The Old Radnor Methodist Church, part 2 – Rev. A. L. Wilson

Old record books, frail with age, are priceless possessions of the old Radnor Methodist Church. In them are such data as comes under the heading of “Historical Record”, “Probationers’ Record,” “Class Record”, “Alphabetical Record of Members in Full Connection”, “Record of Baptism”, “Record of Marriages” and several others. Specifically designed books for Methodist Church records were printed even as early as the first part of the nineteenth century. An introduction to one made in 1864 states that “any pastor who, through carelessness, fails to make full entries in all departments, is highly culpable and deserves the censure of his Conference.”

The Rev. A. L. Wilson, pastor of the old church on Conestoga road from 1880 through 1882, performed a service of lasting importance to a service to his parishioners and those who were to follow, when he painstakingly noted all the information available on the founding and early days of this historic church. After almost seventy years the clear legible handwriting covers page after page in what must truly have been a labor of love on the part of a conscientious man. Surprisingly enough, even the ink is scarcely faded.
Mr. Wilson tells of an “old, time-honored building which has been known for generations past as the Radnor Methodist – Episcopal Church”, standing on “one of the most beautiful hills of Radnor”. And so long has this church been associated with the hill that the latter is generally known as “Methodist Hill”. Its history goes back to the early days of Methodism, since many of the pioneers of that faith in the country “have declared the unsearchable riches of the Christ on the gorund”, which seems almost hallowed because such men as Bishop Coke, Richard Whatroot and Francis Ashbury had been there to counsel and encourage the church in its infancy.

According to the most accurate information available to Mr. Wilson, the first Methodists to visit Radnor were two local preachers named Adam Cloud and Matthew Greentree. This was probably several years before 1780 since it was in that year that Radnor became “a regular preaching place” which was supplied by the circuit preachers. The first class was organized in the “Mansion House” then occupied by the James family, early forebears of a well-known citizen of the present time in Radnor township, Hon. Benjamin F. James, and his brother, Evan L. James, of Wynnewood. As described in last week’s column this old mansion house still stands at the corner of Montrose and Conestoga roads, though the years have brought some enlargement to the original structure, which is now one of the most beautiful among the really old homes in Radnor township.

In 1780 Radnor was included in what was then known as the Philadelphia Circuit. In 1781 this was changed to the Pennsylvania Circuit and thereafter saw many other changes of name. The first class leader was George Gyger, while John Cooper and George Main were the first preachers from the circuit to come to Radnor. An old deed shows that on the “20th day of October, 1783, Evan James and his wife Margaret appeared befor Justice Thomas Lewis and said for seven shillings a half-acre of ground on which a meeting home was to be built . . . in which the doctrine of John Wesley as set forth in his four volumes of sermons and in his notes on the New Testament were to be preached and no other.”

At that time Methodism was evidently not in high repute in all quarters as Mr. Wilson, writing in the early eighties, says that “we who live at this age of Methodism have but little idea of the embarrassments and disadvantages under which the earnest workers for God labored.” There were even those who scoffed at the building of the first small log cabin-like church as illustrated in the story of one of the workmen. An acquaintance, climbing the hill on Old Lancaster Road, called out to him to inquire what he was doing. When he replied that he was helping to build a meeting house for the Methodists the friend is said to have replied: “There is no use of your doing that, for they will all soon be as cold as cucumbers, there will soon be no more Methodists.”

It would seem that many participated actively in the building of this first meeting house At any rate Jacob Gyger, David and Isaac James hauled water from the creek by way of a barrel on a sled in order to obtain this water for mixing the mortar which was to hold the logs together. In spite of difficulties, the meeting house was completed and dedicated in 1784. An account of those dedication services would make interesting reading but Mr. Wilson tells us that apparently no record of them was kept. But, if this is lacking there is certainly a full list of all the trustees, elders and preachers who were connected with the little church during those early days of its existence. These have been carefully preserved in the history of “Old Radnor”.

