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The Sesqui-Centennial of the Alexandria Presbyterian Church..

September 11 and 12, 1937

The Hartslog Presbyterian Church, now the Alexandria Presbyterian Church, according to the old record, "is the oldest church in the upper Juniata Valley west of Jack's Narrows." It is the mother of the Presbyterian Churches of Huntingdon, Petersburg, Shavers Creek Valley, Lower Spruce Creek and Sinking Valley. It is three years older than the church at Huntingdon, and antedates the Presbytery of Huntingdon by more than nine years.

The early records begin with a subscription list for the erection of a house of worship in 1786, which includes the names of fifty-eight subscribers, heads of families, indicating the strength of the congregation at this early date, and substantiating the belief that ten years prior, a decade before the American Revolution, Presbyterians among the Scotch and Scotch-Irish pioneers banded themselves together here for worship according to their faith.

The Log Worship House stood upon the hill one mile north of the present site of the town of Alexandria, where a burial ground was later made, and where a stone marker, dedicated at this sesquicentennial, is now set up.

On October 6, 1787 this log building (a primitive structure, without floor, and split log benches for the worshipers, and without heating facilities) was renovated: a floor laid, six large windows set in, a large door constructed, and a pulpit and a communion table made; and on September 26, Captain John Thorlton, John Williams, David Stewart, and David Caldwell "were appointed a committee to direct the private expenses of the congregation." This log building underwent continued construction and change. In 1794 it was laid off into four sections, and fitted with pews; which were rented. Each section was 120 square feet, from which we judge that the building was not more than 40 feet square. In 1802 a contract was awarded for the building of a gallery, with an outside stairway; but this was never entirely completed.

In 1787, September 10, James Dean, George Gray, Edward Hunter, Thomas McCune, William McCoy, and David Stewart were ordained as elders of the church by Rev. John Johnston; and four others, John Little, William Johnston, Alexander McCormick, and Robert Riddle were set apart to serve the Shavers Creek part of the congregation.

The Rev. John Johnston, the first minister of the church, was born in the city of Belfast, Ireland in 1750. He came to this country in 1784, and became a member of the Presbytery of Philadelphia and later transferred to the Presbytery of Carlisle (out of which Huntingdon Presbytery was formed). Mr. Johnston, one of the eight ministers present at the first organization of the Presbytery of Huntingdon in 1795, was installed minister of the Hartslog and Shavers Creek congregation on November 26, 1787. He is described as a "man of mind, erudition, and a very substantial preacher". He continued to be minister of the church until near the time of his death in 1823, in his 73rd year, being survived by a family of six children. He was the first commissioner of the Huntingdon Presbytery to the General Assembly, and he was the second Stated Clerk of the Presbytery.

In 1814, near the close of the War of 1812, Mr. Johnston, a strong Federalist, preached what was regarded by some as an anti-war sermon, expressing sympathy with the cause of Great Britain. At this a considerable portion of the congregation took offence and withdrew, and in due time, recognized by the Presbytery, organized in the village a church known as the Alexandria Presbyterian congregation. After the seceding part had gone out, the Hartslog congregation continued as before until about 1826, when they moved to Alexandria. There were then two Presbyterian Churches in Alexandria; the only churches in the community.

In 1813, the entire congregation of Hartslog had purchased from Elizabeth Gemmill a lot for the erection of a church in the village on "Gravel Hill". The deed was drawn between Elizabeth Gemmill, on the one part; and Thomas H. Stewart and Robert Stitt, on the other part. On this lot was commenced the building of a stone church, but before it was completed it was discovered that the material of soft limestone used would not endure exposure to the weather. It was used by the congregation in its unfinished condition for a few months, and they returned to the Old Log Church, which was used until 1826. In this year, 1826, the loyal, part of the old Hartslog congregation moved to a brick building, referred to by Senator John Scott in his memoirs as the "Brick Church", which seems to have been located near to the site of the present Reformed Church. The old Log Worship House was taken down the same year, and some of its logs were used in one or two of the dwellings of Alexandria.

