Mifflin County Churches
Religious History of Mifflin County
"A History of the Juniata Valley and Its People," 1913


PRESBYTERIANS

In 1766 Rev. Charles Beatty and Rev. George Duffield were appointed by the synod of New York and Philadelphia to visit the frontier inhabitants, and on Monday, August 18th, they left Carlisle for Sherman's valley. The next day Mr. Beatty preached at Centre, which he describes in his journal as "a place in the woods, designed for building a house for worship." Continuing their journey, Mr. Duffield preached on the 21st "at a place where the people had begun to build a house for worship before the late war, but by accident it was burned." This was at Academia, where the Lower Tuscarora church was built not long after Mr. Beatty's visit.

After preaching "in the woods, two miles on the north side of the Juniata," on Friday, the 29nd, Mr. Beatty and his companion passed the night at James Patterson's, where the town of Mexico is now situated. It was in this neighborhood that the Cedar Spring church was organized, and in March, 1767, James Patterson and John Purdy went to the land office and obtained a tract known as the "glebe lands" for the use of the church.

At Patterson's the missionaries separated, Duffield going to the Path valley and Beatty to "the new settlements up the river Juniata." On the 25th he was at Thomas Holt's, near old Fort Granville. On the 28th he crossed the Juniata "at the mouth of the Aughweek river" and followed up that stream on his way to Fort Littleton.

Among the ministers who served these early churches during the latter part of the eighteenth century were Hugh Magill, William and John Linn, John Hoge, Henderson, Cooper, Caldwell, Speer, McLane and John Coulter, the last named preaching his first sermon at the Lower Tuscarora church on New Year's day, 1800.

In 1774 a sermon was preached at the house of Robert Brotherton, near the present village of Allensville, Mifflin county, but the name of the preacher appears to have been lost. This was the beginning of the West Kishacoquillas church. The next year Rev. Philip V. Fithian, a son-in-law of Rev. Charles Beatty, visited the Kishacoquillas valley as a missionary and preached for the congregation at Allensville. A tent was first used as a place of worship, but a log house was built a few years later and used until 1826, when it was replaced by a brick structure. In i860 a brick building was erected at Belleville at a cost of about $4,000 and the congregation removed to that place. The old church at Allensville was sold soon after this change was made. Rev. James Johnston was pastor from 1784 to 1796, when he was succeeded by Rev. William Kennedy, who remained until 1822. The East Kishacoquillas Presbyterian church was organized at an early date, not exactly known, and was located at Kellyville. Mr. Johnston was also pastor of this church for several years.

In 1785 Rev. Matthew Stephens settled in Bratton township, Mifflin county, and was the first resident minister in charge of a congregation. He preached at Waynesburg (now McVeytown), Lewistown and other places in the county until about 1796.

Rev. James Johnston held services in the Hartslog valley, in Huntingdon county, soon after he became associated with the church in the Kishacoquillas valley, and about 1786 a log church was built. It was without any means of heating until 1795, but the people would wrap themselves up and attend services even on the coldest days, while the minister would deliver his discourse with his overcoat on in order to keep warm.

A Presbyterian church was organized at Lewistown in 1790, though services had been held there for several years prior to that date by Rev. Matthew Stephens, who was succeeded by Rev. James Simpson. About 1820 a lot was purchased on the corner of Third and Brown streets and a stone house was erected there. It was taken down in 1855 and a brick church was built in its stead. The third building on this lot was completed in 1910 at a cost of about $45,000. The church fronts on Brown street and fronting on Third street is a beautiful little building used as a Sunday school chapel.

The McVeytown church was regularly organized in 1814, when John McVey conveyed to the trustees of the congregation a half an acre of land for the use of the church. A small stone building was erected the next year. Services had been held at this place by Rev. Matthew Stephens, James Simpson and others before that time. In 1833 the old church building was torn down and a more commodious one erected.

On the line between Union and Brown townships, Mifflin county, the United Presbyterians and the East Kishacoquillas congregation erected what was known as the "Centre Church" in 1830. The former denomination finally gave up their organization and the East Kishacoquillas church came into control.

