Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
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Source: January 1984 Volume 22 Number 1, Pages 3–10

Glimpses of the History of St. Peter's Church

Elizabeth Rumrill

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The Old Log Church

If you approach St. Peter's Church from Swedesford Road, perhaps you have noticed the log cabin at the foot of "DeAddio's Hill", as the road curves to the right before crossing the creek. This is said to have been built from the logs which formed the first St. Peter's Church.

No one knows certainly where the log church stood, or exactly when it was built. However, the people of "Montgomery" worshipped there until our present stone structure was completed in 1744. This was built by the members of the congregation, and took several years, for the foundation had been laid sixteen years earlier in 1728. (At that time, many churches were built by lottery.)

The old log church remained standing until 1752, when the Vestry, meeting in May of that year, agreed it should be torn down, since it would help the foe in case of an Indian attack during services in the stone church.

One of the members of the Vestry bought the logs and used them for a home for his son. This is recorded in the old Vestry Book, but his name was not mentioned, nor the location of the new structure.

We have an excellent photograph, made from an old "blue print", of the mounting block in the Churchyard on the northwest side. It has been stated that this might have marked the site of the old log church, but on a slip of paper in our Archives, unsigned, is the legend: "To two mounting blocks - 1784.". The other one is just outside the gate.

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In any event, the log church was in the immediate vicinity of our present one, and served the congregation for at least twenty-nine years. It is conjectured that it was built in 1715, at the same time old St. David's was erected in the southeastern end of the Barony.


The Old Churchyard

"... Beginning at a small black Oak by the side of the Road, called Rees Pritchard's Road, thence South 88 East by the land of the said Methuselah Davis 8 perches to a stone..." Thus the land now within the Churchyard wall was deeded by Methuselah Davis, a member of the first Vestry, to William Moore of Charlestown, Thomas James of "Trydufrin", Morris Griffith of Willistown, and Richard Richison and John Cuthbert of Whiteland, for the consideration of "Five Shillings and one Ear of Indian Corn on the first day of March for Ever if lawfully demanded". Methuselah Davis' farm of 200 acres was originally patented to him by William Penn. (A copy of the Patent is in the Archives of the Church.)

St. Peter's Church now (1745) had a clear title to the land on which the stone church was built.

"Rees Pritchard's Road", later known as the Carriage Road, and at present St. Peter's road, originally continued on to Phoenixville. It was closed in 1918 at the request of the Warner Company, which at the same time made a gift of $8000 to the Church.

A photograph which appeared on the cover of "The Church News" of the Diocese of Pennsylvania in 1944 shows the openness of the surroundings. Originally one could see 20 miles up the Valley from the west window, and 20 miles down the Valley from the east one.

Many of the stones in the Churchyard are not marked at all, while on others the lettering is almost obliterated from weathering. No formal record of burials was kept until about 1850. However, a complete survey of the Churchyard was completed in 1921 by Ellen Gooding, at the request of the Venerable Jules Prevost, Rector from 1910 to 1924. In her compilation she listed 450 burial sites; of these, sixty bear no name. (An account of her work appears in the Quarterly, starting in the October 1980 issue.)


The Stone Church

The old stone Church, completed in 1744, was "built by the Congregation", but a moment's reflection makes us realize there had to be a master craftsman at the helm.

In searching for the answer to another query some years ago, in Futhey and Cope's History of Chester County information was found concerning the building of St. Peter's: it was Edward Pearce, a member of the first Vestry and its first Senior Warden, a mason and carpenter by trade, who was not only the builder of St. Peter's Church, but in subsequent years of its gallery, stables, and Churchyard enclosure.

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He was born in County Enniskillen, Farmanagh, Ireland on August 6, 1701, the eldest son of Col. Cromwell Pearce. He and his family came to America in 1737, remaining in Philadelphia until the spring of 1738. They then removed to Radnor, in the vicinity of St. David's Church.