Soon after the turn of the century Methodists in this general vicinity began to hold “powerful” meetings in a house near Brother Jonathan Evans in Upper Darby, according to our historian. “Methodism”, he states, “was a new thing in that place. The Quaker inhabitants never had heard a hymn sung, and when the Methodists sang in their lusty, old-fashioned way, the effect produced was onderful. Their meetings were held in the afternoon of each day int he week (the laboring men going to work at midnight were released at noon, therefore they could spend the afternoon in worship). The most powerful manifestations of the spirit were witnessed at their meetings. Men and women would fall over and remain perfectly still and motionless . . . The good work spread through Delaware County . . . Societies were formed and meeting-houses were built. Radnor was greatly revived. About this time there was a Camp Meeting held in the woods in front of the church at which much good was done.”

This marked the beginning of what was to become the greatest week in the year for Radnor Methodists—the week in the woods camp meeting. For then Radnor Methodists “were a zealous people, full of the fire of the Holy Spirit,” according to a later historian who tells of camp meetings, randing over a period of twenty-six years. 1838-1864 in the woods in front of the church, and “in the graves of the different valleys and hillsides nearby.”

(To be continued)

The Old Radnor Methodist Church, part 1


A touch of early Winter was in the breeze that rustled the dry brown leaves in the old Church yard and followed us up the shallow, well-worn steps into the interior of Old Radnor Methodist Church last Sunday afternoon. We had paused for a moment outside to examine the old door knob, punctured, it is said, by a bullet. At any rate, the hole is there. On the inside of the door is the ancient lock, and hanging under it the quaint old wrought iron key, some four inches in length. The Reverend James Haney, minister of the CHurch, ventured the guess that it weighs at least a pound.

At once the quiet serenity of this old place of worship, seen in the light of the late afternoon sun as it came through the high windows, seemed to envelop us. It is the peace that long uninterrupted years of worship within its four walls has brought. For this present Church building dates back to 1833, and its log cabin predecessor to 1783. A hundred years had then passed since William Penn had founded his colony of 40,000 acres which he called the “Welsh Tract”. The land on which this old church stands was originally part of the tract, embracing as it did the present townships of Haverford, Merion, Radnor and part of Goshen. The first Radnor Meeting House had been built by early Welsh Friends in 1695, while Old St. David’s, originally called The Radnor Church, was begun in 1715 and completed in 1717.

The Methodist movement was born at Oxford, England, in 1729, when John and Charles Wesley and a few others began to meet for religious exercises. Eearly in 1734, a company of three hundred emigrants, led by James Oglethorpe, landed in Georgie, the Wesleys among them. By 1739 Methodism had gained much headway among Philadelphia’s 10,000 inhabitants. By 1780-81 a number of Methodist circuits had been organized and about this time Radnor became a meeting and a Society numbering forty members was created.

The one-story log cabin meeting house, built in 1783 on what was soon to be known as “Methodist Hill” on the much travelled Conestoga Road is the oldest Methodist Meeting House in Delaware County. In point of age in comparison to Methodist churches in Philadelphia it is surpassed only by St. George’s. The quaint illustration accompanying this article was made by Miss Edith Powell in 1908 from a description of the little log cabin given by Mrs. Mary Clemmens and Miss Hannah Gyger Clive, who were then in their eighty-ninth year. Facing south this small building, twenty-five feet wide by thirty feet long, had two small windows, one on each side of the doorway. Inside there was one aisle with a long mourners’ bench in front of the pulpit. It was heated by a stove in the center of the room with its chimney going up through the peaked roof. The plot of ground on which it stood was deeded to the Society by Evan James.

The really lovely interior of the present church building is a restoration of the original Colonial one as it looked when the second meeting house was erected in 1783. It has its divided chancel and central altar with a recently installed Hammond organ and a set of chimes given in memory of the Reverend John Watchorn, who served the Church from 1940 until 1943. Mr. Haney amazed us on Sunday when he showed how the backs of many of the pews can be reversed, so that the occupants face either to the front or the back of the Church. During Church services all face front, of course. But when the room is utilized for Sunday School purposes the pews are arranged so that the occupants of any two of them face each other for classes.