The seceding group were not at first recognized by the Presbytery, but they worshiped in a stone shop belonging to Mr. George Wilson; and in 1819, having advanced their cause before Presbytery, they called the Rev. James Thompson, a licentiate of the Presbytery of Northumberland, who became minister of Alexandria and Shavers Creek Churches. Soon after the coming of the Rev. Mr. Thompson, a lot for cemetery and church purposes was secured, and a frame building erected, which was called the "White Meeting House." It was located in what is now the old part of the present cemetery, and was completed about 1820.

The Rev. James Thompson built a house in the village in 1819, and was married to Elizabeth, daughter of Zachariah and Elisabeth Gemmill, whose father was the owner of the land on which Alexandria stands. Mr. Thompson served the Alexandria and the Shavers Creek congregation faithfully and efficiently for twelve years, until his death in 1830, in his thirty-ninth year. And as a testimony to the sense of loss at his death his congregation erected a marble slab over his grave, close to the church which he had served so well. Prior to the death of Rev. Mr. Thompson, the Rev. John Peebles had been installed pastor of the Huntingdon and Hartslog churches. Upon the death of the Rev. Mr. Thompson in 1830, Mr. Peebles proposed to his congregation to unite again the two congregations of the old Hartslog Church, and announced his purpose to resign, confining his labors altogether to Huntingdon, at a sacrifice of one-third of his salary. The people of the two congregations joined with him in this gracious move, and the two organizations in Alexandria were reunited in 1831 under the title: "The Alexandria and Hartslog Congregation." Mr. Peebles went to Huntingdon, and served that church until 1850. passing to his reward on April 15th, 1854. The Alexandria and Hartslog Congregation continued to prosper under the ministry of the Rev. Samuel Wilson, who was installed in 1832, reporting to the Presbytery at this time, a membership of 164. In 1838 the Rev. Mr. Wilson resigned his pastorate on account of ill health, having served the church for six years. In 1884 Dr. Wilson was living in Fairfield, Iowa. Dr. Wilson was succeeded by the Rev. John McKinney, who came from the Presbytery of Richland. He served as pastor until June, 1848, when he was dismissed to the Presbytery of Chicago. During his pastorate, the membership of the church grew to 220; and the church developed a keen interest in the newly awakened cause of Foreign Missions. This interest continued to grow under his successor, the Rev. George Elliot, who was installed in June, 1849, and continued a faithful pastor until April, 1858. In the year 1841, the church sent into the ministry Mr. Thomas Porter, who at this date was taken under the care of the The Thompson burial place undoubtedly marks the site of the White Meeting House.

Presbytery of Huntingdon. Mr. Porter was licensed to preach in 1844, and in 1848 became a minister in the German Reformed Church at Lebanon, Penna. Sometime after the Rev. Thomas Porter became Professor of Botany at Lafayette College. About this same time, Mr. T. Calvin Stewart, the son of John Gemmill Stewart, entered the ministry, becoming a Presbyterian minister of note in Philadelphia. In May, 1841 the church elected its first deacons; and laid the foundation of its interest in the welfare of the needy, and the development of its two Poor Funds, now administered by the Trustees of the church: the one, the William Thompson Trust, the other., the Dr. Daniel Houtz Trust.

