There was no other state in the Union which began with as many religious denominations and as much genuine religious toleration as Pennsylvania. From the first settlement of Penn and his Quaker adherents, the Province was an asylum for all elements in Europe. Particularly did they come to Pennsylvania if they were persecuted because of their religion at home. Other colonies were formed like ours by people who fled from the religious persecutions of Europe, but many of them instituted a series of persecutions in America that were scarcely less vigorous than those from which they had fled in the old world. The Puritans were determined to worship as they saw fit, but they did not allow Roger Williams to do so. It was different in Pennsylvania. With one exception we had absolute toleration of all religions, and this gave us more denominations than any other state, if not more than all the others put together.
This heterogeneous religion prevented our old Congress and our Constitutional Convention in 1787 from endorsing or establishing any religion. There is little doubt but that, had the colonies been all Puritan like Massachusetts, or all Cavalier like Virginia, Congress would have been forced to establish a church as the sanctioned religion of the new nation, thus following the religious policy of all European countries. But here in Pennsylvania we had all kinds of religion, and among our people were many skeptics, and prominent men without religious belief at all. This influence in Philadelphia, where both our Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention met, prevented these bodies in no small degree from forming an established religion. Indeed, it might be said that our many religious beliefs prompted both bodies to sanction our system as the prevailing system throughout the Union as it is today. Here we had genuine religious freedom. The Congregationalists in the east and the Episcopalians in the south tolerated but little else in the way of religion. What might be called persecutions on account of religion, while they were common in New England and Virginia, were practically unknown from the beginning in Pennsylvania. The Acadian persecution of 1755 was the only exception in the history of the Province to a system of absolute religious toleration. Our system of religion then differed none whatever from that which is common in the United States today. The poet Longfellow wrote "Evangeline,: to describe this one exception in our history to complete and perfect toleration. We have, it is true, on our early statute books, a few laws known as Blue-Laws (a name given them because they resembled the rigorous laws of New England), but we never had any that compared in their severity with those of other states. Yet there is no indication that we were less moral, that we were more negligent of church duties, or less enthusiastic in going into all the world and preaching the gospel to every creature. Nor were they ever accused of being less devout in their observance of the Sabbath than the people of any other state. Though they recognized marriage as a civil contract into which they entered with almost no ceremony at all, each church adopting its own simple form, yet they adhered as closely to its vows as the people of any other state. This generous view of life, this universal toleration so thoroughly lived up to, not only led our lawgivers to adopt ours as a national system, but it brought to our state people representing all forms and creeds of religion. Here, at last, was a province where no man was persecuted because of his religion or because of his lack of religion. Yet our morals were as high, our piety as sincere and wide-spread, as in any other colony.
As every one knows, Philadelphia and the eastern counties were settled by Quakers. They did not hold their own as the state filled up with immigration. Though at first they outnumbered all others, they have gradually lost ground until they are now only found in a few eastern counties. Westmoreland county was settled largely by Presbyterians and Lutherans. The former had for that day a well educated minister, and, with their energy shown no less in religion than in other matters, they spread their theories and tenets very rapidly.
Christopher Gist, a surveyor from Virginia, in the employ of the Ohio Land Company, often as early as 1750 read prayers from the Established Church prayer books to the Indians and white men in his employ. The Roman Catholics who founded and built Fort Duquesne held religious services regularly until the fort was taken by the English, and the day following, Rev. Beatty, as we have said, preached a Thanksgiving sermon. He was a Presbyterian, and following this up the first permanent preaching and church founding in our county was done by the Presbyterians. They were already strong in the east, and sent out missionaries.
THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH.
Rev. John Steel came here at the request of Governor Penn to try to induce those who had settled here prior to 1769 in disregard of the law which forbade them to settle on lands not yet purchased by the Indians, to remove. Steel was a brave and daring spirit who did not fear the savages. He had been a captain in the expedition under Armstrong against Kittanning in 1756. But, as most of them would not move, Revs. George Duffield and Charles Beatty were sent to Western Pennsylvania by the Synod of New York and Philadelphia, to preach to them and to try to found churches. Beatty had been a chaplain not only with Forbes' army but with Braddock's ill-fated troops as well, and was therefore well suited to minister to the spiritual wants of the pioneers. Their work was scattered over a wide range of territory, and further than that they busily sowed the seed which afterwards brought forth an abundant harvest, little is definitely known of their work. Soon after this a minister named Anderson was sent here by the Donegal Synod who were to pay him twenty shillings a day for every Sabbath he preached west of the Allegheny mountains. For the year 1769 the same synod ordered that the western frontier be supplied with ministers "for ten Sabbaths."
Rev. Mr. Finley also did missionary work here. He arrived on horseback in 1771. He purchased lands in what is now Washington county, then in Bedford county, as the old assessment books of Bedford show.
Rev. James Power came from the east also, and was the first who had the nerve to remain with our frontier people. He came first in 1774, and preached several months. In 1776 he came with his family and remained. He traveled very widely over what is now Washington, Allegheny, Westmoreland and Fayette counties. He preached in private houses, in barns, in forts, and in the woods. He thus organized small bodies of people which eventually grew into church organizations and procured pastors of their own. After a few years of general work over a large field, he became the regular pastor of the Mt. Pleasant and Sewickley congregations, in 1779. He remained constantly with them till 1817, when he was released because he was too old to perform the arduous duties of this position. Mount Pleasant church was two miles north of the present town of Mt. Pleasant. Its name, being a purely Scotch-Irish one, indicated the nationality of its founders. From the church the town afterwards took its name. It was he who was preaching at Unity, perhaps in Proctor's house, on the day that Hannastown was destroyed, and who dismissed his people and rode rapidly homeward.
He was born in Chester county in 1746, graduated from Princeton in 1766, and began to preach regularly in 1772. He and his family and what scanty goods they had came here on pack-horses, having crossed the Allegheny mountains on the Forbes road. He carried his eldest daughter on a horse behind him, and his youngest child in his arms. The two other children were carried in baskets which balanced each other as they hung across the back of another pack-horse, while the remainder of the horse's burden was made up by clothes tied to the saddle. The mother rode another horse, and the remainder of their goods were packed on other horses. In 1787 he was relieved from the Sewickley church pastorate, after which he devoted his time entirely to the Mt. Pleasant work. He has been described as a straight slender man, of medium height, and one who displayed much grace, and manners, both in and out of the pulpit. He was, moreover, very neat in his dress, and a very able preacher. He died August 5, 1830, aged eighty-five years. After his retirement in 1817 the charge remained vacant till 1821, when Rev. A. O. Patterson was made pastor of Mt. Pleasant and Sewickley, again united. The Sewickley charge had been organized by Dr. Power in 1776. When it was cut off from Mt. Pleasant it was united with Long Run congregation, and both charges were under the ministry of Rev. William Swan.
Rev. James Finley, who, as we said, was the first minister who visited this part of the state, was born in Ulster, Ireland, and was thoroughly educated before he came to America. He was licensed to preach in 1752. In person he was a short, compactly built, nervous man, and able both by nature and by preparation to endure the many hardships necessarily encountered in a frontier life. With his family he came here in 1783, and began preaching at Rehoboth, or Upper Meeting House, in Sewickley township. He remained their pastor till 1795. This is one of the oldest Presbyterian congregations in our county. Rev. Finley preached there first in 1772 when he was only prospecting for a field of labor, as it were, and when his hearers were but a few scattered white settlers. In 1778 he gathered the people together at Rehoboth, and organized them, and in 1784 took regular pastoral charge of them. He died in 1795, and was succeeded shortly after by Rev. David Smith, who served them till his death, August 24, 1803. He, in turn, was succeeded by Rev. William Wylie, who remained their pastor till 1817, when he was succeeded by Rev. Robert Johnston. This section of the county was on the frontier border, and was greatly annoyed by the Indians in the last quarter of the eighteenth century.
Long Run congregation is about as old as the Red Stone Presbytery, which was formed in 1781. It was supplied by the Presbytery till 1793, when it and Sewickley were united, and Rev. William Swan became their pastor. He ministered to them till 1818, when after a short vacation, he became the pastor of Long Run alone, and continued with them till 1822, when he resigned because of his age. Fairfield, in Ligonier Valley, was also an early organization and was supplied by the Redstone Presbytery for some years. It was then united with Donegal and Wheatfield congregations, and Rev. George Hill was made pastor. His ordination took place November 13, 1792. He continued to preach to them till his death, June 17, 1822. In 1824, June 17, Rev. Samuel Swan was ordained pastor of Fairfield, Ligonier and Donegal.
Unity congregation was organized about 1776. They preached there, as was the custom, several years before they built a church. It was known as Proctor's Tent. The present church edifice is the building on the same ground. Among its early members were William Findley, John Proctor, the Lochrys, the Sloons, the Craigs, etc. For some years they had no regular pastor, but were served with supplies. The first regular pastor was Rev. John McPerrin, who was installed in 1791, and remained till 1800. He served the Salem congregation at the same time. Both Salem and Congruity charges were organized about the time Unity was, though Unity was older as a preaching place than either of them, and all were added to the Redstone Presbytery. The first pastor at congruity was Rev. Samuel Porter, who preached at the same time at Poke Run. Porter and McPerrin were both ordained together, on September 22, 1790.
All these men were practically missionaries then. The Redstone Presbytery was erected by the Synod of New York and Philadelphia on May 16, 1781. It was to meet in what is now Fayette county in September, but its meeting had to be put off on account of Indians who were prowling about the country. Their first meeting was held shortly after that at Pigeon Creek, in Washington county. There were present Revs. McMillen, Power, and Thaddeus Dodds, and Elders John Neil, Dennis Findley and Patrick Scott. Rev. Joseph Smith is marked "absent."
Rev. Samuel Porter was an Irishman, born in 1760. He studied Greek and Latin and theology under Rev. McMillen, and boarded with his family while doing so, all free of charge. He was licensed to preach in 1789, and the year following began preaching at Polk Run and Congruity. He died September 23, 1825, while pastor in charge of the latter congregation.
Rev. George Hill was born in York county, March 13, 1764, and was licensed to preach December 22, 1791. He was first assigned to Wheatfield, Fairfield and Donegal, November 13, 1792. In 1798 he took on the charge of Ligonier, at which time Wheatfield was otherwise provided for. There he labored diligently and with much vigor and success till his death, June 9, 1822.
