THE UNITED PRESBYTERIAN (FORMERLY ASSOCIATE REFORMED) CONGREGATION, OF NEW CASTLE. The history of the United Presbyterian Church includes, in the first instance, a union so early as 1782, and during the Revolutionary War, of certain Presbyterians in the United States, intensely loyal, who had belonged to two distinct offshoots from the Established Church of Scotland, the one being the Associate or Seceder, and the other the Reformed Presbyterian or "Covenanter," both of which bodies had resisted governmental intrusions in their native land in their church affairs, and therefore refused to remain in "the establishment." The body formed in the United States in 1782 took both names, and became the "Associate Reformed Church," but failed to embrace the whole of either church. The more general, if not absolute, union was, however, affected by the formation of the United Presbyterian Church in 1858, including almost the entire forces of the Associate and Associate Reformed churches.
At first, and for years, the hamlet of New Castle was itself only an inconsiderable part, ecclesiatically, of the territory of the Associate Reformed Church of Shenango. No Associate Reformed congregation was organized in New Castle till 1849, when the town had become a manufacturing center, included a population of 2,500 persons and was soon to be erected into a county-seat. The Presbyterian, Associate and Methodist churches had, however, long occupied the place, and, more lately, the Reformed Presbyterian and Baptist. The Associate Reformed people had an occasional sermon from the pastor of Shenango, or from passing ministers, on Sabbath or week-day evenings.
In 1814 or 1815 Rev. James Galloway preached in the house of Dr. Alexander Gillfillan, on Jefferson Street, and administered baptism in the family of John Frazier, justice of the peace. Both these citizens were members of Shenango Church.
In 1823-4, during a space of six months, Rev. James Ferguson, pastor at Harmony and Center, took in New Castle as a preaching-station for a small portion of his time, but at the end of this period his pastorate and service ended, and no further regular preaching was had until Rev. J. M. Galloway was settled, in 1837, in Shenango Church as his sole charge. New Castle was once more made a preaching station for a part of the time. By courtesy of the Associate Congregation the stone church was temporarily granted Mr. Galloway and his people; and, so encouraging were the prospects of forming a congregation, that Joseph Kissick and Ezekiel Sankey purchased for its use a lot of three acres, lying between the residence of R. M. Allen and the Shenango, the consideration for the three acres being $300. But Mr. Galloway resigned his charge and removed in August, 1838. The project was abandoned and the land returned to the former owner.
Rev. Thomas Mehard, pastor of Shenango, Eastbrook and Beulah, located in the borough in 1844, but his time was as yet too fully occupied for him to assume any new labors, and he suddenly died, July 16, 1845, before any new work was attempted at this point. Rev. Robert A. Browne succeeded him in Shenango and Eastbrook, taking up his residence at New Castle. Under his ministry, within a few years, three new organizations were formed inside his pastoral charge-one in New Castle in 1849, one about the same time in New Wilmington, and, two years later, one at the Harbor.
In December, 1848, when there were as yet but twelve members in the town belonging to Mr. Browne's charge, a subscription was started by which the sum of $832 was raised on the spot for the erection of a church. A few days before the same persons had subscribed $600 to buy the lot lying on the east side of Jefferson Street, 180 feet north of the public square. The first stone was laid in the following May in the presence only of the pastor and elder. The building was a plain brick, 50 by 65 feet, with a basement containing a lecture room and three smaller rooms. The first cost of the church in 1849-50 was $4,609, but it was worth much more, Mr. Kissick's judicious supervision being of great value, and the work being well done by the contractors. Of the amount mentioned, needed to be paid before the infant congregation had an unencumbered title to their property, more than one-half was contributed by Mr. Kissick. His object was to have a place of worship convenient for his old age, for himself and others. The other devoted men and women who shared in the service deserve remembrance by those who come after, but none more than Joseph Kissick and Margaret Kissick, his wife.
The Presbytery of the Lakes granted an organization for the congregation, and the appointment was carried into effect on Christmas Day, 1849, thirty-two members being enrolled. Joseph Kissick and James D. Bryson were elected elders. James Gilliland, Thomas Alford and Samuel F. Cooke were elected elders April 17 following. Mr. Gilliland declined to serve. Mr. Cooke soon removed and afterwards Mr. Alford, both to Illinois. These were the elders who served at the first communion.
Early in 1850 the new congregation extended a call to the Rev. Robert A. Browne, who began his formal pastorate April 1, from which time he was released from the charge of Eastbrook entire, one-fourth only of his time being given to Shenango, while New Castle engaged him for one-half, but really received from the first three-fourths of the pastoral service. In April, 1857, the arrangement with Shenango ceased, and all Mr. Browne's time was given to New Castle.
In the eleventh year of his pastorate he obtained a temporary leave of absence from his congregation, during which time he was for twenty-eight months chaplain of the One Hundredth or "Round Head" Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers. From this service he returned, partly disabled by disease, January, 1864. In the sessions of 1866-67 he was a member of the Pennsylvania Senate. Except during his brief visits home, the congregation was at these periods served by supplies, engaged by the pastor and session. In September, 1867, Mr. Browne resigned the charge of the congregation and became president of Westminster College. He was succeeded as pastor by Rev. John W. Bain, who was installed November 16, 1868. Mr. Bain had graduated at Westminster ten years before this, and had been ordained pastor of the United Presbyterian Church at Cannonsburgh, in September, 1861, but at the time of his call to New Castle, and for a year or two previous, had been pastor of the United Presbyterian Church of Sidney, Ohio. He resigned the charge of New Castle April 15, 1873. Shortly after his release from New Castle the congregation made out a new call for Mr. Browne, who was then engaged in pastoral work in Titusville. The call was accepted and on the 1st of November, 1873, Mr. Browne entered anew upon the charge of the New Castle congregation. He subsequently remained in the pastorate until his death in 1902. Rev. James M. Ferguson was ordained and installed June 24, 1902, and will continue as pastor until November 1, 1908.
The present church structure was dedicated June 29, 1902. The church membership numbers 375. The officers of the church are at present as follows: Pastor, Rev. James M. Ferguson; elders, George A. Caruthers, Samuel Hanna, J. Frank Edgar, Frank Geiger, George W. Hartman (clerk), S. C. McCreary, Samuel D. Robinson and M. E. Miller; board of trustees, J. Lee McFate, president; George Loudon, Clyde Lockhart, J. Fred Warrock, John Moore and W. J. Ewing; officers of the Sabbath-school, J. Clyde Gilfillan, superintendent; Miss Hattie Smith, secretary.
Source: Twentieth Century History of New Castle and Lawrence County, 1908, pages 208-210