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Erie County (PA) Genealogy

Millcreek Township - Belle Valley Presbyterian Church History

Contributed by Susan Smith and John Robison

The information below was submitted by Susan Smith and is based mostly on material and information received from John Robison, whose ancestor of the same name was one of the early settlers near the Belle Valley area, and one of the founders of this church. As a part of Susan's many years of research on the SMITH surname in Erie County, she has also provided some biographical information on the related DAVISON family. Anyone having any questions or comments on this extract should contact Susan Smith directly.

History of Belle Valley Presbyterian Church

(United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.)

Erie, Pennsylvania

Presbytery of Lake Erie - Synod of Pennsylvania

Founding of the Church

On July 4, 1796 Benjamin Russell arrived in Erie and built a cabin on 1,000 acres of land south of the city. His brother, Hamlin Russell, came in 1802 from Connecticut and purchased 150 acres from his brother. In the year 1805 other families moved in and thus the neighborhood began. This neighborhood was named Belle Valley by some earlier members of the Russell family.

Those who had made their new homes in this community and had already established their religious connections usually attended the First Presbyterian Church in Erie. But what with the necessity of driving those four long miles over the plank road to Erie during all kinds of weather and the increase of population in East Millcreek, the matter of organizing a church here was deemed advisable by the presbytery.

Thus, on the second Monday of December 1841, the "Millcreek Church" was organized at the schoolhouse which served as the general place of worship for the congregation until 1843 when a church building was erected. The Rev. George A. Lyon, D.D., pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, and the Rev. Nathaniel West were responsible for the organization.

Thirty-seven members were enrolled in the new church and three elders were elected. [ed. note: There are 4 elders listed]. The first members of the "Millcreek Church" were:

Mr. George Davison - elder Mrs. George Davison
Jane Davison Sally Davison
Andrew Norcross Eliza Norcross
Elizabeth Norcross Sarah Norcross
Hiram Norcross - elder Mr. Martin Hayes
Mrs. Martin Hayes Mary Hayes
Mr. Samuel Low - elder Mrs. Samuel Low
Anna Foot Sally Foot
Hamlin Russell - elder Louisa Russell
Rachel Russell Mary Russell
George Russell James Russell
Mr. John Robinson Mrs. John Robinson
Mr. Edmond Curtis Mrs. Edmond Curtis
Maria B. Conrad Elizabeth Davison
Catharine Arbuckle Margaret Arbuckle
William Arbuckle Annis Arbuckle
Mr. Converse Clark Mrs. Converse Clark
Elizabeth McCrea Eleanor Mains
Jacob Conrad  

In 1862 the name of the church was changed to the Belle Valley Presbyterian Church.

The 75th anniversary of the organization of the church was observed on Sunday, December 10, 1916. The Rev. J. P. Irwin gave a complete history of the church at the morning worship service. On Monday, December 11, members and visitors assembled in the auditorium of the church to hear Miss Emma Vance and Mr. W. B. Vance children of the Rev. J. H. Vance, give an account of events that occurred while they lived in Belle Valley. Mrs. Minnie Russell Webster, widow of the Rev. Hezekiah Webster, spoke of her memories. Mrs. Altha Davison Turner read the deed in its original form showing the transfer of the property to the possession of the Belle Valley Presbyterian Church. This deed was kept by Mrs. Turner's grandfather. Supper was served by the ladies of the church and the Rev. C. S. Beatty conducted an evangelistic service in the evening.

In November 1941 the 100th anniversary was commemorated by a family dinner on Thursday evening, a memorial service in honor of the women of the church on Friday afternoon, and on the following Sunday a sermon was read that had been preached by the Rev. J. E. Giffen, pastor from 1897-1905.

In 1950 a Homecoming Day was observed with many past ministers participating in the morning, afternoon, and evening services. Approximately 300 people attended the meetings.

According to the records, the young men from the congregation who have entered the ministry include E. B. Russell, Edward Vance, Joseph Vance, and John L. Larson.