John McPerrin was born in York or Adams county, in 1757. He learned the dead languages under Rev. Robert Smith, and was graduated from Dickinson college at Carlisle on May 17, 1788. He was licensed to preach by the Redstone Presbytery in 1789, and became pastor of Salem and Unity congregation, September 22, 1791. In 1800 he removed from the locality and died in 1822.
William Swan was a native of Cumberland county, and was educated at Cannonsburg. He was licensed to preach December 22, 1791, and began preaching at Long Run and Sewickley, April 7, 1793. There he preached more than a quarter of a century. In 1822 his lungs failed and he closed his work. He died in 1827.
Many of these early ministers preached for years without churches. There was generally a pulpit of rough boards or logs erected, while fallen trees served those who wanted to sit down during the services. Most of the congregation remained standing, or leaned against trees, during the whole of a long sermon. The men often came to the meeting without coats, and often the preacher spoke in his shirt sleeves. When they had churches they were very cold in the winter, and the people often brought heavy blankets and a superabundance of deer skins to keep them warm. Often, too, they built a log heap near the church, so that they could fire it and go there between services to get warm. They usually had two sermons, one in the forenoon and one in the afternoon, with an hour's intermission between for luncheon. They often met together, the citizens of a community, and built a log church in a single day. There was rarely ever a fire place in them, but they often placed a large kettle filled with red hot coals which made the room a little warmer. The roof was made of clapboards held in place by small saplings laid on the top of them. It was about in keeping with the rude log houses in which the early settlers lived. The singing was done by the unlearned congregation, and from all accounts had very little music in it.
The early ministers traveled long distances on horseback from one preaching place to another. At all times they were in danger from wild beasts and Indians. Often the distance between preaching stations was so great that they were compelled to pass a night in the wilderness, sleeping on the bare earth and under a canopy of stars. There were no bridges across the large streams. They had to be forded, and this, particularly in the winter time, was attended with great danger. They endured the vigor of our climate without complaint, and did it practically without remuneration. They carried the Gospel to half-dressed pioneers who stood around the rude pulpit leaning on their rifles. They invariably worked at some kind of manual labor in order to assist in supporting their families. They sowed good seed, and by their simple methods of life most of them outlived the span of years allotted to man, and saw a rich harvest as the result of their early labors.
THE UNITED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH.
The United Presbyterian Church of North America, Scotch in its theology, ancestry and traditions, was constituted by the union of the Associate and Associate Reformed Presbyterian Churches at Old City Hall in the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, May 26, 1858.
The United Presbyterian Church, as one of the distinctive branches holding the Calvinistic faith, dates its origin back to the later years of Charles II and James II. This denomination in the United States heads at many fountains. While these at the Union in 1858 had gathered into the two main branches, the Associate and Associate Reformed, the body traces a considerable portion of its followers back to the Scotch Covenanters, those "Mountain Men" and "Hill Men," who, following the battle of Bothwell Bridge and outlawry by the Stuarts, held their Conventicles for worship in the hills under the guidance of Cameron, Cargill and Renwick, leaders who were soon after to wear the crown of martyrdom.
The entrance of this "psalm-singing" denomination into Westmoreland county is coincident with the earliest settlements established in the county. Wherever Scotch-Irish families built their cabins and hewed their farms out of the wilderness, like the Pilgrim fathers in New England, they established the church and school. Among the earliest settlements to establish worship according to Associate Reformed Presbyterian (now United Presbyterian) standards were the settlements at Hannastown and New Alexandria. Rev. John Jamison preached at these places as early as 1792, and exercised pastoral oversight over the scattered families of the faith until the New Alexandria congregation was organized, August 19, 1805. Soon after the organization of the congregation Rev. Dr. Mungo Dick became pastor and remained in pastoral charge until 1816.
Rev. John Jamison, above referred to, had an eventful and busy life. Upon his mother's side he was descended from Sir William Wallace, and on his father's side from the royal line of Bruce. He was graduated by St. Andrew's University, and received his theological training under the celebrated John Brown, of Haddington, who formulated the Westminster Confession of Faith, promulgated by the famous body of Westminster divines. Jamison was licensed to preach by a burgher Presbytery of Scotland, and in 1783 migrated to Pennsylvania and entered upon his first pastorate at Big Springs, later removing to Hannastown. He was a man of robust frame, more than six feet tall, quick in temper, unbending in will, kindly in disposition, yet withal a terror to evil-doers, an able preacher, and a leader among men. He was a man of tireless energy. During his ministry he labored in thirty-six fields, in twenty-five of which there are now strong United Presbyterian congregations. He is said to be the first minister who preached north of the Conemaugh river. After his pastorate at New Alexandria he removed to Crete, Indiana county, where he died and was buried in 1821. The other pastors of the New Alexandria church have been Rev. Jonathan G. Fulton, John W. Duff, Matthew Clark, Oliver Katz and Samuel Collins, D. D., who gave to this congregation the evening of his days in a ministry that extended over a period of fifty-nine years. Rev. J. B. Pollock is the present pastor. The centennial of this congregation's formal organization was celebrated in its handsome new church home in October, 1905.
Another point where the church was early established was on the banks of the Puckety creek, in Allegheny township. In 1794 a nucleus of people composed of the Ross, Reed, and other families held services and petitioned the presbytery for preaching. Revs. Joseph Kerr and Dr. Mungo Dick, and later, Rev. Mathew Henderson, all pioneer ministers of western Pennsylvania, occasionally held services. Living at remote distances, these ministers were compelled to journey on horseback to fill their appointments, through unsettled portions of the country, beset by dangers from unbridged streams, wild beasts and prowling savages. Their compensation for this hard work was very small. Rev. James McConnell, the first settled pastor, was installed September 4, 1811. The first log church was built in 1815. Rev. McConnell was another pupil of John Brown, of Haddington. He remained pastor of the congregation until 1833. The church was burned in May, 1836, but in 1837 a new house of worship was erected. Rev. Jonathan G. Fulton became pastor in 1838. He remained but a year and two months. Mr. Fulton, whom many yet living remember, was one of the most logical, eloquent and earnest preachers that ever served the denomination. The succeeding pastors have been Revs. W. A. McKinney, J. W. Duff, John C. Bryson, James Given, M. M. Patterson, D. D., C. H. Marshall, J. B. McIsaack, and L. R. Peacock. In 1897 the brick church was burned, and in 1898 the present fine frame structure was erected. The Watts, McGearys, Crooks, Rosses, Stewarts, Andersons and Hunnells are among the substantial people connected with this church. The congregation celebrated its centennial October 13, 1904.
In 1802 the Associate Reformed Church of Mt. Pleasant was organized. Like many of its sisters, the services were first held in a tent with a board pulpit erected therein. The promoters of this organization were the Andrews families, who a few years before had come from Ireland, and the Wardens, the ancestors of the Warden family of Mt. Pleasant, who had come from the north of Ireland in 1765. Rev. Dr. Mungo Dick, born at Fifeshire, Scotland, in 1772, educated at the University of Edinburgh, was settled as the first pastor in 1806, in connection with Sewickley and New Alexandria. He was regarded as one of the ablest preachers of his day. He served the congregation for sixteen years. After a vacancy of fifteen years, Rev. Richard Gaily became pastor in 1839 and remained for ten years. Rev. D. H. Pollock followed with a pastorate of four years, until 1853. In 1856 Rev. James H. Fife became pastor, until his death in 1861. The fifth pastor was Rev. A. B. Fields, for four years. In August, 1871, Rev. John A. Nelson was installed and remained pastor for four years. Rev. Robert B. Taggart, now of Harriman, Tennessee, was installed in 1877 and served the congregation for six years. He is one of the most erudite linguists and church historians in his denomination. The present pastor, Rev. Howard S. Wilson, was installed in 1884, this being his first and only charge.
In the later years of the eighteenth century little colonies of Seceders settled in the Ligonier Valley, near Fort Palmer, Fort Ligonier, and Donegal township. These were troublous times; the restless savages were a constant source of danger and the people built their cabins within easy reach of the forts and blockhouses, to which they were compelled to flee for refuge from the turbulent Indians. Very early after these settlements were made, Associate Presbyterian congregations were organized at Fairfield, within hailing distance of Fort Palmer, and in Donegal township. Rev. John Cree served as pastor from 1803 to 1806, after which these congregations, so far as can be learned, were vacant until October 18, 1815, when Rev. Dr. Joseph Scroggs, to whom we have referred at length elsewhere in these pages, became pastor. The field of Dr. Scrogg's ministry has been prolific of preachers in the United Presbyterian ministry. Rev. Dr. James P. Lytle, Revs. Joseph Scroggs, James D. Lytle, R. H. Pollock. T. C. Pollock, Andrew Graham, William Graham, Joseph McKelvey, A. W. Lytle, D. P. Smith, T.M. Huston, Allen A. Graham and S. Alvin Work were reared under his spiritual oversight. Rev. A. R. Rankin, Rev. Dr. G. C. Vincent, D. D., LL. D., W. H. Vincent, D. D., T. M. Jamison, and R. H. Rockwell have since ministered to the congregation. Since Dr. Scroggs's death the pastors of Ligonier and Fairfield have been Rev. W. H. Vincent, D. D., Revs. T. M. Jamison, R. H. Rockwell and W. T. Brownlee, the present pastor.
The congregation of West Fairfield was organized in 1874. Its pastors have been Revs. D.W. McLane, J. S. Hill, R. E. Stewart, and S. M. Black, the present pastor. New Florence congregation was organized in 1875. Its pastors have been the above named and Rev. J. W. Smith. It is now vacant.
The Associate Reformed congregation of Sewickley was organized in 1805. Rev. Dr. Mungo Dick was pastor 1806-36; Rev. Richard Gaily from 1839-49; Rev. A. G. Fergus in 1851; Rev. D. H. Pollock, 1854-60; W. L. McConnell, 1860-65; J. D. Walkinshaw, 1865-69; W. R. Stevenson, 1872-81; J. A. Lawrence, 1884-86; D. M. Thorne, 1887-97. J. H. McCormick, 1899-1901; and W. N. Leeper, 1902 to 1904. This old congregation is the mother of the West Newton and Madison congregations. Its old brick church is one of the landmarks of that community. It was the home for many years of Dr. Dick, who gave two of his sons to the ministry, John M. Dick, D. D., and Rev. J. M. Dick, the latter for many years a home missionary on the Pacific slope.
