The Old Radnor Methodist Church, part 4

“June 3, 1833. Tot he building committee of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Radnor: this is to certify that I, the undersigned, will agree to complete all the carpenter work of said building, 45 by 55 feet, with a basement story; to have 10 twelve-light windows and 12 twenty lights in each frame and no wainscot to any part of the house; for the sum of three hundred and fifty-five dollars; with fifty dollars to be paid off when the roof is on and fifty when the basement story is done and the rest when convenient.”

(Signed) Evan Lewis

This is a copy of the original carpenter’s estimate for the second Radnor Methodist Church building, the erection of which was made necessary by the growth of the congregation in the fifty years since 1783 when the first small one-story log meeting house was built on Methodist Hill on Conestoga road. This second building still stands today, looking very much as it did 117 years ago. Indeed, the present lovely structure in appearance more nearly resembles the original than the building did for some years following 1903 when the exterior walls were covered for a while with a coating of plaster.

The decision to erect this second church building was made at a meeting held May 17, 1833, by the trustees of the church, those present being James B. Ayres, the preacher; John Gyger, Jacob Gyger, Isaac James, Isaac White and William Fisher. Evidently no time was lost in construction for before the year 1833 was out, the church was dedicated, the Rev. E. L. James, who was afterwards elected Bishop, preached the dedicatory sermon. A great revival followed the opening of the new church.

Methodist Sunday Schools had their birth in America rather than in England, there being “historic proof of a number of SUnday School beginnings by the Schwenkfelders, in Bucks and Montgomery counties, Pennsylvania, in 1734”. On what date the Sunday School was organized at “Old Radnor” is not known, though an old minute book has a record of a Sunday School Association as early as 1843, which had probably then been in existence for several years. Under date of June 27, 1858, there is a memorandum in the record book to this effect, “Numbers of scholars on the list, 28; average attendance, 18. Recitations of girls, 103 hymns, 308 verses. Recitations of boys, 113 hymns, 488 verses.”

Today the Sunday school enrollment of 157 students is one of the determining factors in “Old Radnor’s decision to build an addition to their present meeting house. Besides the more than 60 students meeting in the downstairs room, there are nine classes trying to meet in groupings among the church pews. The future potential enrollment in the Sunday School is forecast at 50 per cent increase within ten years, if it is parallel with the analysis of future enrollment for the Rosemont School made by the Radnor Township School Board and based on housing developments now in progress.

In 1894 the old Humphreys parsonage, situated on the northeast corner of Lancaster and Merion avenues, which had been occupied for many years by ministers of the Radnor Circuit, was sold to Dr. William C. Powell. During the pastorate of the Rev. Jonathan Dungan, 1891-95, a new parsonage was erected at the corner of old Lancaster road and Warren avenue by a well known builder of his time, William Gray. With its original appearance little changed except that it has been much lightened by white paint, it now houses the Rev. James M. Haney and his family, just as it has continuously housed ministers of “Old Radnor” over a period of well over fifty years.

Minutes of the meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Church held on April 4, 1881, tell of a plan to circulate subscription books in order to raise funds to repair the church, in anticipation of the Centennial Exercises to be held in February, 1882. At that time it was decided to rough-cast the outside and the inside of the church. The pulpit was to be lowered one step, and the windows were to be double-hung. This work was done, and at the same time the gable ends of the roof were extended so as to project in proportion to the eaves. The total cost of this work was $1631.21, all of which was paid before the day of reopening.

In 1891 stoves were removed from the church and a heater was installed in the basement. In 1903 the church was repainted on the inside as well as the outside, and electricity was introduced. The exterior walls were refinished, and ivy was planted around the building. In 1931, extensive alterations and repairs were undertaken to restore and beautify Old Radnor. Plaster, which for many years had covered the outside walls, was removed and the original stonework was pointed. A new slate roof was put on, the interior of the church redecorated and rearranged, and the roadway rebuilt. Since the old sheds to shelter horses were no longer needed, they were removed to provide parking space for automobiles. Sunday School rooms and a modern kitchen were built in the basement. All this was done at a total expense of $8,000. On Sunday, October 25, 1931, Old Radnor celebrated is one hundred and fiftieth anniversary with a service attended by more than three hundred members and friends.

A little more than two weeks ago, on Tuesday, November 14, the fund raising campaign for an addition to Old Radnor was launched. With a goal of $40,000 plans call for an addition which would serve the education and fellowship needs of the church. Already more than half that amount has been subscribed. Architects’ drawings show that the proposed addition would be to the left of the present edifice in the form a a long, low building in entire harmony, both in materials and architecture, with the lovely old church which has stood on its present site for 117 years. At first there would be but one floor, then as the need arose, a second floor could be added. Even the first floor addition, however, would provide adequate space for a Fellowship Hall, seating well over 200 people, which could be divided into class rooms by sound-proof curtains. With such a financial start, church officials anticipate an early completion of the campaign fund.

