St. Martin’s Church, part 1

The dull gray of the stone exterior of St. Martin’s Church seemed softer than usual in the mistlike rain of a morning last week as this writer walked along King of Prussia road from Radnor station. The brilliance of red roses growing in magnificent clumps at each of the two main entrances to the church was almost startling in contrast. These gorgeous splashes of color only served to bring out the quiet serenity of walls that have withstood the elements for more than 70 years now. Much of their surface is ivy colored, the deep green of the leaves blending with their gray. The church building stands close to the road on two sides, its boundary on both King of Prussia and Glenmary roads marked by a low gray stone wall, almost as old as the church building itself.

On February 15, 1877, the lot of ground on which St. Martin’s stands was conveyed by John Stacker and his wife, Mary, to the rector, church wardens and vestrymen of the church of the Good Shepherd in Radnor. The following month, according to the old Record Book of St. Martin’s, “a society was organized among persons who were in the habit of attending Sunday evening services held in the public school house by the rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd or his assistant, for the purpose of accumulating a fund for building on the lot above mentioned.” But it was two years later before the first excavations were started and still more than a year after that before the corner stone was laid. This was on October 4, 1880.

According to a brief history of St. Martin’s Church, written by the late W. W. Montgomery, it was intimately connected in its early days with the Church of the Good Shepherd. The latter was established in July, 1889, after which the congregation worshiped for some months in the old Wayne Hall on Lancaster Turnpike in Wayne. Later on these services were transferred to a room in the old Morgan’s Corner Hotel, a few hundred yards from where St. Martin’s Church is now built.

Even after the first church building of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Rosemont was completed, these services in the old Hotel were not abandoned. Though held irregularly for a few years, they were continued “for the benefit of such persons living near Wayne and Radnor stations as desired to attend the services of the church, but found it impracticable or inconvenient to get to the Church of the Good Shepherd.” These services were usually held but once a week, and then on Sunday evenings. From 1871 until the summer of 1881, the use of the neighboring public school building was given to the congregation of the Radnor Mission. After that time its use was withdrawn.

The first plans for establishing a building fund for the Church that was to be later called St. Martin’s, were made at the March 1877 meeting in the school house. At that time “a small society was organized for the purpose of accumulating a fund by monthly contributions of the members, and other gifts for the purpose of erecting a chapel building.” These first payments, “one dollar and fifty cents in the aggregate”, were received on March 13, 1877, by the Rev. B. R. Phelps, the first treasurer, who was the assistant to the rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd and in special charge of the mission.

Original plans for the building, which were eventually followed throughout, were the gift of a prominent Philadelphia architect. During the spring of 1879 part of the excavation for the foundations and basement were made by voluntary labor. For want of further funds, nothing more was done until the end of September of that year, when additional gifts had brought the fund up to almost $1,000. With part of this the facing stone was bought. By the early part of 1880, the work of building was actively under way. And it was on October 4 of that year that the corner stone was laid.

Early plans called for only the erection of the walls and the roof of the building at first. But once actual work was begun, contributions began to increase, thus making it possible to do the plastering and the glazing of windows very soon after this building was under roof. even before this, however, the first service in the chapel was held. This was on Sunday evening, August 14, 1881, the day after the use of the school house was withdrawn. To quote once more from Mr. Montgomery’s history: “The walls had not been plastered, nor the windows or seats of furniture of any kind put in, but some chairs and lamps were borrowed in the neighborhood for the occasion. A slight thundergust coming up, the wind blowing between the boards on the window spaces, put out some of the lamps, which had been set on the window sills for want of any other places to rest them.

Before the end of the year 1881, some of the pews were put in place, as were the chandeliers for lighting the church. For two years a large stove was the only means of heating the building. Then in December 1885 furnaces were installed for more adequate warmth. in 1884 the organ screen, robing room and chancel wall were built. In 1885 the basement room for Sunday School and for library finished. The following year six carriage sheds were erected and the grading of the property was completed. Work on this by voluntary labor had been going on for some time.

In 1887 the outside woodwork of the church and the carriage sheds were painted and the inside walls of the church tinted. Important additions were those of the tower, the bell and the porch hood. The stone wall was built, the japonica hedge was put in and other planting done. These things came chiefly as gifts from friends and members of the congregation. Thus had the building of the church and the beautification of the grounds gone on slowly and steadily over a period of almost nine years, “according as the Building Committee had the means to do it.” Only once during this time was any debt incurred, and then but for a small amount and for a few months.

(To be Continued)