The Associate Reformed congregation of Brush Creek (now Bethel) near Circleville, is the oldest organized church of the denomination in the county, and was organized in 1784. Rev. Mathew Henderson served as pastor from 1785 to 1788, and from 1800 to 1818. Rev. John Jamison, 1793-95. James Walker, 1820-23. Dr. Mungo Dick, 1824-35. Joseph Osborne, 1836-47. William Conner, 1849-52. A. G. Wallace, D. D., 1854-68. J. W. McFarland, 1869-71. W. H. McMaster, 1871-74. John N. Dick, D. D., 1877-89. Major E. Dunn, 1892 to 1901, and D. D. Dodds, the present pastor, from 1902. This congregation is the mother of the United Presbyterian congregation of Irwin, Stewart Station and Duffsville. Duffsville was organized September 28, 1896, and has since its organization been connected with Bethel.
Irwin Station congregation was organized October 17, 1874. Its pastors have been Revs. J. W. McFraland, 1869-71; E. N. McElree, D. D., 1875-79; C. H. Hatch, 1880-86; J. M. Atchison, D. D., 1884-98, and E. C. Paxton, the present pastor since 1898.
Stewarts' Station was organized January 5, 1869. Its pastors have been Revs. D. A. Duff from 1871 to 1879; W. S. Fulton in 1881, and A.D. McCarrell since 1881. The Stewarts, Shaws, Millers and others have been prominent in its work.
Union Congregation, near Sardis, was organized August 7, 1858. Rev. J. D. Walkinshaw served as pastor form 1860 to 1865; S. B. McBride, 1870-77; R. A. Jamison, 1878-88, and J. L. Thorne, the present pastor, from 1891 to the present.
Murraysville was organized October 12, 1877. Its pastors have been Rev. A. R. Rankin, 1879 to 1886; J. M. Imbrie, 1891 to 1895; Charles Stunkard, the present pastor since 1895.
Beulah, near Claridge, was organized June 14, 1844. Rev. William Conner served as pastor from 1844 to 1857; J. D. Walkinshaw, 1860-65; T. H. Boyd, 1868-74. From 1879 to the present it has been in union with Murraysville, and the pastors have been Revs. A. R. Rankin, J. M. Imbrie and Charles Stunkard.
Parnassus was organized February 4, 1876. Rev. C. H. Marshall was pastor from 1885 to 1889; George Whiteside, 1891-97, and J. M. Atchison, the present pastor, from 1898.
Shearersburg was organized August 19, 1898, largely from Puckety. Its pastors have been Revs. J. B. McIsaac, from 1898 to 1900, and L. K. Peacock from 1901 to the present.
Vandergrift congregation was organized December 10, 1898. The congregation, although one of the youngest, is strong and active, with a fine brick church and a devoted people. The pastors have been Rev. J. E. Walker from 1899 to 1901; and C. R. Stevenson from 1901 to the present.
The Monessen Mission was established in 1903. Rev. J. M. Jamison, Jr., has charge Youngwood Mission was established in 1903. Revs. A. M. Reed, W. N. Leeper served as stated supplies. Rev. W. E. Baird now has charge.
West Newton Associate Reformed congregation was organized November 5, 1850, largely from Sewickley. Its pastors have been Revs. A. G. Fergus, 1851; D. H. Pollock, 1854-60; W. L. McConnell, 1860-65; J. D. Walkinshaw, 1865-69; W. R. Stevenson, 1872-81, and Rev. Dr. J. S. Garvin from 1882 until the present time. This congregation has always been one of the solid conservative prosperous congregations in the county. It has a fine church building, a splendid record of liberality to the philanthropies of the denomination, and a membership strong in numbers and character.
The Scottdale congregation was organized July 22, 1875. Rev. R. B. Taggart, of the Mount Pleasant church, served as pastor from 1879 to 1883; Rev. J. M. Moore, 1885-88; J. D. Palmer, 1889-91; J. H. Morhead, 1895-98; and Rev. H. W. Miller from 1900 to the present time.
Latrobe was organized May 25, 1853. Rev. William Conner served the congregation from 1853 to 1857; Rev. J. Buff Jackson, 1873-77; Rev. Josias Stevenson, 1878-82; Rev. G. C. Vincent, D. D., LL. D., 1885-89; Rev. A. W. Lytle, 1890-92; and Rev. J. S. Hill, the present pastor from 1893. The congregation has made rapid strides under the present pastorate. It has a fine church building and parsonage.
Bolivar congregation was organized August 20, 1899. Rev. D. S. Tinker has been the only pastor. The congregation has a fine new church building, and has had substantial growth.
The Jeannette congregation was organized in 1890, and its building erected the same year. Its first regular pastor was Rev. D. H. Graham, in 1893, who served until 1897; Rev. T. L. Jamison, 1897 and 1898; Rev. J. H. Leitch, 1899 till 1903; and Rev. J. T. Wright from 1904 to the present.
Greensburg's organization is of comparatively recent origin. Its history is one of trial and vicissitude. For years beset with discouragement, chilled by indifference, depleted by removals and hampered by want of a house of worship, the congregation labored on with a zeal and persistence until it has attained prosperity.
In response to a petition presented to Presbytery, May 29, 1855, Rev. Jonathan G. Fulton by appointment preached June 3, 1855. The interest was such that further appointments were filled by Mr. Fulton. The active and liberal promoters were Gordon M. Lyon, James C. Clark, H. M. Jamison, William Welsh, C. R. Painter and Andrew Graham, many of whose descendants are still actively identified with the church. In 1857 an organization was formed, twenty-six members being enrolled, but one of whom (Mrs. Mary A. Lyon, widow of Gordon M. Lyon) now remains in the congregation. William McCall, Joseph Greer and H. M. Jamison were elected elders. In 1858, by death and removal of two members of session, the congregation became disorganized, but was reorganized in 1861 by the election of Gordon M. Lyon and W. H. Barr to the session. From time to time the congregation was united with the New Alexandria, Mt. Pleasant and Latrobe congregations, and by courtesy of other denominations its services were held in their churches. During the war the congregation again became disorganized by the absence of W. H. Barr and Joseph Greer in the army, leaving Gordon M. Lyon the only resident member of session. Greatly discouraged and disheartened by deaths and removals, a few faithful ones struggled on maintaining ordinances until September, 1872, when the congregation was reorganized with thirty-seven members. After the decease of Rev. J. G. Fulton, who had labored long and faithfully, April 8 1873, Rev. J. Buff Jackson was ordained and installed pastor over the United charge of Greensburg and Latrobe, and so remained until January, 1876. January 1, 1878, Rev. Josiah Stevenson became pastor, and served until June, 1884. The Sabbath School was organized in November, 1872, Hon. James C. Clark being the first superintendent. In 1880 the present brick church was erected at the corner of Pennsylvania avenue and Third street, and was dedicated June 20, 1881, with the presence of the Westmoreland Presbytery.
Rev. J. A. Brandon became pastor in June 1885, and served for two years. In February, 1888, Rev. H. S. Boyd was installed pastor, and so continued until February 1, 1894. The present pastor, Rev. John A. Douthett, D. D., began his labors in June, 1894. The congregation has thus far been served by five pastors, covering a period of thirty-three years. The leading forces of the congregation have been the Clarks, Lyons, Welshs, Greers, Johnstons, Grahams, Ludwicks, Baers, Irwins, Davidsons, Cliffords, Fultons, Bells, Watts, Leasures, Gills, Laughreys, and many others.
THE METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH.
In October, 1766, nine years before the passage of the act creating the county of Westmoreland, the first Methodist meeting was held in New York City, in the house of Philip Embury, who had been a local preacher in Ireland. Mrs. Barbara Hick gathered the congregation. She found four persons willing to attend, she herself made the fifth, and with the preacher, six persons constituted the congregation. Such was the humble beginning of Methodism in America. It was not until 1769 that John Wesley sent two preachers to the Colonies. The growth of Methodism was for some years confined to the eastern shores and then the itinerants began their journey southward to Virginia and the Carolinas and to Georgia. The Revolution beginning in 1775 was a decided check to the spread of Methodism. The preachers of that time were Englishmen; many of them were Tories in their sympathies, and those who were not were under suspicion.
Western Pennsylvania was, at the time that Methodism began in New York, a battleground between the French, the Indians and the English. Settlers who had only squatters' or trader's rights followed Braddock's expedition and began to settle along his route in 1755. More followed in the wake of Forbes in 1758, and the first settlers' permits were issued between 1755 and 1769. The first actual settlement by Pennsylvania authority was in 1769, the Stanwix Purchase having been made the preceeding year. The settlers were Scotch-Irish traders and Dutch farmers.
The only part of Great Britain in which Wesley himself had made little direct impression was Scotland. The Dutch, so far as they were inclined towards religion, were Lutheran and Reformed. Preachers from the Cumberland Valley established Presbyterian churches here and there, and the Lutheran and German Reformed ministers were early on the ground. The first Methodist sermon preached in Pittsburgh was by Rev. Wilson Lee, in 1785. Lee was preacher in charge of the Redstone circuit. Three years later Charles Conway was sent to the newly formed circuit of Pittsburgh; at the close of the conference year he reported no members. He was returned the next year. It is not likely that there were then many Methodists within what is now Westmoreland county. In July, 1789, Bishop Asbury writes in his journal: "I passed through Greensburg, dined at Rowletts, six miles from Greensburg, and went to Pittsburgh." There he preached in the evening. "This," he writes, "is the day of small things. What can we hope? Yet what can we fear"? In 1784 Redstone circuit made its first appearance among the appointments of the Baltimore conference. The wide journeyings of John Cooper and Samuel Breeze, with their thirty preaching places, doubtless took in the portions of Westmoreland that lay along the Youghiogheny and Monongahela rivers. We read of the society formed by them at the forks of the Youghiogheny. Here Benjamin Fell, with his wife, ten sons and daughters, the widow Beazell and her large family, formed the nucleus of what soon grew into a large congregation. In 1788 Jacob Surton and Lasley Mathews, then on the Redstone circuit, formed the first Methodist society in the Ligonier Valley. In this neighborhood lived Robert Morgan Roberts, who with his family afterward joined the Methodists. One of his sons, Robert Rickford Roberts, afterwards entered the Methodist ministry, was elected a bishop in 1816, and died in Indiana, March 26, 1843. His father moved to Westmoreland county in 1785, when the future bishop was seven years old. "The Life of Bishop Roberts," now a rare book of great value, is valuable not only as the record of the labors of a great and useful man, but as history of the early frontier conditions and customs. We read in it descriptions of the early Scotch-Irish school teachers and their methods. In the school which young Roberts attended, reading, writing and arithmetic were all the branches then taught, but the instruction in these was thorough. Mr. McAbee taught near Mr. Fisher's, three and a half miles from the Roberts home. The future bishop worked for his board at McCracken's. The discipline of this school had the old Irish features. When a boy became unruly, and an ordinary whipping with a rod did not have the desired effect, the last punishment was "horsing." The refractory boy was mounted on the back of another, or, if there were two, they interchanged the office of horse and rider. The "cat with nine tails" was then freely applied. On one occasion, when a bad boy was mounted on the back of another, and Mr. McAbee was about to apply the "cat," young Roberts offered himself as security for the boy and agreed to take a horsing if the boy did not behave, and his offer was accepted. In 1785 the "Life of Bishop Roberts" states that the people of Ligonier Valley, as far as they were religious, were generally Presbyterians and Seceders. The standards of conduct were not high. Dancing, shooting matches and drinking were the customary diversions. It was not unusual for some of the elders of the church to become intoxicated.