Other Sunday School classes are held in the large basement room where on Sunday Mr. Haney showed us an interesting chart prepared by Mr. Herbert L. Flack in preparation for the church’s present drive for a $40,000 building fund. This chart shows that in 1780 the CHurch had a membership of forty as compared to its present two hundred and ninety, while the Sunday School has had the amazing growth of from twenty-seven to one hundred and sixty members, from 1843 to 1950. In 1783 the plot of ground on which the Church stands cost the congregation $1.69. Other interesting figures show that in comparison to the present $40,000 prospective building fund, $161.40 was raised in 1801-1803 by “subscription and collection”, while in 1881-82, $1631.21 was raised, “all of which was paid by subscription before the day of re-opening”. In 1931 members and generous-minded and public spirited citizens of the surrounding communities contributed $8,000 to defray remodeling costs.

Back of the modern furnace that heats the church of the present day Mr. Haney showed us a narrow doorway formerly closed by a heavy iron door. In days now long past this led into the vault used for coffins when frozen earth in winter made permanent burial impossible until spring should come. It reminded us of the small building in Radnor Friends Meeting burial ground once used for a similar purpose. Strangely enough this one time vault in the basement of the Radnor Methodist Church is now a cheery and most adequate kitchen. Its stone walls must be at least two feet thick, as shown by the masonry around the windows.

The church is surrounded on three sides by a large burial ground where old stones and new are close neighbors. Horse sheds of a former generation have been torn down only recently. A parking lot for the modern automobile that has succeeded the horse and buggy is an acquisition of a few years ago. Dates noted at random on but a few headstones showed burials in 1791, 1794, 1808, 1815 and 1832. There were many others, some in excellent condition despite the passing of the years, others crumbled and fallen. Among the many quaint epitaphs was one inscribed in 1835, the year the present church was erected:

“Affliction sore, long me a bore
Physicians were in vain
Till God was pleased me to relieve
and eased me of my pain.”
One of a few years later reads:
“Farewell to friends and all I know
My husband gone & I must go
Through 50 years away has past
Since we have seen each other last
We now shall meet in heaven above
And join to sing in redeeming love.”

After leaving the church grounds, Mr. Haney drove us along Conestoga road where at its intersection with Montrose avenue still stands the original Mansion House, once owned by the James family where the first Methodist service of any kind in this region was held. That service was a prayer meeting, the date of which is not recorded, though it was probably in the year 1778. The beautiful old house, now somewhat modernized, still has the original stone walls of the early structure intact. It is now occupied by Mrs. Percival Parrish. The parsonage constructed in 1891-95 still stands at 1003 Conestoga road, where it is occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Haney and their family.

(To be continued)

The Old Eagle School, part 3 – Radnor Lyceum

In continuing the story of the Old Eagle School as begun in this column several weeks ago, it is a noteworthy fact that from the time the first small crude building was erected in about the year 1767, it was not only school and church, but pre-eminently “a social center of bucolic life,” to quote from Henry Pleasants’ history of that historic landmark. It became indeed a public meeting place of the neighborhood where militia companies were organized and drilled and where political meetings were held. And on the lighter side of life it was where singing groups and debating clubs met. Still in existence is a quaint invitation of March 1, 1822, for a debate to be held there a few days later. This invitation reads:

“The Eagle Association’s compliments to Miss Eliza Siter and requests the favour of her company at a debate at the Eagle School house on Saturday evening, March 9th.”

This invitation is among the bits of early evidence that the Eagle School was among the pioneers in the “lyceum movement,” which was to become an integral part of the life of the early settlers in this section. Records show that as early as 1935 the Chester County Education Convention organized a County Lyceum with a full roster of officers. As already stated in this column, Radnor Lyceum was organized in 1838 with Hugh Jones Brooke as president. Among the names connected with this Lyceum that still live on in present-day families are those of John Pechin, John Mather, and Adelaide Cornog.

Among these lyceum meetings held in Eagle School is one of 1832 so graphically described by one of the audience that his account is well worth quoting in full. It was given to the Board of Trustees of the old School by the late Joseph Levis Worrall, of Radnor, and recorded in Mr. Pleasants’ history.