(The End)

For the material in this series on “Old Radnor”, the writer is indebted to the Rev. James M. Haney, minister, and to Mr. Herbert L. Flack, of the Building committee.

The Old Radnor Methodist Church, part 3 – Christian Conference

It was in the same year that the old Radnor Meeting House was completed – 1784 – that the celebrated Christian Conference convened in Baltimore. At this Conference the Methodist Episcopal Church was actually formed after a letter from John Wesley had been read by Bishop Thomas Coke, who had been ordained by Wesley himself. By vote of the Conference, Bishop Ashbury, who was to have much to do with the little church on Methodist Hill in Radnor, was ordained. Preachers appointed for the circuit in which Radnor was situated were Leroy Cole, Joseph Cromwell and Jeremiah Lambert.

Bishop Ashbury has been called “the first organization genius of Methodism on the American continent”. In answer to a plea made in 1771 by John Wesley for volunteers to go to America. Francis Ashbury volunteered and shortly thereafter sailed from Bristol. Soon he had methodically arranged  his route over a circuit having Philadelphia as its center. One historian states that “often his (Ashbury’s) bodily strength was exhausted or weakened by disease, yet he preached two or three times a day . . . In those early days Ashbury’s consummate wisdom in distributing preachers and in sound administration methods was invaluable. No general ever stationed his troops with greater skill”.

In 1787 Bishop Ashbury in his Journal makes his first mention of Radnor–”July 2, 1787–on Monday, spoke to a few simple hearted souls at Radnor”. And again in 1791 we find in his Journal that the good Bishop dined at Radnor a few days later on his way to Philadelphia. It was several years later, ini June, 1804, that he told in the Journal of a mishap that befell his horse, “My little Jane” as he affectionately calls her.

“Saturday, June 2, 1804–I rode through the rain to the valley, twenty-eight miles . . . On the Sabbath Day I reached Radnor. Here my little Jane was horned by a cow and lamed. She is done, perhaps, forever for me; but it may all be for the best. I am unwell and the weather is bad, but, except for my feelings for the poor beast, I am peaceful and resigned. I am able to write, but not to preach on the Sabbath.”

An entry of August 7, 1805, states that “We set out and reached Radnor. We stopped to dine with Brother Gyger, and had a serious time at prayer, in his new house, which they are about to move into. We lodged with Daniel Meredith, an old disciple, in the valley. Thursday brought us to Sandersburg.”

Preachers such as Ashbury and those he appointed for the Radnor circuit are strikingly described in the booklet commemorating the 150th anniversary of the founding of “Old Radnor”. “Let us picture the Methodist preacher of these Revolution days. He wears a ‘shad-breasted’ coat, and a low crowned hat, usually white. He is without money, and as he goes forth does not expect to find either church or salary. After journeying until both he and his horse are famished, he stops at a house and is met cordially and invited to share the frugal meal. The dinner over, he begins to speak on the subject of salvation. Some listen from curiosity. Perhaps only one shows a real interest. But he seeks an opportunity to pray, and before the prayer is ended all feel that a strange, even an awful visitor has come among them. He sings a hymn, and as the plaintive strains rise on the air, all are impressed, and the children are fascinated. In such manner, reminiscent of the apostles of old, was the nucleus of Methodism founded.”

By 1785 the Methodist Church throughout the Philadelphia section had so increased is membership that its work was divided into three Annual Conferences. In that same year the office of Presiding Elder was originated. The first Presiding Elder under whose supervision Radnor came was Thomas Vasey, who had come to America with Bishop Coke. Among those who preached in Radnor at this time was William Penn Chandler, who was noted for his eloquence. Another famous man in early Methodist history, Joseph Everett, occupied the pulpit frequently. It is said that he began one of his sermons at Old Radnor by this statement: “It is just six weeks since I was here last, and some of you are six weeks nearer hell than you were then.”

During the years 1801-1803 repairs were made to the little log church and the graveyard that surrounded it that cost $161.40, a sum raised by subscriptions and collection though it was first advanced by the trustees. Some twenty years or more later the burying ground was enlarged by the purchase of one-fourth of an acre of ground, for which twenty-five dollars was paid. At that time, (article ends abruptly)

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)

Ashmead’s History of Delaware County, part 2 – Catholic Church, Radnor Methodist, Episcopal, Radnor Baptist, Church of Good Shepherd, Wayne Pres.

In continuing the story of Radnor Township as told by Henry Graham Ashmead in his history published in 1884, it seems that in 1820 many of the citizens of the township wanted to have it annexed to Montgomery County. For one thing it was much closer to Norristown than Chester, which was the county seat of Delaware County. For another, the taxes of Montgomery County were lower than those of Delaware. There was much agitation on the subject throughout the county as Radnor was one of its best townships.