In the Ligonier Valley of these times there lived a Quaker named Abel Fisher, who was regarded as a singular character because he would not drink, and because he was unusually moral and upright in his life. He joined the Methodists, and did much to establish the denomination in that section. His son, Abel Fisher, became one of the best known laymen in Western Pennsylvania Methodism. His intelligence and purity of life gave him a much more than local influence. He lived till 1876.
A Methodist society was formed at an early date at the Black Lick settlement of Mr. Wakefield, the grandfather of the late Dr. Samuel Wakefield. The early Methodist societies were nearly all along the mountains and ridges. When the rich lands of the Scioto and other Ohio valleys and the Shenango lands were opened for settlement, the Methodist itinerants who know the country well, as they journeyed back and forth, were instrumental in persuading many of the owners of ridge and mountain farms to emigrate westward and to the north. This at an early day weakened Methodism in Westmoreland county.
In the rich farming regions of what is now Westmoreland county, Methodism was slow in taking root. Other denominations were in possession. In the first attempts to plant Methodism some of the foremost men of the church took part. McKendree, Asbury, Valentine Cook and Lorenzo Dow often preached and labored within the present limits of our county. Valentine Cook was on Redstone circuit for one year, and on the Pittsburgh district for two years. At a later date Bishop Henry B. Bascom, Asa Shinn, Wesley Kenney, Thornton Flemming, Charles Elliott, Charles Cooke, and John J. Swayzee were all heard repeatedly within the limits of our county. All of them were preachers of the highest order, and men who subsequently achieved national fame.
Short as was Valentine Cook's ministry in Western Pennsylvania, his influence for the church was great. He was a kinsman of Captain Cook, the navigator. He came to the Redstone circuit in 1792, having preached but four years before that. He had been a diligent student at Cokesbury College. He was over six feet in height, of dark complexion, coarse, black hair, deepset eyes, large nose, and an unusually large mouth. He was absent-minded, eccentric, absolved in thought, and over-fired with zeal for his church, yet American Methodism has not had a more eloquent man in all its history than Valentine Cook. The restlessness of the explorer was in his veins. The traditions of his eloquence still live in Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. In 1796, while on the Pittsburgh district, Mr. Cook accepted a challenge for a public discussion from a Seceder minister. The discussion took place in a grove near Congruity. People came to it forty and fifty miles. The Methodists were somewhat downcast when they saw their unprepossessing-looking advocate. The Scotchman arrived rather late, but said, "I'm here in ample time to give the youngster a dose from which he will not soon recover." For two hours the Methodist church and its doctrines, after the fashion of public discussions of that day, were bitterly assailed. But when Mr. Cook began to speak his personal appearance seemed to change. He overwhelmed the audience from the beginning. His opponent cried out, "Wolf, wolf, in sheep's clothing." When he could endure it no longer, he sprang to his feet and cried out, "Follow me, follow me, leave the babbler to himself." Some few left, but the majority remained. As Cook discussed infant salvation and the provisions of the atonement, the audience rose from their seats and stood in enraptured silence. When he quit speaking they crowded around the rude platform and remained long after he had finished. Bishop Roberts, then a boy, had walked from Ligonier to hear the discussion. Long afterward he wrote in the highest terms of the effort of Cook, and said that he heard one elderly man say to another, "Did ye ever hear such a man"? His companion answered, with apparent excitement and solicitude, "Ye are in great danger of being led captive by the devil at his will. Ha'e ye never heard how that Satan can transform himself into an angel of light that he may deceive the very elect, if it were possible? I tell you, sir, he is a dangerous man, and the less we have to do with him the better for us." The age of such discussions has long since passed, but they were common then, and now they but illustrate the methods by which different religions were implanted in early Westmoreland.
The name of Rev. Samuel Wakefield is prominently connected with Methodism in Westmoreland county. He was born March 6, 1799, and died September 13, 1895. On June 11, 1819, he walked with his father thirteen miles to where New Florence now stands, to attend a Methodist meeting. The meeting was conducted by John Jasper Wirsing, a local preacher of great native power, who had served as a soldier under Napoleon. There Samuel Wakefield went forward and gave his name to the church. He had been a wild young man, but of considerable education for his day. His love for music made him a prominent factor in dancing parties, and when he joined the church an old lady cried out, "Thank God, the devil has lost his fiddler." Two months afterward he began to preach, and preached the gospel for seventy-six years. He was a great student, and his pen was seldom idle. He published works on music, taught singing schools, and divided with James G. Samson the fame of the sweetest singer of Methodism. His work on Theology was for years a standard, and may yet be consulted with profit. Most of his years in the ministry were spent as pastor of the churches in this county, and he was always a concise writer and a strong preacher. He spent the evening of his life at West Newton, preaching almost constantly even to the last.
Space forbids the mention of the great number of preachers of the Methodist church who have ministered to the people of this county. Though slow in its youth in the early years of last century, Methodism has increased very rapidly in the last fifty years. The conference minutes for 1905 show that within the present bounds of the county there are thirty-six regular pastors, and that the church has 9,159 members, with an enrollment in the Sunday schools of 9113.
THE REFORMED CHURCH.
When our early Pennsylvania German or pure German pioneers first came to Westmoreland county they brought no ministers with them, nor did they have any ministers for many years after they began to form congregations. The duties usually performed by a minister outside of the pulpit, such as baptizing, performing the marriage ceremony, reading the burial service, etc., were performed by the schoolmasters. They very early built rude churches, and near by they built a schoolhouse. Often the schoolhouse came first, and served as a church till a church could be built. Before they had either schoolhouses or churches they designated the house of some German Reform or Lutheran pioneer which was centrally located, and at his house services were held. Occasionally they had a regular preacher to come to them from the east, where they were more numerous, and on such occasions they had a series of services which not infrequently lasted a week or more.
The German Protestants in Pennsylvania all sprang from Reformation started by Martin Luther in the sixteenth century. Here they formed two branches, known distinctly as the German Reformed and the Lutheran churches. At the early period in our history of which we are now writing, and, indeed, up to 1869, the first named branch was popularly and properly known as the German Reformed church. At that time a general synod met in Philadelphia and dropped the word "German," and since then have been known as the Reformed church. The church did not differ widely in general doctrine or belief from the Presbyterian church. Sometimes it was supposed to be a German branch of Presbyterianism, but this was not the case. Both the Reformed churches and the Lutheran churches were kept up almost entirely by the German speaking people of Europe. These two churches were bound together by lineage, by speaking the same language, and by using the same liturgies. They were governed by the same pastoral authority, and made about the same professions of faith. It so happened that both congregations frequently worshipped in the same church or schoolhouse. Both churches have Presbyterian forms of government in contradistinction to the Episcopal, or Papal, or Congregational governments of other churches. Both the German Reformed and the Lutheran churches were and are yet governed by the minister and certain representatives from the congregation, so far as the immediate government of the society is concerned. The higher governmental body of the Reformed church is called the "Classis."
The German Reformed church and the Lutheran church were much more nearly united in former years than they are now. In their early years in our state the nearest pastor of either church was asked to baptize the children of a family, to perform a marriage ceremony, or read the last sad rites of the dead, and this almost without regard to the church to which they belonged.
As we have said, the first church services in our county were without a minister. They brought with them an inherent desire to be religious, and doubtless failed to bring with them and support a minister, because of the fewness of their number and their poverty. Their church services consisted in meeting at the house of some German Reformed or Lutheran family, it mattered little which, and reading the Bible and offering prayers from a German prayer book. It then became the duty of the schoolmaster to catechise the children and baptise them. By this means they held their people together till they could afford both churches and preachers. When a pastor was finally engaged for a church, they came long distances to attend services. At Brush Creek, it is said that in former days they frequently came as much as twenty miles or more, and brought with them their children.
The German Reformed and the Lutheran churches also owned nearly all their church property in common. They worshipped alternately in these churches, and quite often their ministers performed services for each other. Members of these churches intermarried more than in other churches, and were buried finally side by side in the common graveyard.
The early members secured land while it was very cheap, and put up a log church. Near by they erected a small house for the pastor. They also built a schoolhouse, and sometimes a house for the schoolmaster to live in. The pastor's house always had some extra land attached, so that he might dig a part of his living from the earth. They also provided for a cemetery, or graveyard, and as it was generally called, and, be it said to their honor, they were unusually careful to mark the last resting places of their dead with tombstones. From their inscriptions a great many dates and other matters relative to pioneer history have been gathered. One is well repaid by making a visit to the Harrold church graveyard, near the oldest of the German Reformed churches in Westmoreland county. Most of the gravestones are from a nearby quarry. In an early day they were dressed and carved by an ordinary stone cutter named Hines, who belonged to the church. While the carving and lettering is sometimes very crude, and almost amusing to our generation, they tell well the story of the primitive condition of our early people.