In 1750 he purchased from George Aston (also a member of the first Vestry) the farm in Willistown where twenty-seven years later the Paoli Massacre occurred, and on which the monument now stands. Here he spent the remainder of his days. He died on March 6, 1777. He and his wife are buried at St. David's.

He was a man of a stout, robust frame, six feet in height; of industrious and sober habits, and an unblemished reputation. Three children survived: Cromwell, George (who migrated to Kentucky), and Rachel, the wife of Richard Robinson of Whiteland, All his descendants to the fourth generation except George, but including Rachel and her husband, are buried in St. Peter's Churchyard, His great grandson, George W. Pearce, built the Church of the Holy Trinity in West Chester.

At the time the stone church was finished, the Congregation in "Montgomery", worshipping in the old log church, and that at St. David's, had been one and the same parish for fifty years. So it is not surprising that Edward Pearce fashioned the new building after St. David's. But with all the similarity - construction of field stone, a Sacristy (one story) on the north side, shingle roof, and the same beautiful arched windows the difference in dimensions gave them a slightly different appearance.

St. David's was 40 feet by 27 feet, while St. Peter's is 47 feet by 28 feet. Thus St. David's had a "squarer" look, which was further enhanced by slightly shorter windows and a roof of greater pitch. (The outside stone stairway at St. David's, on the west end, most likely was not there until 1771, when the gallery was added.)

St. Peter's remained just as it had been built, from 1744 until 1830. These years were devoted to the improvement of the interior.

Orderly seating came first. This was accomplished in 1749. But by 1750 a gallery on the south side and west end was authorized, though it took several years to complete it, due probably to the expense entailed. Its approach interfered with Pew No. 23, "which is Discommoded by ye Galary Stares".

The Communion Table and the high pulpit, with the reading desk below it, were built in 1754. The former was placed in front of the east window; the latter just east of the door to the Sacristy.

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Provision for heating was made in 1762; at that time a small chimney appeared in the center of the roof.

By 1785 the roof needed reshingling. This was paid for by subscription with the list headed by Anthony Wayne. Its cost was £32.15.10.

When St. Peter's Church was "finished" in 1744, the building had four walls, a roof, and an earthen floor. That was all.

Though there is no specific record of it, the original flagstone flooring is believed to have been laid in 1745. And there were burials within the Church walls: we have record of three of them:

July 18, 1745 Margaret Moore, aged seven years
1749 Lady Rebecca Axtell Moore
1787 Robert Powell, a member of the first Vestry (under Pew No. 16)

(The Sexton would take down the pew, dig the grave, and then put the pew back in place.)

About 1900, when the last "improvements" were made, wooden flooring was laid, the joists set in concrete. In 1944, when the Church was restored (insofar as it could be after three "modernizations"), it was impossible to retrieve the old stone flooring. At that time Brognard Okie, an authority on ecclesiastical architecture, was able to get 200-year old brick for the flooring, our beautiful flooring of today.

We have no idea where the gravestones are, but we do know that Patrick Anderson, whose grave in the Churchyard was just west of the Altar Window, now lies under the Vestry Room floor. (This bit of information came to us some years ago from his great-great granddaughter, Mrs. Joseph W. A. Knipe. It was also confirmed about four years ago by amore recent descendant who visited St. Peter's.)


Events at St. Peter's : 1744-1786

During these years of worship in the then new "old" Church, there were several important things to be recorded. In 1745 the Church was dedicated as the Church of Saint Peter in the Great Valley, and the first Vestry elected. The last incumbent Missionary, Parson Currie, had been caring for the Congregation since 1737, referring to it as the "Upper Part of my Parish". But with the completion of the stone church, he wrote of it as "St. Peter's" or "the Valley".

St. Peter's, St. David's, and St. James in Perkiomen, for which Parson Currie was responsible, were Anglican; the fore-runner of our present Episcopal Church. The latter came after the close of the Revolutionary War, and was some time in being established.