In Milroy the Presbyterians departed from the usual custom by first building a house for worship and then organizing a congregation. A neat frame structure was put up in 1833 and on August 13, 1834, the congregation, consisting of 105 members, was regularly organized by a committee from the Huntingdon Presbytery. Rev. James Nourse was the first pastor. In 185S this congregation erected a brick building for a mission at Siglerville. From May, 1858, to September, 1883, the pastor of the Milroy church was Rev. J. W. White. Toward the latter part of his administration he changed his views regarding certain doctrines of the Presbyterian creed and he withdrew from the church. His former congregation, with many others, united in a request for him to remain and preach the gospel as he interpreted it. Accord- ingly the Milroy church became known as the "Free Church of Milroy and Siglerville," Mr. White remaining as the pastor and increasing the membership from 160 to nearly 400. Rev. J. C. Wilhelm, who withdrew from the Huntingdon Presbytery at the same time, assisted Mr. White in this work. Mr. White died at the Presbyterian Hospital in Philadelphia, April 11, 1901. He continued as pastor up to a few months before his death, and the church is now known as the "White Memorial."

A Presbyterian congregation was organized at Newton Hamilton in the spring of 1838 by Revs. John Peebles and J. W. woods, acting under authority of the Huntingdon Presbytery, and Rev. Benjamin Carroll was installed as pastor. A small frame church was erected that year and used until 1838, when it was replaced by a larger house of brick.

One of the newest Presbyterian churches in the valley is that of Burnham, which was organized about the beginning of the present century. A neat and substantial house of worship, costing about $9,000, was dedicated in January, 1903.

CATHOLIC CHURCH

As Lewistown was a central point, Right Rev. Henry Conwell, Bishop of Philadelphia, deemed it advisable to establish there a permanent church. Accordingly, on April 14, 1828, he purchased the lot at the northwest corner of Dorcas and Third streets, on which a chapel and parsonage were soon afterward erected. The little church was under the charge of the Pittsburgh diocese until 1858, when the Harrisburg diocese was formed and Lewistown came within the new district. Up to that time the church had been supplied from Huntingdon and Bellefonte. but after the establishment of the Harrisburg diocese steps were taken to improve the conditions at Lewistown. The chapel was supplanted by the present brick building in 1870 and two years later Father T. J. Fleming was placed in charge as resident priest. In 1913 the membership of the church was about three hundred, with Rev. John Melchor in charge. Some years ago a mission was established at Burnham and a chapel there was dedicated in the spring of 1908.

In 1855 Father Hayden, of Stonerstown, Bedford county, visited the few Catholic families living in the vicinity of the present borough of Dudley and held services. A year or so later a small frame chapel was erected, whicli in time was replaced by a larger and more pretentious edifice. The church was destroyed by fire in 1871, but a new one was soon afterward erected at a cost of about $8,000.


THE METHODISTS

The first Methodist society in Lewistown was organized in 1815. Charles Hardy, who located there as early as 1791, was a Methodist and through his influence ministers of that faith visited the new town and the first services were held in the old log jail. Before the close of the year 1815 a small brick church was built on Third street, between Brown and Dorcas. In 1830 a larger building was erected on the corner of Third and Dorcas, to which galleries were added in 1844 to accommodate the growing congregation. Further additions were made in 1867, but in time the building became too small and the present imposing edifice was erected in 1910 at a cost of about $55,000. The church was part of the Aughwick circuit until 1833, when it was made a separate station.

In 1822 the few Methodists living along Laurel run began holding meetings in the school house. Their number increased, and in 1825 a small church was built in Milroy. A larger and more commodious house was erected in 1846. The first pastor of the Laurel Run or Milroy church was Rev. Thomas McGee. About a year after the first services were held for this congregation a small society was formed at Yeagertown. The present church there was dedicated in 1903.

The Methodist church of Newton Hamilton was organized in the spring of 1825 and a small frame house was built on the farm of Joshua Morrison. The construction of the canal four years later forced the removal of this building a short distance, where it was used by the congregation until 1840, when a new house was built in the village. The present brick building was erected in 1884.