Harrold church was founded by the German Reformed people at least as early as August, 1772, for on that date the schoolmaster, Balthazer Meyer, officiated and baptised a child named Peter Walter. He was the schoolmaster who held the services in place of a preacher whom the members at that time felt themselves too poor to support. This he continued for a period of ten years, until the organization had increased enough to call a minister. At that time, 1782, Rev. John William Weber was sent here perhaps on trial, but most likely as a missionary. At all events he remained with them for thirty-eight years. He had four charges, viz.: Harrold's and Brush Creek, in Hempfield township, and Kintig's in Mt. Pleasant township, and Ridge church, south of Pleasant Unity, in Unity township. He had also a small charge in Pittsburgh to whom he preached occasionally, and he traveled a great deal over Ligonier Valley and over all other parts of the county where he thought he might start new organizations. Many places where he went for perhaps but one member, have now large congregations. Two other ministers who followed him to this county were Rev. Henry Harbison and William Winel. These ministers and their people were under the Old Synod of the United States. The first Classis was composed of all ministers west of Bedford county, and was called the Western Pennsylvania Classis. In 1836 it was joined to the Ohio Synod, and in 1842 it was changed into the Westmoreland Classis. It remained with the Ohio Synod till 1870, when, on the formation of the Pittsburgh Synod, it became a part of it.
Rev. John William Weber, the first pastor of this church in our county, was born in Germany, March 4, 1735. He was early in life a school teacher, and came to America about 1764. Shortly after his arrival here he was licensed to preach, and preached first in Monroe county. A German traveler before quoted, named Schoepf, who passed through that section of Pennsylvania in 1782, speaks of passing several fine farms owned and managed by Germans, and of finally coming to a rude log church which had been built by the German Reformed and Lutheran people under the ministry of Rev. Weber. In a document written by Weber himself, he says he came to this country in 1782, and that his salary was 116 pounds, 100 bushels of wheat, free house rent, and free firewood all the year. The traveler Schoepf met him in Pittsburgh again the same year. He says there was no church there then, but that there was a German preacher who ministers to believing persons of different confessions. These were doubtless organized by Rev. Weber into a congregation. He preached and rode a great deal, and always catechised the young on his visits among his members. He was an able man, and well suited to lay the foundation of a church in a new country. In personal appearance he was a fine looking portly man, of great physical strength , and thus enabled to endure the great labor and hardships incident to the missionary work of a new country. All his life he was noted for boldly denouncing the wrongs of the community; for preaching strong, forcible sermons which could not be misunderstood. He preached occasionally in Pittsburgh as late as 1812, and died in 1816, aged eighty-two years. A more extended review of his life is given in Harbaugh's "Fathers of the Reformed Church."
One of the greatest men the Reformed Church ever had in Westmoreland county was Rev. Nicholas P. Hacke, D. D., who began to preach here when the county was a wilderness, and continued in the work till his death, August 26, 1878. He was born in Baltimore, and sent to Germany for his early education. He studied theology in his native city under a Reformed minister and came to Greensburg in 1819. At that time he took charge of the German Reformed Church of Greensburg, Harrold's and Brush Creek. His first sermons here were preached in the court house, for they were then building a new church on South Main street, and until it was finished they used the Temple of Justice as a house of worship. He also during his long ministry had at various times, charge of Ridge, Ligonier, Youngstown, Hills, Seanors and Manor congregations, but only for a year or so at each place, when they were without regular pastors.
He was closely associated with the prominent men of the county who were outside of the church or in other churches. There were few young men in professional life who did not seek his acquaintance. He was intellectually far above even the average ministers of his church. His wit, his learning and his excellent judgment of human nature drew around him men like Judge Burrell, Dr. King and Senator Cowan, who were all unusually bright men, but not members of his church. Their friendships were therefore purely intellectual. The preacher was more than an average preacher. He was a Christian philosopher who in any age of the world would have occupied a prominent place among his fellowmen. But he, like Henry Ward Beecher, though great in many lines of human thought, was greatest in the pulpit. For fifty-eight years he sustained himself here in Greensburg, and did so mainly by sheer force of his intellectual power. He was an omnivorous reader, and was always well informed on the scientific and political questions of the day. After a popular wave in morals, politics, or religion passed over the country, his friends not infrequently waited to hear Dr. Hacke's opinion of it before taking sides. It was always an opinion based on a good understanding of the subject, and on sound judgment.
He had great difficulty with his people in effecting a change from the German to the English language. The old members wanted to adhere to the German tongue, because they knew but little about the English language, while the young people knew and spoke the English language well but knew very little of the German. He knew that the change must come in all English speaking communities like ours. For himself, he spoke or wrote equally well in either language, but saw the advantage of the young people being taught thoroughly in the predominant language of the country. His diplomacy was shown in the fact that he managed the transition without disrupting the church; his liberality is shown in his leaning towards the English language, because its adoption would greatly benefit the rising generation, though he himself was of pure Saxon blood, with no trace of the English in his make up. When he died he was sadly missed by all who knew him, without respect to their religious beliefs. On the day of his funeral all stores and business houses in Greensburg were closed out of respect to his memory. He was buried in the old German burying ground in Greensburg.
The Greensburg Seminary was established by the Reformed Church. The resolution authorizing its founding was passed by the trustees of the Literary Institutions of the Pittsburgh Synod, March 3, 1874. Rev. Lucian Court was placed at its head. Under supervision the grounds were purchased and the necessary buildings were soon under process of construction. The location is a beautiful one overlooking the town of Greensburg and the surrounding country. The building is of brick, and is arranged for boarding and rooming pupils, for recitations, and public educational meetings. It was formally opened April 7, 1875, less than a year after the ground was purchased. At first it was exclusively an institution for the education of young women, but in 1878 a system of co-education was introduced and this has proved a great advantage to both the institution and the community. The Seminary was largely patronized by both the Reformed and the Lutheran churches and by all other denominations in the community. Its greatest patronage probably came from the Lutheran church, which was particularly strong in this vicinity.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church, commonly called the Lutheran Church, is a very strong organization in Westmoreland county. They are Protestants who hold the doctrines of theology as taught by Martin Luther and as contained in the Augsburg Confession. This was written by Philip Melanchton, and was read in the presence of Charles V, Emperor of Germany, at the Diet of Augsburg, on June 25, 1530. The Confession has since obtained a permanent place in the literature of the Christian world, having been translated into every modern language. It is now the guiding star in religion of millions of people in the United States.
The first Lutherans in Westmoreland county were nearly all Germans, or people of German extraction. Their early records were written in the German language almost exclusively. Fifty or seventy-five years later these records fell into the hands of English speaking people who were not able to translate them, and who therefore unfortunately did not preserve them. The early work of the church is accordingly largely a matter of tradition. That there were many Lutherans here before the county was formed in 1773, is undoubted, for their presence is well proved by our early records. The Detars, the Rughs, the Gongawares, the Millers, the Harrolds, the Altmans, the Longs, all were originally Lutherans and had taken up land in Hempfield township between 1760 and 1770. There were also Lutherans in other sections of the county in that period, so that it can safely be said that the Lutheran church in Westmoreland began with its early settlement shortly after the constructon of the Forbes road. Like all other early churches, they met at first in private houses, and, when they were without ministers, such services were performed by the school teacher. The schoolmaster had perhaps no special claim in the performances of these offices except that he could read, and many of the early settlers could not. At these from house-to-house meetings they read the Bible, had prayers and singing, and sometimes the teacher read a sermon or perhaps oftener made some remarks which took the place and partook of the nature of a sermon. The ceremony of baptism was performed by laymen as well as by schoolmasters. This was the case for several years at Harrold's Church, the Lutheran branch of whose worshipers were called "Zion's Church." The records made by Balthazer Meyer indicates that he baptized children of Lutheran as well as of the Reformed Church, from 1772 to 1782, and that the Lutheran Church was also without a pastor for all these years. The same was done at Brush Creek, a congregation organized a few years after the Harrold congregation.
The first Lutheran preacher who settled in Westmoreland county was Rev. A. U. Lütje. He had been born and educated in Germany, and came to Harrold Church in 1782. He preached there about ten years and accomplished a great deal for the church organization. The first church at Harrold's was built of logs, and had a puncheon floor. It had no pews, but rough benches without backs, and all its arrangements were made in the same primitive style. It was Rev. Lütje who secured the land for the church organizations at Harrold's, that is, for the German Reformed and the Lutheran churches. This tract of land contained about seventy acres, and was held in common by the two congregations. Rev. Lütje also preached to the congregation of Brush Creek and many other places in the county, though these (Harrold's and Brush Creek) were undoubtedly the fields of his greatest labors.
In 1791 Rev. John M. Steck came from the eastern part of Pennsylvania and settled in Greensburg. He was born in Germany, and when he succeeded Rev. Lütje was thirty-five years old. Here he continued in the ministry till his death, July 14, 1830, a period of thirty-eight years. He was an energetic worker, and accomplished much for his church. At his death he left a son, Rev. Michael J. Steck, who succeeded him as pastor of the Greensburg congregation.
Rev. John M. Steck is probably entitled to first rank among the Lutheran ministers of our county. He did not come here, it is true, until ten years after Rev. Lütje had begun his work here, but he came, nevertheless, when the organization of Lutheran congregations all over the county were in progress and forming. He moreover, by his energy, organized most of the older churches now existing in the county. He organized the first German congregation in Greensburg, and preached to them for many years in the German language. In 1809 he organized the Manor church, and a few years later organized St. James and Hankey's congregations in the northern part of the county. Still later came St. John's, Swope's, Ridge, Youngstown, and other congregations near Greensburg. For many long and weary years he served all these people, and rode on horseback from one preaching place to another. He was assisted somewhat in his later years by young men and by his son, Rev. Michael J. Steck, but the bulk of this work for at least thirty years fell on him. Rev. Jonas Mechling assisted him somewhat, and in 1820 was added to the pastoral force of the large fields. Rev. Mechling had charge of St. James' and Hankey's churches, in the northern part of the county, and of the West Newton and Barren Run churches, and also of Donegal Church and the Dutch meeting house in Ligonier Valley. All the rest of the county was ministered to almost entirely and alone by Rev. Steck as long as he lived. Many of the above charges were small ones. The main ones in the county were the First German Church at Greensburg, Harrold's, Brush Creek and Manor. Their early existence and the influence they exerted over other churches in the county during this formative period gives them special interest to the student of our early church history.
As we have said, the German Lutheran Church of Greensburg was established by Rev. Steck shortly after he arrived here. There is a record of baptisms performed by him in 1792, but there is no record of any communion being held for several years after, nor can the date of its general organization be fixed. It is most likely that it grew and waxed strong without special organization. A log church was built by them late in the century, perhaps about 1796, and the tradition is that it was built after the style of the Harrold church. It stood until 1815, when the second church was built, which was completed in 1819. For more than fifty years services were conducted in the German language. In 1848 this question of language brought about a division of the church, and Zion's Church was formed, wherein the English language was used entirely in all services.