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On May 24, 1786 representatives of sixteen Churches in Pennsylvania held their first Diocesian Convention. It was called by the Rev. William White, the sole survivor in the active ministry of the Anglican Church in Pennsylvania, Rector of Christ Church in Philadelphia, and Chaplain to the Continental Congress. John Francis represented St. Peter's.

A year later, on May 23, 1785, an Act of Association was adopted, which brought together the Charter Parishes of the Diocese of Pennsylvania. They are Christ Church, the Mother Church of the Diocese, St. David's in Radnor, St. Paul's in Chester, Trinity in Oxford, and St. Peter's Church in the Great Valley.

On March 4, 1786 St. Peter's was incorporated by the State legislature.


Memorial Tablet

Have you ever been curious about the Memorial Tablet on the north wall above the door to the old Sacristy, now the Bride's door? It is virtually unique, though a like one will also be found in the Anabaptist Church in Vincent Township. This is the story, as told in the Church history written by Eberlein and Hubbard.

"Daniel Evans, late of the township of West Whiteland, ... by his last will and testament, dated the twenty-seventh day of August, seventeen hundred and seventy-five, did give and bequeath unto the said churches, a plantation or tract of land ... containing one hundred and fifty-seven acres, more or less; the said Anna Baptist Church to have two-thirds of the rents and profits thereof, forever, towards the support of the ministry of said Church; and the said Episcopal Church of St. Peter's, the other third part of the rents and profits, for and towards the support of the ministry of said Church forever. ..."

The Pennsylvania State Legislature authorized the trustees of the "Anna Baptist" Congregation and the Wardens of the Episcopal Church of St. Peter's to sell and convey the plantation, and to invest the monies arising therefrom, for the use of the said Churches. It was also enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the Commonwealth that the tablets of marble be erected in the respective churches, dedicated to the memory of Daniel Evans, with appropriate inscriptions of his donation.

Eberlein and Hubbard also noted, "It is said that the tablet in St.Peter's and the corresponding tablet in the Anna Baptist Church are the only ecclesiastical tablets ever set up in the State of Pennsylvania by order of the Legislature."


The Beginnings of Change

It is interesting to picture St. Peter's in its early days, before any changes took place, outside or inside the old building. It stood on its acre, within the churchyard wall, bounded on the south and east by farmland, on the west by the carriage road, and on the north by the slope into the valley. There was no Warner Company then.

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The entrance was on the south side, near the footgate, the mounting block close by for those who came on horseback. In the yard to the north, and opposite a wide gate, was another block, for those who came by carriage. The horse sheds were on the northwest side, by the wall, where the top is quite different from the rest of it.

Parson Currie served as Rector until 1785, with the exception of the war years, when the Church was closed. There is no record of any damage caused during the war.

The only reference to the changes made in 1830 was written by the Rector, the Rev, Samuel Crawford Brinckle, in the record book at St. David's, "St. Peter's Church," he wrote, "was put in a complete state of repair the present year 1830. It was plastered in the interior, pews made new, and the pulpit placed in the end of the Church. They are making preparations to erect a new Vestry Room, to be attached to the north side of the Church." Curiously, there is no mention of the above in the Vestry Book of St. Peter's.

At the same time, similar changes were made at St. David's: "Pulpit enlarged and removed to the east end of Church, south gallery removed, and pews, numbering twenty-three, rearranged; new Vestry Room erected."

The Rev. Brinckle, who was Rector of both Churches from 1820 to 1832, must have sanctioned these changes. In a spiritual way, however, he accomplished much, including the organization of the Sunday School at St. Peter's.


The Fateful Year of 1856

Two changes made at St. Peter's in 1856 were permanent ones, for all time. (Fortunately St. David's escaped this, for the changes there were reversible.)

The two-story addition attached to the east end not only destroyed the symmetry of the original structure, but closed up the beautiful Altar Window. Thankfully, the window frame was not disturbed, but was only walled in. Removal of the Sacristy from the north side also weakened that wall, so that three tie-rods axe necessary to hold it in place. These, at best, are unsightly.

At the same time, the rounded window heads were changed to rectangular to match those in the addition. Fortunately, the one above the south door was not altered.