The Alexandria Church took active interest in Missionary Work. Under the ministry of the Rev. Mr. Thompson, a missionary society was formed in 1823, known as the Female Missionary Society, but listing some men among its contributors. It was. we believe, the first Missionary Society in the Presbytery, and raised sufficient money to employ a home missionary for six. months. The Church also supported the Western Foreign Missionary Society, established in 1802, under the Secretaryship of Elisha P. Swift and the faith of men like John Lowrie, of Sinking Valley, and his sacrificial son, Walter Lowrie, the first Secretary of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions. It was at a meeting of the Presbytery of Huntingdon, held at Alexandria on the 9th of April, 1835, that the Presbytery renewed its pledge to support the missionary cause, undaunted by the death of the Rev. William Reed, one of the three young men who had gone forth as the Presbytery's first missionaries. The Hartslog Missionary Society was established in 1886; and celebrated its fifty years of service in 1936 at the home of Miss Ella Robb, a charter member of the Society. The John Porter Memorial Mission Band was organized by Mrs. J. C. Barr and Miss Mary Scott about 1882; and the Juniata Missionary Society was active in 1888. The work of these two societies is now merged in the William E. Stewart Missionary Society. Two missionaries have gone forth from the church, Elizabeth Gemmill Miliken to Japan, about 1885, and Mrs. E. R Black, (nee Annie Stryker) to China in 1906.

At the resignation of the Rev. George Elliot, the church was supplied for several months by Rev. D. A. Happer; and in December, 1858, Mr. Samuel T. Lowrie, a licentiate of the Presbytery of Ohio, was extended a call, and was installed and ordained at Alexandria on the 7th of December. In 1864, Rev. Mr. Lowrie resigned and was dismissed to the Presbytery of Alleghany; sometime after he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Divinity, and ministered in Trenton, N. J. The Rev. S. M. Moore came to Alexandria from the congregations of Pine Grove and Bald Eagle, and war, installed pastor, serving the church for six years, until 1870. Dr. Moore was present at 100th Anniversary of the church, held in 1884, On July 13th, 1871, the church called the Rev. J. C. Barr, who had studied at Tuscarora Academy under the care of the Presbytery. He continued to serve the church faithfully as its pastor until October, 1885; and in due time became one of Baltimore's important ministers; his son, Alfred Hamilton Barr, entered the Presbyterian ministry, graduating from Princeton Seminary about 1889.

The church called the Rev. A. H. Jolly, who was installed in June, 1886. Mr. Jolly was a very active man, and began a plan for the systematic organization of the congregation, interesting each member in missions, or in evangelism, or in the care of the sick, or in the work of the Sunday School. He developed the publication of a monthly paper, "Our Church News", which ran into more than five volumes, each issue containing eight pages; the direct responsibility of the young people of the congregation. In 1888 he opened a mission at Barree, and in 1892 built a Mission Chapel in Hartslog Valley, which continued to exist as part of the church's responsibility through most of the following pastorate. In 1893 Mr. Jolly resigned against the protest of his congregation, and went to Pittsburgh. He now lives at Washington, Penna.

The Rev. William E. Stewart came to Alexandria in 1893, and served as pastor for thirty-seven years, and upon the occasion of his retirement in 1930 was made Minister Emeritus. Mr. Stewart began his ministry in the United Presbyterian Church, serving pulpits in New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Oil City. He came to Alexandria from Mingo Junction, Ohio, and died at Huntingdon, Penna., on March 3, 1935.

During Mr. Stewart's ministry, the Rev. Walter K. Harnish, Rev. Joseph H. Varner and the Rev. Charles H. Neff entered the ministry, and the Rev. C. L. Lecrone became a candidate for the ministry. Rev. Mr. Harnish graduated from Princeton Seminary in 1900, and served in the Presbytery of Huntingdon as Stated Clerk and as minister at Academia, and at Arch Springs until the time of his death in 1932. Rev. Mr. Varner became a minister in the Presbytery of Wooster, Ohio; where he now resides. Rev. Mr. Neff graduated from Princeton Seminary in 1926, and is the minister of Old Tennent Church, N. J. Mr. Lecrone graduated from Princeton Seminary in 1937, and is minister of the Presbyterian Church at Flanders, N. J.

