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)