The McVeytown Methodist church was organized in 1832 and the following year a lot on Queen street was purchased and a brick house of worship erected thereon. In 1874 the building was enlarged and remodeled and is still used by the congregation. The same year that this society was organized the Dry Valley Methodist church, at Kelly- ville, was also established. A building was partially erected in 1835 and furnished with plain board seats. In this condition it was used for a number of years before it was plastered or provided with better furniture. In 1868 the present brick house was erected.

On November 24, 1851, James Bailey donated a piece of ground at the junction of the Greenwood Furnace and Back roads, in Brown township, Mifflin county, for a Methodist church. The next year a neat frame house was put up and the first services were held in the "Mountain Chapel," as the new church was called, by Rev. William R. Mills, of the Milroy circuit. Other churches organized or dedicated in this year were those at Allenville and Lilleyville, the latter on the farm of Rev. S. P. Lilley, a local preacher.

Kemmerling chapel was built at Wagner in 1861 and was named for John Kemmerling, who was the prime mover in the organization of the congregation and the erection of the church. Rev. Samuel C. Smith was the first pastor.

Meetings were held by a few Methodists living in the vicinity of Reedsville as early as 1827, but no church was built there until 1875, when a frame house was erected at a cost of about $1,000 and the pulpit was supplied by Rev. Luther F. Smith, of the Milroy circuit. The present church edifice was built in 1907.

In 1903 a Methodist church was dedicated at Yeagertown and two years later the Highland Park church was organized. The latter held services in the hose house for some time, but later a building was erected through the generosity of Mrs. Elizabeth L. Rhodes, and the church is known as the "Rhodes Memorial Church."

The Bethel African Methodist church of Lewistown was organized in 1816 by Rev. Richard Allen and Bishop White, of the Protestant Episcopal church, and the former acted as pastor until 1831. In 1872 a lot was purchased on West Juniata street and a church erected at a cost of $1,800. Additions costing about $700 were made a few years later. The Wesley African Methodist Episcopal church was organized in 1872 and meets on West Third Street.


THE LUTHERANS

In 1796 a minister named Fisher held services in the old log jail at Lewistown, though several years passed before a regular organization was effected. On January 3, 1814, the Lutheran and Reformed congregations bought a lot on West Third street and on July 29, 1824, the corner-stone of Zion's church was laid with appropriate ceremonies. On July 9, 1827, the two congregations were incorporated under the name of the Evangelical Lutheran and Reformed United Church of Zion. The Lutheran membership steadily increased and the minutes of the church show that on October 20, 1849, a resolution to build a new church was adopted. A lot at the corner of Third and Main streets was purchased on May 27, 1850, and the congregation was incorporated under the name of St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church of Lewistown, the act vesting in the Lutheran church the right to the old property purchased by the two congregations twenty-five years before. The old church was sold for $400 and a new one built for $1,750. It was burned to the ground on the night of January 28, 1852, and another building was soon after erected in its place at a cost of $3,300, such portions of the old walls as were safe being used. This building was used until 1900, when the present church was erected. Prior to the building of the present house, a Sunday school chapel was built, the corner-stone of which was laid on October 7, 1892, and an extension was built to this chapel in 1911-12. The corner-stone of the extension is the same one that was in the old church that was built in 1824. The value of the property is estimated at $50,000.

Emmanuel's Lutheran church at Thompsontown was built in 1843 and the society here was in the charge with McAlisterville.

A Lutheran church with a seating capacity of about 400 was built at Yeagertown in 1851, with Rev. Charles Klink as pastor, but the organization was not fully perfected until 1854.

In 1857 the Lutherans living at Milroy and in the immediate vicinity bought the old Methodist church and fitted it up as a place of worship. It was used until August 25, 1872, when the present church was dedicated. Mount Zion church, at Landisburg, was built in 1857, or was commenced in that year. It was not dedicated until May 30, 1858, when Rev. Philip Willard was installed as pastor. The building cost about $2,400.

The Lutheran church at Marysville was organized in 1870, with twenty-five members, and the church at Reedsville was organized in 1890. There is also a Lutheran church at Burnham.


REFORMED CHURCH.

The first house of worship in Lewistown was erected by the Associate Reformed church, but the history of the congregation seems to have been lost. The building stood on the south side of Third street, between Brown and Dorcas streets. About 1847 it was sold to the Baptists, who returned it to the original owners after a few years, when it was sold to James Burns, who converted it into dwellings.