Brush Creek Church had a log house, too, no doubt very like the others, and it lasted them till 1820, when a second structure of brick was built. The Manor congregation, founded in 1809, built at first a rude log house, and a second church in 1815. These were four of the leading Lutheran churches, and were ministered to by three preachers for a period of seventy-seven years. These ministers, as will be remembered from the above, were Rev. John M. Steck, the founder; Rev. Michael J. Steck, his son; and Rev. Jonas Mechling. The elder Steck, commonly called Father Steck, because of his age, preached here from 1791 till 1830; his son, Rev. Michael J. Steck, from 1828 till 1843, and Rev. Jonas Mechling from 1848 till the time of his death, in 1868. The Greensburg charge, under Rev. John M. Steck, had charge of all the churches in the county. He was bishop of the county of Westmoreland. During his son's pastorate, St. James', Hankey's, Seanor's and other small points were connected with this charge, and during the pastorate of Rev. Jonas Mechling his charges were reduced to the four above named, viz.: Greensburg, Harrold, Brush Creek and Manor. Since his death these charges have been still further divided, so that each church now supports a pastor of its own. In 1841 Rev. Jacob Zimmerman took charge of the Lutheran congregation in the northern part of the county.
Michael J. Steck was a son of John M. Steck, and was born in Greensburg in 1793. He was one of the founders of the Pittsburgh Synod, was its first president and was elected consecutively for five years. For many years he was regarded as the ablest preacher of the Lutheran faith in the county. He was more liberally educated than his father had been. In his youth he studied theology with his father, and with Rev. Scharle, of Pittsburgh. He was licensed to preach in June, 1816, but had already done considerable ministerial work by way of assisting his father. The same year he accepted a call in Lancaster, Ohio, then in the backwoods of the church development. He was very successful in his work there for twelve years. When his father grew too old to attend without assistance to his duties as pastor in Westmoreland work, he returned to Greensburg to assist him. This was in 1828, and two years afterward, when his father died, the son succeeded him in the Westmoreland work. Here the son labored with great energy and success till his death, in 1848. During the greater part of his ministry in this county he preached regularly to eleven congregations. He often preached four times a day, and rode many miles on horseback in order to do so. He preached about eight thousand sermons in his thirty-two years of ministry, and baptized about five thousand children. He received into the church about two thousand people by confirmation. Like his father, he was a man of high character and standing in the community, and many regarded him as the ablest man in the church in western Pennsylvania. He, like Dr. Hacke, saw that the German language was on the wane, and that it was of vast importance to introduce the English language in all church services, so that the young people might grow up with a knowledge of the language they would be expected to use mostly throughout their lives. He therefore advocated the formation of an English Lutheran congregation in Greensburg, and its establishment was largely due to him. He was a man of fine appearance, and had a splendid voice and a clear enunciation. He was an abler man than his father, and had received a more liberal education in his youth. Had his ministry been prolonged for a half a century he would undoubtedly have attained a much higher degree of eminence in the church than that of his father. He died in Greensburg, in September, 1848, aged fifty-five years.
Jonas Mechling was born in Hempfield township, near Greensburg, August 14, 1798. He studied theology under Rev. Schnee, of Pittsburgh, and later under the elder Rev. Steck, in Greensburg. He began the regular ministry in 1820 as assistant to Rev. Steck. His work at first lay all over Westmoreland county, particularly in the northern part and in Ligonier Valley. In 1827 he was given charge of Ridge and Youngstown congregations, where he preached till 1848, when, on the death of Rev. M. J. Steck, he came to Greensburg. Unlike the Stecks, his whole life's work was here in Westmoreland county. The last twenty years of his life he devoted to the German congregation and to the English congregation in Greensburg and to Harrold's, Brush Creek, and Manor congregations. He was a man of simple manners, amiable disposition, and of high social culture. He preached here forty-eight years, and in that time delivered six thousand three hundred and twenty-seven sermons, not including funeral sermons. He baptized six thousand two hundred and eighty-six people, confirmed two thousand and thirty-nine as members of the church, and performed nine hundred and ninety marriages.
In a pamphlet written by the venerable Judge Thomas Mellon, in 1880, on the Sunday question, are found some interesting observations on the early condition of religion in Franklin township, where he was brought up. The period of which he writes is between 1825 and 1830. He says:
"Rev. Father Wynal, of the Lutheran persuasion, was nursing an embryo congregation among the Germans. He resided near Saltsburg, but came over and preached to them every fourth Sunday, holding services in the dwelling of our nearest neighbor, Peter Hill. The congregation has since developed into that now worshiping in a comfortable brick edifice known as Hill's Church. Well, at the time to which I refer, when Mr. Wynal was the pastor, old Peter Hill, as honest a man and good a neighbor as need be, was the contributor, treasurer, trustee and entire session. The Sunday on which preaching was to be at Peter's was regarded as a holiday, indeed, by the surrounding German population. They gathered from all quarters. The services lasted from nine till twelve a. m., when Peter's wife Hetty, (for he was married twice and had in all twenty-five children), with the assistance of her neighbor women, would have an ample dinner cooked, which was not only free but welcome to all who had come to meeting. The dinner being over, the younger men would spend the afternoon in games of corner ball and pitching quoits on the green in front of the house, whilst Mr. Wynal and Peter and the old men sat smoking their pipes on the porch, looking on at the sport with marked satisfaction. Evidently it occurred to neither pastor nor people that there was anything wrong or sinful in the performance. Times change, however, and religious observances, as well as other habits, change according to the prevailing fashion, for the same congregation would not now spend Sunday in that way.
"At the same time we, of Scotch Presbyterian proclivities, had a similar gathering every third Sunday at Duff's Tent. Duff's Tent was a place in the woods, with benches made of split logs, and an eight-by-ten box-shaped structure, boarded up and roofed, for a pulpit. For a pastor we had Rev. Hugh Kirkland, a fresh graduate from the Theological School at Glasgow, and zealous in the strictest ideas of the Scotch kirk. He regarded the merits of Rouse's Version of David's Psalms and the enormity of Sabbath breaking as of vital importance. He preached on few topics except 'To prove the Roman Catholic Church to be the antichrist and whore of Babylon,' or 'The desecration of the Sabbath by the Lutherans,' or 'The damnable heresies of the Methodists in defying the doctrines of innate depravity and predestination and persisting in singing choral songs instead of the Psalms of David.'
"This kind of preaching, however, did not bring forth good fruit, even in the Scotch Presbyterian soil in which it was sown. My father allowed the Methodists the use of a vacant house on his place to hold their meetings, and several of the flock attended a Methodist meeting on one occasion to hear the Rev. Bascom and some of the leading men. Mr. Humes joined in the singing. This the reverend gentleman regarded as an indignity to his teaching, and in his next sermon he took occasion to animadvert severely on the conduct of those who, after being washed from their sins, had, like the sow, again betaken themselves to wallowing in the mire. He was as pointed as to nearly designate the delinquents by name, and this raised a row. But the straw that broke the camel's back was the starting of a Sabbath-school. George and Michael Haymaher and some other young people of this flock undertook to open a Sabbath-school in the schoolhouse at Newlansburg, nearby. This was too great a sacrilege for the good man to bear. He could not brook the desecration of the Sabbath-day by such worldly employment as school teaching, and, as a majority of his flock inclined to favor the Sabbath-school, he shook the dust from his feet and departed."
In writing the history of the Mennonites at Scottdale, it is necessary to make a division of two periods; the first period dating from the time of the first settlement to 1893, the year of the organization of the Mennonite Church of Scottdale; the second period from that time on to the present.
Among the first Mennonite people in this section were the Stauffers and Sherricks, who came here from Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, in 1790. The Louckses and Frettses followed in 1800, from Bucks county. Other families who came with these and later on are the Tinsmans, Overholts, Stoners, Funks, Rists, Rosenbergers, Strohms, Dillingers, Foxes, Shellenbergers, Basslers, Stricklers, Ruths, Myers, Durstines, Lanes, Shupes, Mumaws, Shellys, Bares, Landises, and Bachtels.
Of the early congregational worship of these settlers, little is known. During the first few years they evidently held their services in the homes. Just when the congregation was organized cannot be learned. The first meeting house, a log structure, was built near Pennsville, Fayette county, about the year 1800. A few years later a log meeting house was built near Stonerville (now Alverton), Westmoreland county. The Stonerville church was replaced by a brick building in 1841, and also the Pennsville church in 1852. Neither of these buildings are now standing. Though there were two places of worship, the church existed as a single congregation, services being held every two weeks at each place. The first ministers of this congregation were Abram Stauffer, Joseph Sherrick, and David Funk. Abram Stauffer was born September 3, 1752, and died September 3, 1826. He came here from Lancaster county in 1790. He was great-great-grandfather of Aaron Loucks, now bishop in this district.
Joseph Sherrick was born in Switzerland, December 25, 1757. He was the eldest of five sons, who came to America with their father (a widower) in 1765. He first located in Lancaster county, and in 1790 moved to Westmoreland county. His death occurred December 21, 1811. David Funk was born November 10, 1765, and died October 4, 1833. He was the first bishop of this congregation. Other ministers were: Conrad Rist, born September 10, 1787, died June 22, 1841. Christian Sherrick (a son of Joseph Sherrick); born January 19, 1789, died March 12, 1845. John D. Overholt, born April 19, 1787, died August 29, 1878; ordained minister in 1830; ordained bishop 1833. Martin Loucks, born December 9, 1798, died November 7, 1869; ordained minister in 1833. Henry Moyer. John Snyder. Henry Yothers, born January 10, 1810, died April 18, 1900; ordained minister September, 1845; ordained bishop October, 1857. In October, 1864, he moved with his family to Livingston county, Illinois, and later to Blue Springs, Nebraska, where he died at the advanced age of ninety years. Up to his death he retained an active mind. He was especially gifted with ability to recall exact dates and incidents. He was very able as a quoter of Scripture. Jonas Blough moved here from Somerset county. In 1879 he moved to the Johnstown district, and was the last resident minister of this period.