The various societies such as Missionary groups, Ladies' Aid Society, Young People's Society, Alpha Class, Men's Brotherhood, Women’s Guild, and Choirs have served the church since its beginning. Thus for 125 years this church has existed due to the stewardship habits of its past members. They loyally attended its services, sacrificed their wealth for the maintenance of the church and participated in the work of spreading the gospel throughout the Belle Valley area.

The above material was extracted from a pamphlet of about 20 pages that was issued in 1966 to commemorate the 125th year of the Church. The following statement was included in the pamphlet: "Historical facts were procured from Session Records, Erie County Histories, and miscellaneous sources and have been repeated as accurately as possible." The sketch on the cover of the pamphlet is shown below.


The following has been added by Susan Smith:

John Robison (1799-1861), was the brother of Thomas Robison (1802-1885) who was married to Mary SmithJohn Robison settled near Belle Valley about 1831, just off the old Wattsburg Plank Road in Beaverdam Township (now Greene Twp), Erie County. In 1843, John and his wife Sarah, along with other local families, built the Belle Valley Presbyterian Church, site of the present congregation, at 1694 Norcross Road in Erie.  

Jane (Godfrey) Davison (1751-1844), her son George Davison (1783-1874) and his wife Sarah (Taylor) Davison (1784 - ? ), along with Jane's granddaughter Sally (aka Sarah) Davison, were also among the founding members. Elizabeth (Wilson) Davison (1795 - 1865), who is also listed, was the wife of Arthur Davison (1790 - 1841). Arthur Davison was also a son of Jane (Godfrey) Davison, and most likely would have been among the founding members had he been alive at the time.

Additional DAVISON family information - Thomas DAVISON (1749-1817) was married to Jane (Godfrey) Davison. They had six children. The granddaughter mentioned above, Sally (aka Sarah) Davison, lived with her grandmother. Sally was the daughter of first son Francis DAVISON (1779-1860) and his first unknown wife whom he married about 1810. About 1816, Francis married Sarah SMITH (1791-1842) daughter of Thomas & Sarah Smith [see Smith Family History elsewhere on the website]. Other children not already mentioned include Robert DAVISON (1784-1871) who married between 1810 and 1814 another Sarah SMITH (1783-1873), Thomas DAVISON (1795-1815) and Elizabeth Jane DAVISON (__-1795).

Mrs. Altha Davison Turner mentioned in the history was the granddaughter of George and Sarah (Taylor) Davison. Her parents were George Davison and Lucinda (Lawrence) Davison.

Notes on other founding members has been included below: 

Mr. George Davison, Mrs. George Davison     Son of Thomas and Jane Davison see above.

Jane Davison, Sally Davison     Mother of George, Sally aka Sarah daughter of Francis and 1st wife (lived with her grandmother) see above.

Elizabeth Davison     Elizabeth Wilson wife of Arthur Davison see above

Andrew Norcross, Eliza Norcross, Elizabeth Norcross, Sarah Norcross, Hiram Norcross    Hamlin Russell’s 1st wife was Sarah Norcross, a relative?

Mr. Samuel Low-elder Mrs. Samuel Low     Early settler in Erie, founder of Lowville

Hamlin Russell, Rachel Russell     Brother of Benjamin and Giles (Giles daughter Julia married David Smith) - Rachel, Hamlin’s 2nd wife sister of Giles’ wife Louisa below.

Mary Russell     Sister of Benjamin, Hamlin and Giles

Louisa Russell     Widow of Giles Russell. Their son E.B. Russell is mentioned in the above history as having gone into the ministry..

George Russell     Son of either Hamlin or Giles Russell - both had a son George

Catharine Arbuckle, Margaret Arbuckle, William Arbuckle, Annis Arbuckle     early Belle Valley family  

This page originally posted November 15, 2002.

Last updated on  Sunday, March 13, 2005 .

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