“In 1832 we had an exhibition of the telegraph in winter time. Two operators came up to Edward Siter, who kept the Eagle Hotel . . . and asked permission to give the people a free exhibition of the telegraph at the Eagle School. The real object of the exhibition was for the purpose of obtaining an appropriation from the Pennsylvania Legislature through representatives favorable thereto . . . Edward Siter sent word around on horseback to the different stores, blacksmith shops and taverns, and put a notice in the Delaware County paper “Upland Union” of Chester, and in the “Village Record” of Chester County.

“We had a crowd of persons present at the exhibition; the building was jammed, and many could not get in. Dr. Joseph Blackfan and my father, Fred Worrall, were chosen by the people to sit by each telegraph operator, who took their positions at opposite corners of the room. Edward Siter, John Pugh and others stood in the doorway of a board partition . . . as judges to see that no sign was given of what was written, and then a message was sent across, the machine writing by dots and dashes on paper: Dr. Blackfan writing down a message which the operator sent to the man at father’s end, who read it out aloud, and then a message was sent back. The judges were first given the message which Dr. Blackfan wrote down, to see that no fraud was practiced. The message was always read off correctly and the effect on the audience was astonishing. They closely questioned Dr. Blackfan and father to know if there was any collusion. Father and many others thought the exhibition one of supernatural powers. Edward Siter stated that he could not account for it. Others thought that it was the work of the Devil.

“The arrangement for the exhibition had been made with much care. The batteries were concealed in boxes. John Meredith sent men to do all necessary carpenter work without charge; and the school was dismissed at noon, so that they had the full afternoon for making their arrangements. The door was locked until the time of the exhibition.”

Thus did our forebears in this section first learn of the mysteries of telegraph, which was so soon to become one of the country’s greatest means of communication.

From its earliest establishment old Eagle School was placed under the control and management of men designated as “Trustees” or Committeemen, who held a position similar to that of our present-day School Directors. The last formal election of these trustees is said to have taken place in the old building about 1835, at a meeting held there “for the purpose of securing better educational facilities for the neighborhood.”

Many of the names of these trustees have been preserved, not in record form, but in the memories of those who have passed their names down from generation to generation. Among those from Radnor were William Siter (the elder), John Pugh (the elder), Nathaniel Jones, Samuel Cleaver, Robert Kennedy, landlord of “The Unicorn,” and Edward Siter, landlord of “The Eagle.”

Other rural schoolhouses of an early date that have been preserved to the present generation, and are well known to many of us are the Camp School at Valley Forge, restored by the Valley Forge Commission; Diamond Rock School near Howellville and the Octagon Schoolhouse near Newtown Square. Until the Common School System of Pennsylvania came into full operation about 1836 such schools as these afforded the only facilities for the education of children in the rural districts. Many of them were established soon after the arrival of William Penn. Compared to what the schools of today have to offer they were primitive and crude, indeed, yet in their way they served their purpose at a time when nothing else offered itself.

Standard books of these early schools, according to Mr. Pleasants, included “Cornleys Spelling,” “Pike’s Arithmetic,” “The American Tutor” and “Murray’s Introduction to English Reader and Sequel.” Occasionally used by particularly apt scholars were “Gummere’s Surveying,” “Bonnycastles’ Algebra and Measuration” and “Kirkman’s Grammar.” Records show that at the Eagle School the usual tuition was two dollars per quarter, “exclusive of books, slates, ink and goose-quills.”

Old-time school masters usually acquired their positions by “circulating a subscription list around the neighborhood and inducing the various residents to send their children to school at certain rates.” There is some question as to who was the first master, that honor lying between a Brinton Evans and Jacob Sharraden Werkiser, son of that Christian Werkiser who gave the original acre of land on which the first school building was erected. Another of the old masters was James Boyle, descended from Irish gentry, who also taught at Old Glassley School, in what is now part of Devon, and at the Union School, near Great Valley Baptist Church. Still another was Adam Siter, a lame man, whom the pupils “endearingly called ‘Old Step-and-go-fetch-it.” He also taught in the School house at Old St. David’s Church. These old-time school-masters had no supervision from anyone except possibly from “the committeemen,” though there is not much evidence even of this. Among the relics of the Old Eagle School are some of the primitive instruments by which a rudimentary education was literally “driven into its early pupils.

