)
History of St. Peter's by Eberlein and Hubbard
Map — a Quarter Section of original U.S. Geological Survey Coastal & Geodetic Survey, 7.5' series

Page 28

Photocopies of Patent to Methusaleh Davis of the 200 acres, a small part of which was deeded in 1745 to William Moore, Thomas James, Morris Griffith, Richard Richardson and John Cuthbert for St. Peter's Church
Sixteen photographs — black & white, glossy finish, as specified
Print of the Camp at "Trudruffrin"
Reproduction of pen and ink sketch of old Church
Survey (done by Yerkes)

The completed Inventory Form included a listing of twenty-one major bibliographical references and their location; geographical data (in latitude and longitude); a detailed verbal description of the architectural qualities of the structure; a report on the significance of the building or site; and identification of the photographs and photo credit.

A brief listing of the photographs may be of interest. They included:

1. The mounting block on the north side. This photograph shows the open country to the west, now blocked by the "earth works" thrown up by the Warner Company, The "carriage road", between the post and rail fence and the Churchyard wall, at that time continued on to Phoenixville, The mounting block still stands, and it is probable that the site of the old log Church was in its immediate vicinity. (From an old blue print)

2. The south side of St. Peter's Church, as it appeared be­tween 1856 and 1899. Here are shown the addition, to the east end, the pebble-dashed and white-washed walls, and tin roof, (From an old photograph)

3. The interior (east end), after 1864 and before 1899, This also shows the "modern" pulpit and blind at the window.

4. The interior (west end), at the same period as above. The old stairs were reached from pew 24 "for the Stare Case", (Photograph by C. V. D. Hubbard)

5. The northwest side, taken "1894 October 27", (From Gil­bert Cope Collection #1153, Chester County Historical Society)

6. The south and east sides, taken between 1899 (as shown by the large panes) and early 1900s. (From an old photograph)

7. The northwest side, after 1899 and before the restoration. This picture shows the small diamond-paned window. (From an old photograph)

Page 29

8. The northwest side, after restoration and before 1952.

9. The south side, as it looks today.

10. The south and east sides, at present. This shows the addi­tion of 1952.

11. From the southwest, showing the mounting block at the gate. This was the old entrance from the road.

12. The northwest side, at present.

13. The interior (east end) of St. Peter's today, with restored Altar window, the shutter closed and painted blue. The re­flection of the round window in the gallery can also be seen.

14. The high pulpit and sounding board. The door shown in the picture opens into the Vestry Room.

15. The interior (west end), at present. The floor of old brick and Baptismal Font set into the window sill show clearly in this picture.

16. The gallery and stair case (reached from cross aisle). Actu­ally, the pews originally extended to the wall. Tie rods were necessary to hold the wall after removal of the Sacristy, and mar the interior.

The photographs, with the exception of #5, were made by Nightwine Pho­tographers, Jon Marmora, in Paoli. Photograph #5 was made by P and G Custom Photo Service, West Chester. Appreciation must also be given to Gurney Kissinger for his help in procuring the photographs.

The print of the Camp at "Trudruffrin" was a reprint of an engraving of the Paoli Massacre which occurred on September 20, 1777. St. Peter's Church is a conspicuous landmark. The original of the print was pub­lished at Charing Cross, London, on July 1, 1788.

The reproduction of the pen and ink sketch was taken from the Inden­tures to the lots in the old Churchyard. That the original was done much later than 1744, as it is dated, is apparent from the rectangular window heads, placing it as after 1830 but before 1856.


Architectural Qualities of the Structure

The following description of the architectural qualities of the struc­ture was included:

Page 30


"St. Peter's Church in the Great Valley, built by the members of the Congregation over a period of some sixteen years (from the time the foundation was laid until its completion in 1744.), was of stone, 47 feet long, 28 feet wide, comprising one large room two stories in height, with vaulted ceiling. (In the early days, there was a small Sacristy — a stone projection on the north side of the Church, the appearance of which may be gotten from that of St. David's, Radnor, for the two buildings were as 'alike as two peas', except that St. Peter's was larger.)

"There were six large windows, round-headed, with small panes, two on each of the south and north sides, one on the west, and one on the east end, the last one the Altar Window. The main entrance was a double door on the south side, with a single one on the north, opening into the Sacristy.

"The floor was of stone, like that of St. David's; since there was no heat (until 1762), the original building had no chimney. It is probable that the Church in 1744 consisted merely of walls and roof (shingle), for there were no pews, the congre­gation having only improvised seating arrangements. It was not until September 1749 that the Vestry took measures to provide uniform and orderly seating. At that time the space inside was laid out to allow thirty-two pews. The Altar, Reading Desk and Pulpit came in 1750.

Page 31

"In December of that year, it was agreed 'At a Vestry' there should be a 'Galary' built 'across ye West End and along ye South Side'. This was several years in building.

"In 1739, a post and rail fence was put on the road side of the Churchyard; it wasn't until 1770 that the stone wall replaced it. In 1762, provision was made for heating, and a small chimney then appeared at about the middle of the roof. In this same year horse-sheds were added along the north side of the yard. In 1786, the Church was incorporated.

"It was in 1830 that the 'vandalism' started. (Just as today, a 'mania' for modernization appeared, though it is believed by His­torians that this was not the will of all of the communicants, particularly those who by reason of their years had long known and loved the old Colonial Church, or whose parents and grand­parents had attended in the early years.) The interior was plastered; the high-backed pews were ripped out and new pews put in their place; the high pulpit, which with its sounding board had been on the north side just east of the door to the Sacristy, was changed and placed in the east end, taking pre­cedence over the Altar, the rounded window heads converted to rectangular.