From 1879 to 1892 the appointments were filled by ministers from other places. Among those from a distance were C. B. Brennaman and C. C. Beery from Ohio; J. S. Coffman from Virginia, afterwards from Indiana; Daniel Roth, from Washington county, Maryland. Afterwards, according to a request made to conference, Herman Snyder of Blair county, Pennsylvania, and J. N. Durr, of Masontown, Fayette county, Pennsylvania, were appointed to look after the work and see that appointments were filled every four weeks. Following are some of the ministers who assisted in filling appointments during that time: Henry Blauch, David Keim, Levi A. Blough, D. H. Bender, Christian Deffenbaugh, David Johnson, G. D. Miller, and others.
During this first period the congregation grew from a few members to a body of at least two hundred. As many as thirty persons were baptized and received into the church at one time. The growth continued until 1840, when it reached its climax. From that time on there were fewer members added and some of those who were members left the church and untied with other denominations, some moved into other localities, and others were removed by death; so that in 1892 there were but sixteen members left, and with but few exceptions these were all old people. Among the apparent causes for the falling off and decay of this congregation was the preaching in German to a people whose education was English, and who understood and spoke the English language. Another cause was the neglect of special effort to reach and hold the young people, such as Sunday school, evening meeting, etc.
On September 18, 1892, the step was taken that led to the reviving of the work at this place. At this time Aaron Loucks was chosen and ordained minister by the unanimous voice of the congregation. January 10, 1891, he was ordained bishop.
As most of the members of the church at this time lived in and about Scottdale, it became necessary for the best interests of the congregation that the church be located in the town. At a meeting of the members held July 22, 1893, at the home of Jacob S. Loucks, it was unanimously decided to erect a meeting house in Scottdale. The work of excavating was begun early in August, and a brick building, thirty-four feet by fifty feet, was erected on the corner of Market and Grove streets. It was dedicated December 3, 1903. J. S. Coffman, of Elkhart, Indiana, conducted the opening services and continued the meetings for two weeks. As a result a number of young people confessed Christ. The Sunday school was organized December 24, and had been continued ever since. January 4, 1894, the first new members were received into the church - three by baptism, and one from another denomination - making a total membership at that time of twenty. From that date on there has been a gradual increase in membership. At the present time there are fifty members enrolled.
The Second Sunday School Conference of the Southwestern Pennsylvania District was held here the third Thursday in October, 1896. The First Bible Conference was held here from December 28, 1896, to January 9, 1897.
In April, 1895, Jacob A. Ressler and family, of Lancaster county, located with this congregation. July 28, 1895, he was ordained a minister, Bishop Isaac Eby, of Lancaster county, officiating. He assisted in the work of the ministry until November 4, 1898, when at a meeting held in Elkhart, following the General Conference held near Wakarusa, Indiana, he was chosen a missionary to India. He with W. B. Page and sister, of Elkhart, Indiana, sailed February 22, 1899. He was ordained bishop January, 1899, at Tub, Somerset county, J. N. Durr officiating. After J. A. Ressler left for India, Aaron Loucks continued to serve the church as pastor until 1901 when he moved to Riverside, California. He returned to Scottdale a year later. On March 10, 1901, A. D. Martin, who was formerly of Franklin county, Pennsylvania, was ordained to the ministry. He was born October 17, 1878, and united with the church at the age of fourteen.
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH.
The earliest Catholics in Westmoreland were in Unity township. In 1787 five men with their families came from Berks county and settled a short distance east of Youngstown. Their names were John Propst, John Jung, Patrick Archibald, Simon Christian and George Ruffner. They came directly across the state, coming up the Juniata and crossing the Allegheny mountains, and thence to Unity township. They purchased rich lands, and two years later they were joined by Henry Kuhn, also from Berks county. They were not close neighbors in the new country, but were more or less associated together, for in 1789 they unitedly attempted to purchase a lot in Greensburg upon which to build a church and lay out a graveyard. They were very poor, having but a few shillings in cash. A lot was presented to them, perhaps with a view of encouraging the growth of Greensburg.
Before leaving their eastern homes they had arranged with Rev. John Bpt. Causey, of Conewago, to visit them after they were located in their new homes. This he did in June, 1789. They had no church then, and the humble log cabin of John Propst, near Youngstown, was used as an edifice in which the visiting priest celebrated the faith of the church. This was perhaps the first promulgation of the Catholic religion in Pennsylvania west of the Allegheny mountains, except that of the French Catholics in Fort Duquesne, prior to its capture by General Forbes, in 1758. Other duties were pressing on Father Causey, and he remained here only a short time, and, we believe, never returned. They were also visited by Rev. Peter Hielborn, who in 1789 became pastor of St. Mary's parish, in Philadelphia. While here he founded the first permanent settlement of the followers of his faith on a tract of land called "Sportsman's Hall." The seed he planted took deep root, for his labors were on the spot now occupied by St. Vincent's Abbey. Soon after him came a priest named Theodore Browers, whose permanent location there was a great inducement for Catholic families to settle in that vicinity. Father Browers came from Holland, and reached Philadelphia in 1789. He brought with him a considerable sum of money to dispose of in the interests of his church. Great efforts were made by the Philadelphia societies to have him apply it there, for they had heavy debts, and, like all churches, had great need of both his services and his money. This he refused to do, for he had determined to settle with some poor people who had neither money nor priest. In some way he heard of the destitute circumstances of these people in Unity township, and accordingly came here. He purchased one hundred and sixty-two acres of land in Derry township, on the banks of the Loyalhanna. He came to Greensburg and boarded for some time with Christian Ruffner, who lived three miles to the east. It was his intention to build on his own land, a residence and a church for the poor of his faith, but he learned on investigation that the land was very poor and uninviting, and moreover, situated a long distance away from a Catholic settlement. So he purchased the tract known as "Sportsman's Hall," three hundred and thirteen acres, and had it conveyed to him April 16, 1790. With a carpenter he soon put up a building seventeen by seventeen feet, and one and a half stories high, where he lived and held services. Later an addition was built to his house, and it was used as a chapel. It had no seats, save some humble benches for the older people. Father Browers died, perhaps from overwork, on October 29, 1790. By will he bequeathed both his tracts of land to his successor, who should be a duly authorized pastor of the settlement. His will was not written by one of sufficient knowledge to draw it properly, and its construction gave rise to much litigation which lasted many years. The legislature, by act of March 7, 1827, legalized the will and gave the property to the congregation of St. Vincent's Church. In spite of this litigation the Unity township colony of Catholics increased very rapidly, so that Rev. Peter Heilburn was made pastor in 1799, and in November of that year had seventy-five communicants. Though the Catholic settlement at Unity increased very rapidly, the litigation into which the society was plunged because of Father Browers' poorly written will, injured it a great deal. In 1797, Rev. F. Lannigan headed a considerable number of his people who left the Unity colony and located at West Alexander, in Washington county, and afterwards removed to Waynesburg, all because of the contentions in the Unity colony.
For a number of years after the death of Father Browers the Catholics of Unity were without a pastor. Fathers Brosius and Pellentz came occasionally from missions in the east and ministered to them. For a time Rev. Whalen came and lived among them, living in great destitution and poverty in order to minister to them. In the meantime a colony of Roman Catholics was established on the Allegheny mountains by Demetrius Augustine Gallitzin, a Russian Prince, and he took charge of the Unity colony also.
"Sportsman's Hall" has long since been abandoned as a name of the colony. It is now and has for many years been known as St. Vincent's. It is, we believe, the parent of all Catholic churches in Westmoreland county. It adopted its present name from the patron saint of a church erected by Rev. A. Stillinger, its pastor, in 1833. The dimensions of this church were fifty-one and one-half by eighty-seven feet. It was finished in 1835, and on July 19th was blessed by Bishop Kendrick. Father Stillinger remained pastor till 1845, when the work became too heavy for one of his age, and he was transferred to Blairsville. He was succeeded at St. Vincent's by Rev. F. Gallagher, who a year later was succeeded by Rev. D. Boniface Wimmer. He labored with great energy and success at St. Vincent's.
The Benedictine Order was founded by St. Benedict, an Italian, born in 480. Much of the civilization and christianization of Europe, and particularly England, is due to this order. Doubtless without the work performed by this order many of the treasures of science and literature of Greece and Rome, and even the Bible itself, would have been lost. This seems to be admitted by most historians, and should dispel a mistaken idea so prevalent among many that the ancient monks were ignorant and superstitious. Many Benedictine monasteries were established centuries ago in the wilds of western Europe. Around these people of all religious beliefs settled and formed civic communities which are now flournishing as cities and towns. Thus the spread of Benedictine monasticism became extremely potent in the civilization of Europe. In the dark ages a flood of heathenism poured in on Europe from Asia, and these monasteries were the rallying points of Christianity, the refuge of modern civilization, piety and learning.
The founder of the Benedictine order in the United States was Rt. Rev. Abbot Boniface Wimmer, O. S. B., and the order was founded in Westmoreland county. He was born near Ratisbon, in Bavaria, January 14, 1809. Displaying talents of high order in his youth, his parents sent him to school in Ratisbon, where he received a classical education. From there he went to the University of Munich, in 1827, and began to study law. A year later he changed his mind, abandoned the law for theology, and was ordained a priest August 31, 1831. A year later he entered the Benedictine monastery at Metten, in Bavaria, were he wore the robes of his order and received the church name of Boniface. For some fourteen years he was employed as priest in various parts of Bavaria, and was a professor at St. Stephens' in Augsburg, and also in Munich.