A complete list of all those who have served this church faithfully would include names from most of the old families of this community. At the time of the reunion in 1830 the elders elected were: John Dean, John Gahagan, David Tussey, William Stewart, George Wilson and John Porter. Mr. Porter, who had been elected an elder in 1825, served as Clerk of the Session for fifty-six years, and as Superintendent of the Sunday School for fifty-seven years, until his death in his eighty-fourth year. In 1841, James Davis, Christian Shelter, William Shaw, and D. Houtz, M. D., became elders; in 1851, Peter Stryker, George Stiner, and J. M. Gemmill, M. D.; in 1859, John Gemmill, John Dysart, and Patrick Davis; in 1869, Samuel Hatfield, John A. Whit-taker, James McElroy and Samuel Patterson; in 1878, William D. Stryker, James H. Dysart, and Alfred Porter; in 1888, Charles P. Hatfield, George B. Porter, and W. S. Liv-ingstone; in 1892, William A. Whittaker and John S. Lloyd; in 1910, G. Metz Wakefield; in 1916, F. N. Siegel; in 1920, Samuel Hatfield; in 1925, James Trimmer; in 1929, George Piper, Harry Tyson, and F. C. Harshbarger; in 1933, A. C. McNitt, Elmer Isenberg, and G. I. Phillips; in 1934, Wilbur Whittaker; and in 1937, Stanley Munro.

The Church properties consist of: the Church building, built in 1851, which was renovated and altered by Mr. William Thompson in 1906 in memory of his father, and at the same time Mr. William Woolverton installed the present pews. A new pipe organ was also put in; built, in part, with a gift left by William McKibben, who had taught school in Alexandria for thirty years at the old Academy. The Church also owns the Manse on Main Street, which was erected largely through the interest of Mrs. Clara Houtz McAteer, and which was completed in 1900. The Alexandria Cemetery, enlarged in 1888 from the site of the White Meeting House and its burial ground to the present proportions, and sufficiently endowed by William Thompson, Dr. D. Houtz, William Woolverton, and others whose names appear in the annual reports of the church; it is kept in splendid condition under the supervision of the Trustees of the Church. Also the Old Burial Ground above the village where the Log Meeting House stood. In 1934 the Men's Bible Class undertook the entire renovation of the church and Sunday School rooms; and a gift of new Church Hymnals was made by Mrs. William E. Hoffman in memory of her daughter, Mrs. Mary McCullen. In 1935, the congregation dedicated a bronze memorial plaque to the Rev. William E. Stewart.

The work of the Board of Trustees have contributed throughout the years to the effective work of the Church. Among those who have served the church in this way may be mentioned: S. Miles Green, Nicholas Cresswell, George Bucher, Livingstone Robb, William Phillips, Henry W. Swoope, Wilson Robb, Calvin Porter, Alfred Laird, E. J. Leffard, W. W. Robb, Charles P. Hatfield, John L. Piper, J. Roy St. Clair, M. D., D. C. Foster, D. E. Parker, Roy I. Grove, C. W. Davis and Paul J. Swigart. The Ladies Aid of the Church was formed in 1883 to assist in a renovation made to the church building at that date. Throughout the years many faithful women have served the church in various ways. At the present time the William E. Stewart Missionary Society and the Hartslog Missionary Society take a large share of the responsibility in raising $964.00, which amount was raised this year, for benevolent causes. The Invested Funds of the church now amount to $46,971 (Book Value), which are held in Trust for the Church, the Cemetery, the Poor Funds, and the Sunday School. The present membership of the Church is 224, with a Sunday School enrolling 240, and an active Young People's Organization, and a Young People's Choir numbering 24 singers. The present minister, Rev. Harold Tapscott Smith, is a graduate of the Presbyterian Seminary of Louisville, Ky., and came to Alexandria in 1930 from Knox Church, Toronto, Canada, where he was the Assistant Minister and Director of Christian Education.

 

The Sesqui-centennial Historical Committee,

REV. HAROLD TAPSCOTT SMITH,
F. W. CAMERON,
G. I. PHILLIPS.