"All of the foregoing was bad enough. But in 1856, some changes were made which never could be undone. The outside stone walls were pebble-dashed and whitewashed, the shingle roof replaced with tin; the Sacristy removed; the Chancel window walled up and a two-story addition built on the east end (destroying the symmetry of the building); the south gallery torn out, the interior painted grey (it had been white) and green flat blinds hung at the windows.

"In 1899, the pulpit was removed from the east end, the Altar restored to its original place, and the semicircular window heads restored; however, they were decorated with hideous 'eye brows", and the glass in the windows changed to large panes.

"In 1901, the Parish House cornerstone was laid; this addition was on the east side and at a right angle to the main structure. On the north end a fireplace was built. And at this time, wooden flooring was laid in the Church, the joists being set in concrete, which once and for all ruined the flag-stone floor and the grave stones of those buried within the Church walls; the 1830 pews were replaced with grotesque 'taffy-coloured ones'.

"The restoration, as far as it could be done, came in 1944, under the care of R. Brognard Okie, an authority on Colonial Church architecture. He was able to obtain 200 year old brick for the floor, and the rest of the interior was changed back as nearly as possible to what it had been originally.

Page 32

"In 1952, an addition was built onto the Parish House, but unfor­tunately, at this time the fireplace was sacrificed, probably to provide one large room.

"This today is the 'accumulated' Chtrch of St. Peter in the Great Valley, within the old churchyard wall. On the property which now includes 14.375 additional acres the Sunday School building was added in 1962. This is to the east of the old Church and is in modern Colonial style."


Significance of the Building and Site

To provide information on the significance of St. Peter's Church, this summary was included as a part of the completed Inventory Form:

"The people of the Welch Barony, who felt the need of religious instruction, were spread out over a large territory, those who later founded St. Peter's being on the northwestern edge of the 'wilderness'. They had belonged to the Church of England in their native land, and sought the services of a Missionary who could minister to them in Welch, and at least once a month administer the Sacrament.

"Tradition tells that a log Chapel, south of Reeseville (the pre­sent Berwyn), serving also as a blockhouse, for they were in constant fear of Indian attack, was used by the people of the entire Barony. This was destroyed by fire, so that for a while religious gatherings were probably held in individual farm houses. In 1715, the dwellers in the south west end of the Barony built a fine stone Church (Radnor), while those in the opposite corner built a log Church, in all probability in the immediate neighborhood of the present stone structure.

"Both Churches were served by the same clergyman, who did his best, under trying conditions, to minister to those so widely scattered.

"About 1700, the Rev. Evan Evans, Rector of Christ Church, Philadelphia, began work among the Welch settlers of the Great Valley. Four others followed him, then starting in 1714 Incumbent Missionaries assigned by the Venerable Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts served both congregations until 1737, when the Rev. William Currie came, whose ministry lasted until 1785.

"It is believed that the foundation of Lutheranism in Chester County began here, through the efforts of Dr. Henry Melchior Muh­lenberg, at a time during the Revolution when the Church was temporarily closed.

Page 33

"During that time, St. Peter's Church was used as an Army Hos­pital for and by both the British and American forces. Those who died were buried along the west wall, their graves marked by rough stones."


A National Monument

By early April of 1976, all the requirements were completed and the forms were submitted to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. In a matter of days we were notified that the Church had been registered on the Pennsylvania Inventory of Historic Places. While national registration did not come as quickly, in November of 1977 his­toric St. Peter's was also placed on the National Register of Historic Places.



Harold Donaldson Eberlein and Cortlandt VanDyke Hubbard: The Church of St. Peter in the Great Valley 1700-1940

References from the Archives

Page 34



ca. 1700 Log Chapel built in vicinity of Berwyn
1703 Earliest stone in Churchyard
ca. 1715 Log Church built
1728 Foundation of stone Church laid
1744 Land formally deeded to Church
1745 Stone Church and first Vestry dedicated
1749 Uniform and orderly seating provided with 32 pews, 8' x 28", six pews, 7' x 28"
1750 Gallery authorized; Pulpit, Reading Desk and Communion Table built
1752 "Ye old logg Church" disposed of
1755 Post and rail fence installed along front of Graveyard
1762 Provision made for heating; horse sheds built
1770 Churchyard wall started
1785 Roof reshingled
1786 Church incorporated
1821 Tablet placed over door to old Sacristy
1830 Pulpit moved to east end; high-backed pews ripped out; interior plastered; rounded window heads changed to rectangular
1841 Final separation from St. David's made
1856 East window blocked up; addition made to east end; walls pebble-dashed and whitewashed; shingle roof replaced with tin roof; Sacristy removed; South Gallery torn out; interior painted grey; green slat blinds hung at windows
1899 Altar restored to its original place; rounded window heads restored, but small panes replaced with large ones
1901 Parish Hall added; wooden flooring put in Church; 1830 pews (now in Chester County Historical Society) replaced with modern ones
1903 Gift of Mason & Hamlin organ received
1918 Road to Phoenixville closed
1944 Church restored under supervision of R. Brognard Okie
1952 Parish Hall added; fireplace taken out
1962 Sunday School building added
1977 Gift of Allen Digital Computer organ received; Church placed on National Register of Historic Places


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