In “The Suburban” of three weeks ago the sale of the old First Baptist Church was reported. The big gray stone building with its high bell tower and its 600-pound bell, has stood in quiet dignity for 61 years on historic old Conestoga road, where that one-time narrow Indian trail meets West Wayne avenue. In 1890 the handsome edifice was built to house a congregation far too large for its first small home on the same site, the old-time Music Fund Hall, given it in 1841 by William Siter, a member of one of the earliest of the Welsh families to settle in and around Radnor township after the coming of William Penn in the early 1680’s.
According to the original church records, hand-written, frail old pages now brown with age and ragged from the turning of many hands, the real history of the Baptist congregation goes back even farther than that time in 1841, when it was fist housed in Music Fund Hall. For it was “during the fall of 1831 and for several succeeding years” that “there was a deep religious feeling pervading this portion of the Master’s Vineyard, and multitudes were brought to see themselves lost sinners; few escaped its influence. The feeling, that Salvation through the Blood of Jesus was necessary, was general.”
For a decade these devout people traversed the hills along rough country roads to worship in the Great Valley Baptist Church. Among the most faithful of these was Emily Worthington Siter, wife of William Siter. According to a thick tome on the “Genealogical and Personal Memoirs of Chester and Montgomery Counties” Mrs. Siter was “a devout and earnest Christian woman, while her husband, who was a very energetic and worthy man in all the affairs of life, did not attend any church, and gave little heed to the observances of the Sabbath Day, continuing without interruption his daily routine of toil and business.”
This indifference to the Sabbath Day on the part of the husband gave his good wife so much concern that she “resolved that she should rescue him from his ways of error.” And so it was that “upon one occasion she appealed in prayer to the Almighty Lord to shield and save her erring husband. Hearing her supplication, the strong man of iron nerve could no longer resist, and at once went to the side of his wife and promised to accompany her and the children to church that same Sunday morning, and from that day until the time of his death he was a regular attendant at religious services, and was ever after known as a devout and Christian man.”
A more intimate account of the scene of this conversion was recently given this writer by Mrs. Emily Siter Wellcome, who lives at the old Siter homestead on West Wayne avenue. Mrs. Wellcome says that family tradition has it that her grandmother was kneeling in prayer behind a corn shock in the field, where her husband was at work on Sunday morning, when he chanced to overhear her supplication. He was so moved by the earnestness of his wife’s prayers that he immediately unhitched his team of work horses and drove the children and her to church.
From that day on William Siter’s religion became a very real factor in his life. When “in the latter part of the Year of Our Lord, 1840,” to quote again from the old church record book, “many of the friends of Zion, members of the Great Valley Baptist Church who had been much exercised on the subject of establishing an independent church in the neighborhood of Carr’s School House” circulated a petition “to ascertain the number who would be willing to cast in their lot together,” William Siter’s name appeared with that of his wife, Emily.
Before the Music Fund Hall was used as the first church building of the new congregation, meetings were sometimes held in Mr. Siter’s own home. At such a meeting, held on February 27, 1841, he was elected one of four deacons of the new church, the other three being George Phillips, William Supplee and Hughes Supplee.
When the recent sale of the old church property, fallen into disuse since the building of the Central Baptist Church, was consummated, two of William Siter’s grandchildren were among the four remaining trustees to negotiate the sale. They are Emily Siter Wellcome and her brother, George Siter, of Wayne; Lillian Childs Williamson, of Media, and May Morris Dawson, of Collegeville. The latter two are also descendants of founders of the First Baptist Church.
The property bought by Louis Fillipone consists only of the church building itself and some ground surrounding it. The building is to be demolished and the ground levelled off to provide a suitable site for a new, handsome store which Mr. Fillipone proposes to erect there. Not included in the sale are the little old stone building to the right of the church and the old parsonage which stands between the old graveyard and the tracks of the Philadelphia and Western Railway.
The former is the small stone building which originally housed the first school in Radnor township at what was then known as Carr’s Corner. This building ante-dates the old Music Fund Hall, built about 1832. When the small stone structure and the parsonage have been sold, the proceeds will be added to those from the sale of the church itself. With this money the old graveyard, in which the founders of the church are buried, will be fenced in, while the old tombstones will be straightened and the grounds beautified. And thus, too, will perpetual care be guaranteed to the last resting place of those who founded the church 110 years ago.
(To Be Continued)