In the meantime the population of the United States had increased to about twenty millions, and the Roman Catholics had increased correspondingly. The German element of this faith were calling loudly for priests and churches of their own nationality. This became known to Rev. Boniface Wimmer, and he therefore resolved to establish a Benedictine Abbey in America, in order that young men might be educated for the priesthood. As a general proposition his plan was opposed in Germany, but he nevertheless had many friends who tendered him material aid in the great enterprise, among whom was King Louis I, of Bavaria. Others followed this royal example, and very soon some nineteen young men were ready to run their backs to their native land and sail with Father Wimmer to assist in his great undertaking in the New World. They accordingly left Munich for America, July 25, 1846. They embarked at Rotterdam on the steamer "Iowa," and landed in New York on September 16, 1846. They rested a few days in the city, and were met by Rev. Henry Lemke, a priest of Cambria county, who had heard of the project and had gone to New York to welcome them, and to suggest Western Pennsylvania as a proper place to found the abbey. He also offered his property and colony at a moderate sum should they locate there. Rev. Wimmer was cautious, and consulted Bishop O'Connor, of Pittsburgh, and on his advice located the abbey at St. Vincent, in Unity township, about forty miles east of Pittsburgh. When he arrived there in October, 1846, he found the brick church we have referred to, a small pastor's residence, a small schoolhouse and an old log barn, or stable. On October 18th they took possession of the property. On October 24th they laid the foundation of the future monastery by conferring the right to wear the Benedictine gown on his nineteen associates. Unfortunately there were only six habits to be found, but the difficulty was in a measure overcome by transferring their gowns from one to another. The same scarcity was found as to dishes, but his was overcome by only five or six eating at a time. Notwithstanding these hindrances, their zeal for the cause in which they had enlisted was such that no one of them ever regretted the steps he had taken. Their first duty was to sow wheat on the few cleared fields, so that they might have bread for the coming year. Rev. Wimmer set them all an example in this direction. Though bred to other work, he felled many a tree in the work of clearing land. He had, with his associates, cast his lot in a new country, and shrank from no hardships whatever. This example was necessary, too, for in the summer of 1847 their means were all exhausted, and starvation almost stared them in the face. Some wanted to abandon the project, but at the darkest hour a letter reached them from Munich, stating that Rev. Peter Lechner, O. S. B., would soon arrive with a purse of coin equal to about two thousand dollars in gold, as a present from the Louis Mission Union of Bavaria, and a promise of eight hundred dollars per year from the same source if they would remain and make a success of the project. All their sorrow was turned into joy when Lechner and the twenty aspirants for the Benedictine order arrived on August 17, 1847.
Many difficulties arose. One was the scarcity of priests. Father Wimmer's time should have been given to the founding of the order exclusively, yet there were Catholic societies in Saltsburg, Greensburg and Indiana, none of whom were supplied with priests. In addition to his monastic duties he was compelled to look after and minister to these societies. It was too much for him, and he therefore raised to the priesthood, on March 18, 1847, a young man who had finished his religious studies in Germany, named Martin Geyerstanger, who took the name of Charles in religion. This was the first ordination of a Benedictine in America.
Father Charles was born in Austria, November 20, 1820. He was a man of medium height, broad shoulders, and strong constitution. He was of sanguine temperament, well suited to cheer up the despondent feelings of a new country. Equally affable and pious, he won many friends, and was respected by all who knew him. In addition to his extensive knowledge of theology and history, he is said to have possessed a keen sense of humor which always stood him in good stead. At his death April 22, 1881, in the community in which he had labored during his entire religious life, he had few, if any, equals in his knowledge of sacred liturgy and literature. Rev. Lechner's arrival with twenty new aspirants to the Order and the contribution in money, though encouraging generally, incommoded in a great degree the young family at the monastery, for the buildings were scarcely large enough to accommodate the twenty who were already there. A new building was begun shortly after. It was forty by one hundred feet, and the foundation stones were laid on September 28, 1848. The winter set in early that year, and it was but little service to them until the spring of 1849. It was under a hurriedly made board roof late in the fall of 1848, and was occupied that winter by a few aspirants because of necessity. Often when they woke in the morning their beds were covered with snow or drenched with rain and sleet. Nevertheless they did a good work in the way of educating young men for the priesthood, but the demand was much greater than the supply. News of their hard work and privations in America reached Rome, and Pope Pius IX, to encourage them, raised the rank of the Benedictine Colony to that of a monastery, and the requisite number of priests to supply the pioneer Catholic societies in Westmoreland were at hand. In 1853 the legislature of Pennsylvania incorporated the monks at St. Vincent with the title, "The Benedictine Society of Westmoreland County." A new field for their energies was found in the demand for nuns to minister to the wants of the people and to act as teachers of parochial schools. A call for them was sent to Bavaria but only three sisters responded.
In 1854 Father Wimmer journeyed to Rome to thank Pope Pius IX for past favors, and to ask that the monastery to be raised to the dignity of an abbey. The Pope did more. He made Father Wimmer an abbot, and gave him power to found new Benedictine Orders as the offspring of his own, in any diocese in the United States. Quite a number now flourishing in the United States were thus founded by Abbot Wimmer, and all are the offspring of the Benedictine Society of Westmoreland county. One was founded in Minnesota in 1856, which he named St. Louis, in honor of his benefactor, Louis I, King of Bavaria. When the news of it reached his Royal Highness he sent the abbot the following letter, which is preserved in the archives of St. Vincent.
Lord Abbot P. Boniface Wimmer Aug. 29, 1867.
For the good wishes tendered me on the anniversary of my birthday, and that of the Saint whose name I bear, contained in your letter dated the 10th, I kindly thank you. I know well how to appreciate the grateful sentiments of the Benedictines in America. It pleased me very much to hear that the new Abbey in Minnesota bears my name. I wish the best prosperity to it, to you and to the whole Benedictine order in America.
With profound esteem, and devoted to you as ever,
Yours most sincerely LOUIS I.
On business relative to the success of the Abbey, he visited Rome in 1865 and again in 1869. In 1880 he made a fourth trip there, that time to attend a celebration which he himself originally suggested, viz.: The fourteen hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Benedictine Order. First established as it was in 480, the anniversary was held at Monte Carlo, in Italy, in 1880. He died December 8, 1887.
The present number of students is 423. Although their buildings cover several acres of ground, they have been compelled each year for some years to refuse the admission of several hundred students. Very extensive additions to the buildings are now in process of construction. So hampered are they for room that many departments, including natural history, have been suppressed. For this reason rare and costly apparatus has been stored away and is not now in use, in order that the room originally assigned to such departments might be made available for the accommodation of students. In celebrated paintings, sculpturing and other almost priceless works of art, the institution is indeed replete. A large proportion of the work of the institution is performed by their own people. They operate, for instance, their own publishing house, printing office, bindery, machine and furniture shops, etc. In all there are over seven hundred persons housed within buildings of the institution. This includes the faculty, students, and those who are otherwise employed.
In 1890, they began the erection of one of the most magnificent church edifices in the United States. The exterior of this building is of brick and stone, and may be equaled or surpassed by other structures, but the interior has no equal on the American continent. It is difficult, even impossible, to estimate its cost, because a great part of the work on it has been performed by those who belonged to the institution, and no account of their time was kept, though these include many skilled artisans. Its main altar, made of onyx and set with precious stones, alone cost $18,000 and its immense pipe organ cost many thousands more. The fine art carving, mostly done in Italy, lends an artistic beauty and richness to the interior that no pen can truly describe. It was dedicated in August, 1905.
ST. XAVIER'S CONVENT.
In 1845 Henry Kuhn, an old gentleman from Westmoreland county, offered the Sisters a farm on liberal terms, upon which he wanted them to establish an academy for young women. With the encouragement and assistance of Abbot Wimmer they accepted the farm under the conditions of Mr. Kuhn. This farm was beautifully located, forty miles east of Pittsburgh, on the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia turnpike. The Pennsylvania railroad was not then projected, and the location on the pike made it a most desirable one. There were no buildings worthy of mention on the farm. The pastor of St. Vincent's church, which was but a mile distant, gave up his residence to accommodate the Sisters and their first pupils. As soon as possible they began the erection of a three-story brick structure which could later be used as a wing of a more imposing edifice. In the foreground, as viewed from the building, lies the fertile valley of the Loyalhanna, while in the distance is the blue outline of the Chestnut Ridge clad in forests to its crest. The new building was almost finished in 1846. Trees were planted and the grounds were most beautifully laid out. On May 14, 1487 (sic), the Sisters and their pupils took possession of the new building, with ceremonies appropriate to the occasion. They had in the meantime been incorporated under the title, "The Sisters of Mercy," and now worked with renewed energy to build up the school.
The trees planted afforded little shade, and for some years the grounds looked desolate enough. But near by was another farm which had on it a most enchanting grove of tall oak trees. Fortunately for the struggling institution, this farm was not for sale till 1852. By that time the Sisters, with some outside assistance, saw their way clear to purchase it on extended payments which were promptly met when due. This, with the growing trees planted, made it, as it has been frequently termed by visitors, a veritable "little Paradise." In the same year the Pennsylvania railroad was completed, passing within two miles of it. These advantages so increased its popularity that in 1861 a chapel costing $40,000 was contracted for. Then came the Rebellion, and the building progressed so slowly that it was not completed till 1866. In the meantime a "Guest House" was build on the grounds to accommodate the pupils' friends when visiting them.
But now comes a dark page in its history. At about 2 o'clock P.M., on February 1st, 1868, a fire broke out, and in a few hours there was nothing left of all these vast buildings but smouldering ruins. The fire first showed itself in the middle building, out of which dark volumes of smoke and flame were pouring. There was no water to oppose it except from a few pumps on the premises. Neighbors gathered quickly, and saved a great amount of household furniture. The Guest House alone remained. There was an insurance of $20,000, but one building alone had cost more than twice that amount. The friends of the institution came to its aid with liberal donations. Part of the grounds was sold, and in a few weeks they were ready to begin the construction of a new building on the site of the former one. It was of Gothic design, with irregular outline. Its front to the east was 74 feet by 40 feet deep, the left wing, extending northwest, 174 by 44; the right wing to the south was 100 feet by 50 feet. The chapel was connected with the front building and ran parallel with the left wing. It was of Gothic architecture, 74 by 34 feet. The work began in April, 1868. In September, 1869, the academy building was ready to accommodate pupils. The chapel was completed in 1870. and the new structures have a beauty of architecture and a symmetry about them which could not have been attained under the original process of construction. The purpose of the academy is to impart a solid English education, together with a knowledge of the languages and fine arts, and to fit the students for useful places in social life.
St. Xavier's, the Abbey and the College buildings are all erected on a gentle elevation. The fertile valleys of the Loyalhanna lie before them, while in the distance is the Chestnut Ridge, thickly covered with its primeval forests. Near the buildings are spacious lawns, beds of flowers, blooming shrubbery, vines, ferns, and hundreds of ornamental trees.
Source: Page(s) 285-319, History of Westmoreland County, Volume 1, Pennsylvania by John N Boucher. New York, The Lewis Publishing Company, 1906.
Transcribed September 2000 by Beth Fladaker for the Westmoreland County History Project
Contributed by Beth Fladaker for use by the Westmoreland County Genealogy Project (http://www.pa-roots.com/westmoreland/)
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