(To be continued)

Archaeological Mysteries – Ithan Store

One of the most delightful afternoons that we have spent in many a day was that of Saturday, October 21, when the tour of eight of the historic old houses of Wayne was made under the sponsorship of the Radnor Historical Society. We sincerely hope that many of the readers of this column were also able to go, for these old homes could not fail to interest any who were privileged to see them. The response to our request for a repeat visit and for further information was so graciously received from all who were asked that we hope from time to time to devote a column to this history of each of these houses.

In the meantime, several bits of information came to light. Among the visitors to “Kinterra”, the home of the Misses Watson, on Church road, was Helen Richards Sellers (Mrs. Edwin F. Sellers), of Radnor Inn, a direct descendant of John Richards, Penn grantee 1682, who from point of view of still having the same Richards name can claim to be of the “oldest family” in Radnor Township with the Pugh family the only rivals. Mrs. Sellers was particularly interested in the Watson homestead since it was the Richards family who built the original part of this old stone house in 1718.

Mrs. Robert Dornan, of the Wesley apartments, gives the interesting information that her three nephews, Franklin F. Trainer and Henry C. Trainer, both of Wayne, and Richard D. Trainer, of Strafford Village are the direct descendants of the first male white child to be born in Radnor Township, as told in this column when the history of the Old Ithan Store was given. He was the son of John Jarman and first saw the light of day in that part of the present building at the intersection of Conestoga road and Radnor-Chester road which now houses the Store. In 1769 at the ripe old age of eighty-five, Jarman died in this same house. Mrs. Dornan did the research entailed in establishing the family descent of her nephews from Jarman.

Many requests for information come to “Your Town and My Town”. Some can be answered, some cannot, even after considerable research and some questioning of old-time residents in Radnor Township. Here is the most interesting one to date, and one to which the writer has found no answer as yet. Mr. Leslie Geer, who has recently purchased a home near the intersection of Brookside avenue and Conestoga road, decided to make a garden in his back yard this summer. His property extends from Brookside avenue in an irregular line to a point on Conestoga road just west of the old spring house, from which water was pumped and sold at one time. People are said to have come from miles around in order to obtain water of such purity.

In digging for his garden Mr. Geer struck rock well under the surface of the ground which upon further investigation proved to be part of the foundation of a building of some sort. It is, according to Mr. Geer, an excellent foundation with stones laid one upon another with much exactitude and care. He did not dig extensively enough at the time to discover the dimensions or the shape of the foundation. But he did unearth old horseshoes, long, heavy nails, and iron door hinges, all of them frail with age and rust.

No one in the neighborhood can offer any solution to the question of what sort of building once stood on this foundation, nor has the present writer been able to find any answer. Some one has suggested that i might have been an Inn, since certain old records show that there was one between the Old Sorrel Horse on Conestoga road and the Old Eagle on Lancaster Highway, at a distance of about a mile west of the former. If not an Inn, might it have been a blacksmith shop? Or was it one of the small stone houses along Conestoga built by some early Welshman about the time that the Ithan Store and the original old Radnor Friends meeting was built?

There is one of these little stone houses on Conestoga road not far west of this spot, as the writer well knows, since she lived there herself some years ago. This is the house just to the east of Five Points, now occupied by Mrs. Frank B. Johnston. Originally this house, with its thick stone walls contained two rooms downstairs each with a large fireplace with two bedrooms above as well as an attic, the old stairway to which still remains as it was so many years ago. Alterations made to this simple structure by Mr. and Mrs. R. C. Ware in 1912 converted it into the pleasant white house by the side of the road still dear to the heart of the writer, though it has been many years since she lived there with her family.

Whatever its history, for the present Mr. Geer has covered the excavation with earth again. Later he intends to excavate more thoroughly. In the meantime this column would be glad to pass on to him any information its readers may give on the subject.

(Editor’s Note: Another “discovery” arousing much local interest is a well of considerable depth found by workmen excavating at the old Opera House. Bricked in and more than 20 feet deep, who built it?)