Whatever the different motivating factors behind the coming of the early settlers from Europe to the New World which was America, these people were on the whole extremely religious. William Penn, when he sailed up the Delaware River to land at Upland, found that the Swedes and the Dutch both had established places of worship, humble though they were.
The Swedes, who had made the first European settlement in Pennsylvania of which we have any record, that at Tinicum, in Delaware County, had been given land for the erection of the log church by their governor, John Printz. To this small edifice on Tinicum island members of its congregation came in canoes from their various settlements along the Delaware River. Reverend John Campanius, who had some to America with Governor Printz, was then pastor, a man who has been called Delaware County’s first prominent theologian.
Born in Sweden in 1601, Campanius died in 1683 after spending 40 years of his life as a missionary among the Delaware Indians, and as pastor of that first little Lutheran Church on Tinicum Island. The first leader of a religious denomination in Pennsylvania, he had completed the earliest translation of a European language into an Indian one before returning to his native Sweden in 1649. This translation was that of the Lutheran Catechism into the Delaware Indian tongue.
Of the first little log church on Tinicum Island nothing is left to indicate even the location, or that of the graveyard connected with it. Its congregation transferred its affiliation to other churches, and at about the beginning of the Eighteenth century the small edifice fell into ruin. The second Lutheran congregation in Delaware County was organized in 1878 by —– in Chester. Others sprang up from time to time until now there are a large number of churches of that denomination scattered throughout the county.
The Society of Friends, also known as Quakers, held meetings in Upland as early as 1675. A few years later a group of them purchased a lot on what is now Edgemont Avenue in Chester where they erected a place of worship in 1691. However, the very first meeting house to be built in Delaware County was that in nearby Haverford Township. This was erected in 1688-89. Radnor Meeting was another of the very early structures having been built shortly after Haverford Meeting. The present lovely old edifice, dating back to 1718, is one of the landmarks of Radnor Township, as is the Old Store across Conestoga Road, where the friends who later made up Radnor Meeting congregation met before their own first little church was built.
The second oldest church structure in the county is one as familiar to most of Wayne’s citizens as any of its own churches, picturesque Old St. Davids, located in Newtown Township. This small ivy covered Episcopalian Church on the slope of a hill amid towering trees dates back to a period prior to 1700, when its congregation was first organized. For one half century after the original small structure was built, no floor was laid and no pews built. The congregation sat on benches, originally furnished by the occupants. The old graveyard with its crumbling headstones surrounds the church on three sides. Among the graves is that of “Mad” Anthony Wayne of Revolutionary fame.
Among other very old Episcopal churches in the county are St. Paul’s in Chester, completed in 1702, and St. John’s in Concord Township, built only slightly later. In about 1725 “the Chapel” at Marcus Hook was built. It remained nameless until 1760 when the brick structure which replaced the original small frame one was called St. Martin’s. In our own township, the Church of the Good Shepherd, in Rosemont, was organized in 1869 after meetings had been held for several years at Woodfield, and at the residence of Mrs. Supplee in Radnor. The corner stone for the church building was laid in 1871. Since then the chapel, the parish house and the rectory have been added.
St. Mary’s Memorial Episcopal Church in Wayne was erected in 1890, after eight years of preliminary meetings, while St. Martin’s in Radnor has been active since 1887.
The Baptist Church in Birmingham Township, Delaware County, was the third of that denomination in the state of Pennsylvania. A log meeting house was built in 1718 after a period of years in which meetings were held in private homes. In 1770 the log structure was replaced by a stone building which sufficed until the present church was built a hundred years later.
Radnor Baptist Church originated over the anti-slavery agitation in Great Valley Baptist Church, when Rev. Leonard Fletcher and his followers, who were opposed to slavery, asked for letters to form a new church. These letters were granted to 79 persons, who formed Radnor Baptist Church in 1841. They purchased the “Radnor Scientific and Musical Hall” which they used for a church building until 1890. Later the Central Baptist Church of Wayne was organized with the original building still standing between Lancaster Pike and West Wayne avenues, near the center of Wayne.
As early as the beginning of the 18th Century there were log cabin Presbyterian Churches in Delaware County, with thier congregations made up principally of Scotch-Irish immigrants. The first Presbyterian Church in Delaware County was organized in Middletown Township in about 1728. In 1762 the log cabin was replaced by a stone building to which the congregation brought their own charcoal foot-stoves. In 1879 this building was destroyed by fire. But before the year was out a new edifice had been dedicated, and quite recently a new church wing built on colonial lines has been added to the older structure.
In 1818, the Philadelphia Presbytery ordered two churches established, one in Springfield and the other in Aston Township. The former never even reached the point of organization. Of the latter, which was known as the Blue Church, or Mount Gilead, nothing now remains of the building which became inactive after a few years of existence.
Among other Delaware County Presbyterian Churches that were organized a hundred years or more ago are the Marple Church near Broomall, built in 1835; the Darby Presbyterian Church, originally started along Congregational principles in 1845; the Presbyterian Church of Darby Borough, founded by twenty people in 1851; a Presbyterian’s chapel in Todmorton, originally built for employees of Crookville Mills in 1850, and Leeper’s Church in Ridley Township, built before 1850.
The Wayne Presbyterian Church was organized almost 51 years ago in June, 1870. The first church building, still standing to the East of the present one, was built by J. Henry Askin on land which he had donated. He also built the first manse, the large white house facing South on Lancaster avenue, several blocks from the church. This old Manse is now the home of Mr. Walter Lister.
(To be continued)