List of Communicants, 1788

David Kennedy, Marsh Creek
Mary Kennedy, Marsh Creek
Edward Hunter, Mill Creek
Sarah Hunter, Mill Creek
George Gray, Big Spring
Ann Gray, Big Spring
William Watson, Big Spring
Agnes Watson, Big Spring
David Stewart, Marsh Creek
Elizabeth Stewart, Piney Creek
Wm. McCoy, Upper Marsh Creek
Alex. McCormick, Janet Township
Ann McCormick, Janet Township

Robert Caldwell, Carlise
Margaret Caldwell, Carlise

James Dean, Hartslog
David Wilson, Hartslog
Margaret Wilson, Hartslog
Sarah Dean
Sarah Glen
Michal Nowlin, Middletown
Mary Nowlin, Middletown
John Perguson, Hartslog
Jane Johnston, Carlisle
Agnes Logue, Path Valley
James Wilson, Hartslog
Mary Wilson, Hartslog
Samuel McCormick, Hartslog
Agnes Nelson, Hartslog
Robert Wilson, Hartslog
David Caldwell, Hartslog
????? Graffice
Rebecca Caldwell, Hartslog
Elizabeth Dean, Hartslog
Elizabeth Downey, Hartslog
Isabel Coleman, Hartslog
Thomas Russel, Hartslog
Martha Russel, Hartslog
James Dean, Jr., Hartslog
Catherine Dean, Hartslog
Henry Canan, Burtt, Ireland
Elizabeth Brown, Wayne Township
Eleanor Donaldy, Piney Creek
Alexander Ramsay, Marsh Creek
Mrs. R. Ramsay, Marsh Creek
Sarah Hysop, Hartslog
Ann Laird, Shippensburg
Sarah Prior, Hartslog
John Longe, Path Valley
Wm. Maffit, Kishococquilus
Margaret Maffit, Kishococquilus
Thomas McCune, Shippensburg
Mary McCune, Shippensburg

John Little
Agnes Little
Andrew Donnoldy
Robert Riddle, Marsh Creek
Mary Stewart, Hartslog
Marjary Canan, Hartslog
Misses Rickets, Hartslog
Abraham Dean, Hartslog
Captain John Thorlton, Hartslog
Margaret Thorlton, Hartslog

Elizabeth McGinnis, Hartslog
Ann Keer, Hartslog
Ann McCormick, Hartslog
Archibald Glen, Hartslog
William Davis, Hartslog
Jane Davis, Hartslog Mrs.
John Johnston, Kishococquilus
John Plemming, Kishococquilus
Miss Johnston, Hartslog (Rev. J's sister)
John Smith, Middle Spring
Margaret Tussey, Hartslog
Isabel Lloyd, Hartslog
Litticia Bredin, Hartslog
James Smith, East Canogocheague
Thomas Moorehead
Jane Moorehead
James Henry


Admitted June, 1789


Jane McCoy
Jane Porter
Abigal Dean
David Caldwell
Mary Caldwell
Elizabeth Thompson


Partial List of Contributors, 1787
(Names Not Appearing on Communicant List of 1788)

John Canan, Esq.
George Jackson
Robert Young
William Eaken
James McGuineas
John Sharrow
John Spencer
Hugh Mitchell
Robert Mitchell
John Mitchell
Alexander Young
John Patton
John Davidson
Thomas Gray
James Kennedy
Samuel Kennedy
James Deermitt
Andrew Donaldson
Jacob Myers
Archibald Fletcher
William Mcllwain
John Williams
Thomas Keer
Charles Caldwell
Samuel McGomery
Mary Bowers
Andrew Anderson
James Thompson
John Wilson
Samuel Hysop
Henry Lloyd
David Lloyd
John Shaver
Benjamin Elliot
Nathaniel Garard
John Lee
John Dean
Andrew Boyd
Peter Graffis
James Wilson
William Keer
George Wilson

 


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