The possible solution to the question seemed to lie in the removal of the seat of justice from Chester to a more centrally located spot. A general meeting of those “both friendly and unfriendly” to this proposal was called for the 8th of June, 1820. The meeting, it seems, “was unusually large and very respectable, and after the subject of removal had been discussed very fully and rather freely, a vote was taken which resulted in favor of the removalists.”

Immediately, removal of the county seat became the leading topic everywhere in Delaware County. All party distinction became merged in the issue–nominations for office were made accordingly. Two anti-removalists were ejected to the Assembly, whereupon the removalists petitioned the Legislature for redress.

This petition, drawn up by Robert Frazer, Esq., a prominent lawyer, was signed by 912 citizens. However, no legislation favorable to the measure was obtained. And while the issue was still discussed from time to time, nothing was done until 1847 when the question of moving the county seat from Chester to Media was submitted to the people.

At that time Radnor polled 152 votes in favor of removal and 40 against it. And in the meantime Radnor Township had relaxed its efforts to become part of Montgomery County, which had been the original issue.

Bits of interest gleaned from the pages of Ashmead’s history concern the Radnor Library and the Radnor Lyceum. The Library was extablished in 1809 with 500 volumes, representing the liberality of 18 subscribers. These were placed in a store near the Radnor Friends Meeting House.

Radnor Lyceum was organized on the 12th of May, 1838, by the election of the following officers: Hugh Jones Brooke, president; John Pechin, recording secretary; Dr. James Jenkins, corresponding secretary; John Mather, treasurer; John Evans, Edward B. Wetherill, WIlliam Haskens, Alexander Kenzie, George Palmer, Mary Kenzie and Adelaide Cornog, managers. Present day readers could wish that our historian had elaborated to a far greater extent on the subject of both the library and the lyceum.

The first authentic reference to schools in Radnor, according to Mr. Ashmead, are found in court records, where it is shown that in 1825, in accordance with an order issued, Abram Lewis, Benjamin Maule and Benjamin David were elected school trustees for the township. They were then called “school men” and were elected to serve one, two and three years, respectively.

These records also show that on May 14, 1827, the school men purchased from Mordecal Lewis land “on which to erect a men’s school”.

In 1834 the free school system was inaugurated. Prior to the adoption of this school law, however, schools had been maintained in the township even from the days of its first settlement. They were subscription schools taught chiefly in the winter. Little else is known of their history, however, since no records were kept.

When the free school system was adopted, the court appointed as inspectors of schools of Radnor John Evans and Jesse Brooks, Jr. They were to act until school directors were elected.

In 1835 Radnor Township received from the State and County $1010.45 for school purposes. Two years later school directors bough from John Evans “a schoolhouse site of 80 square perches”. In 1855 a two-acre lot was added to former school holdings. By 1884 there were seven school buildings scattered throughout the township.

As early as 1842 members of the Order of St. Augustine established themselves in Radnor Township as a branch of the parent house in Philadelphia by founding Villa Nova College. They had then just purchased the estate of John Rudolf whose stone house of two and a half stories was the first college building. The upper stories, consisting of six rooms, were devoted to the use of the students while the lower part was occupied by professors.

In September, 1844, the chapel, the first place of Catholic worship in the neighborhood, was dedicated. In 1849 the new college hall was opened. This large stone edifice was later the east wing of a larger college building. This main college building was erected in 1873 by the superior-general, Rev. Thomas Galberry, O. S. A., at that time president of the college.

A new church, seating some 800 persons, was completed in the middle eighties. This took the place of a frame building used since 1872 and was designed to meet the requirements of a congregation that had increased more than a hundredfold since 1842, when those who assisted at worship numbered seven. Many changes, some the result of two disastrous fires, have marked the growth of this well known Main Line college still existing in Radnor Township more than a hundred years after its founding.

Other interesting old churches in Radnor Township in addition to Radnor Friends Meeting and Old St. Davids, whose origins have already been described in this column, are the Radnor Methodist Episcopal Church, Radnor Baptist Church, Church of the Good Shepherd and the Wayne Presbyterian Church.

The history of Radnor Methodist Church dates back to the primitive days of Methodism when such men as Bishop Coke, Richard Whatcoat and Francis Asbury officiated on this ground. The Radnor Baptist Church was organized February 20, 1841. It originated in the agitation of the question of anti-slavery in the Great Valley Baptist Church when those members who were greatly opposed to slavery asked for letters to form a new church.

The first meetings of the Church of the Good Shepherd were held in Wayne Hall in 1869. The corner stone of the church was laid in 1871 and the church itself was completed in 1872. The Wayne Presbyterian Church also had its origin in religious services held in the Wayne Hall in 1870. This was in June of that year, and by the December following the completed church building was dedicated.

Later issues of this column will contain full accounts of the histories of these four churches and of others in Radnor Township.