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The other changes "perpetrated", though undesirable, were less serious. Replacement of the shingle roof with tin was practicable, even though not in keeping with the architecture of the old Church. And while, as with many of the old fieldstone buildings where the stones were held together with a mixture of lime, hair and clay, and were not water-tight, pebble-dashing and whitewashing the outside walls could have been done to make them waterproof.

As for the interior, painting the walls gray and placing green slat blinds at the windows was only a disfigurement.

Eberlein and Hubbard lay the blame for all these changes on the Vestry, for the Rector, the Rev. Thomas W. Winchester, had resigned two years earlier, in 1854, though he continued to serve St. Peter's as their Clergyman.

It was a time for "remodelling", and apparently there was no one, no group, to say, "No, you can't do this!"


Completion of the "Job"

The third group of changes made in St. Peter's came during the years 1899 to 1901. They were an admixture, as far as desirability and good taste are concerned.

On the good side were the removal of the pulpit from the east end, and the restoration of the Altar to its rightful place. The semi-circular window heads were also restored, but with "hideous brown stucco voussoirs", and the glazing of the windows changed to four huge panes.

Added to this, the 1830 pews were thrown out and replaced with "offensive taffy-coloured seats of grotesque lines". The laying of a wooden flooring at this time has previously been mentioned.

On October 12, 1901, the Cornerstone for the Parish House was laid. It was added to the north side of the 1856 addition, and was about one-half of its present size. It had a fireplace at the north end.

The previous addition to the east end had provided a Vestry Room on the ground floor, and a Sunday School Room above it. The stairs to the latter were enclosed (at the time of building); the frame of the old Chancel window was visible from the inside in the upper room.

In 1864 the Vestry had "swapped" the pewter Communion Service and Christening Bowl for a Baptismal Font of Pictou marble. This had been placed at the head of the center aisle, and was a part of the appearance of St. Peter's from the turn of the century until 1944, when the Church was restored - insofar as possible.

This brings us up to the last group of changes.

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The Restoration,

The "improvements" of 1830, 1856, and 1899-1901 did such a thorough job of modernizing St. Peter's Church that it bore little resemblance to its original beauty. In the early 1940's "restoration" became a major undertaking, and - fortunately for St. Peter's - R. Brognard Okie was willimg to mastermind the task.

Since the beautiful windows had been glazed with four large panes and the priceless Wistar glass discarded, new sashes were necessitated. The "hideous eye-brows" over the rounded window heads were repainted white, so that they now faded into the wall. The window high in the west gable, which was a miniature of the others, was replaced by a round window of five panes, which was also done at the east end, but is visible only from the inside. The door to the old Sacristy had been removed in 1856, and a small oval window with diamond-shaped panes took its place, so a door was restored on this north side, but slightly to the east of the original, which brings it opposite the cross-aisle. The chimney which vented the two stoves was removed from the middle of the roof, which was also renewed at this time.

On the inside, the wooden floor, its joists set in concrete, was discarded, along with the modern "taffy-coloured" pews; the west gallery rebuilt; the high pulpit, with its sounding board, put in the northeast corner (originally it had been opposite the cross-aisle); the plaster which covered the east window taken out; the window restored; and the interior painted white.

Since the old flag-stone floor had been ruined when the wooden floor was laid, 200-year old brick was used in its place. New pews with doors were installed, with the winding stair to the west gallery now reached by a cross-aisle. (Although the original pews had extended to the wall, the new ones leave an aisle on both the north and south sides.)

While the pulpit originally had the Clerk's desk below it, this not now being necessary, a Lectern of white pine was built, and placed to the right of the Altar.

Provision was also made for central heating, the chimney now at the east end of the roof.

These are the "high spots" of the restoration, as gleaned from plans and from the obvious "big" changes. Only one familiar with the Church as it was in 1942, however, could vouch for all of the detail as the "improvements" of the nineteenth century were undone to return St. Peter's in the Great Valley to some of its original beauty.


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