Trinity Reformed church, at Lewistown, was organized in 1901, and a handsome house of worship has been built on Oak street, between Valley and Logan streets.


BAPTISTS

The First Baptist Church of Lewistown was organized on September 21, 1840, with eleven members. Rev. Alexander Gamble was the first pastor, but he remained only a short time, when he was succeeded by Rev. David Williams, who gave the new church one-fourth of his time. The church was incorporated on January 1, 1849. Some time before that the property of the Associate Reformed congregation, Third street, had been purchased, but the society was not able to pay for it and it was returned to the original owners. It was rented by the Baptists until the spring of 1854, after which services were held in the Lutheran church. During the Civil war the society almost lost its organization, but in 1871 Rev. W. Z. Coulter became pastor and the church was revived. Ten years later a lot was purchased on the north side of Third street, between Brown and Dorcas, and the present church edifice was dedicated, free of debt, on December 16, 1883. The building was rebuilt and enlarged in 1902.

A Baptist society was organized at Lockport, or Three Locks, in 1840, and was served by the preacher from Lewistown. Meetings were held in the Methodist church and John Ickes' store until 1847, when a lot was bought from Robert Hope and a church edifice was erected.


GERMAN BAPTISTS, OR BRETHREN

This denomination, also called Dunkers or Dunkards, marks its beginning in the Juniata valley with the organization of the Aughwick Church of the Brethren, which was organized in 1802, with six members Christian Long. Daniel and Peter Secrist and their wives.

A congregation of German Baptists was organized in Lewistown in 1897, and a year or two later a neat church edifice was erected on Shaw avenue, between Spruce and Pine streets.


MENNONITES

This peculiar sect was founded in the year 1536 by Menno Simonis, who had formerly been a Catholic priest. For many years the new denomination was persecuted by practically every nation of Europe, and when William Penn became the proprietor of Pennsylvania he offered them an asylum. The first Mennonites came to America in 1683 and settled at Germantown, from which point they gradually moved westward. Some years later a branch called the Reformed Mennonite Society left the original organization, claiming that it had departed from the teachings of the founder, and in the seventeenth century another branch was formed, calling themselves the Amish, after Jacob Amen, the founder, a Mennonite preacher in Switzerland. Early in the nineteenth century a number of Amish settled in the Kishacochillas valley. They do not build many churches, their principal meeting-houses being the Locust Grove church and the one at Mattawana.


PROTESTANT EPISCOPAL CHURCH

This denomination has never been very strong in the Juniata valley, and from the meager data at hand regarding its early history it is difficult to determine where the first congregation was organized. In 1820 Rev. Charles Snowden preached in the old court-house at Lewistown, and about the same time the initiative steps were taken toward the organization of a church in Huntingdon. In the spring of 1823 Rev. Norman Nash was sent out from Philadelphia to organize the parish at Lewistown, which was done, and the same year application was made to the legislature for a charter of incorporation, which was granted on January 2, 1824. Soon after the incorporation a lot was secured on South Main street and a chapel erected. The parsonage adjoining the church was the gift of Elias W. Hale's daughters. This church is known as St. Mark's and the property is now valued at $10,000.

About 1824 the few Episcopalians living in the vicinity of Thompsontown invited a minister named Baker to hold meetings there. His work bore fruit in the organization of a congregation and in 1828 the stone church edifice at Thompsontown was erected. Rev. Charles Snowden was one of the early pastors of this church. After several years of struggle the church was discontinued, and in 1840 the building became the property of the United Presbyterians.

Trinity Episcopal church, at the old village of Locke's Mills. Mifflin county, was dedicated on October 28, 1848. Three years before that time services began in the Beatty school house. The church continued until about 1863. when it was abandoned as a place of worship and the members transferred their affiliations to St. Mark's at Lewistown.


EVANGELICAL CHURCH

In Lewistown a society of this faith was organized in 1876 by Rev. Samuel Seibert, though meetings had been regularly held for about two years before that time. In 1882 a brick chapel was built on Logan street, opposite the Presbyterian cemetery, at a cost of $2,000. Some years later it was removed to make way for the present Grace United Evangelical church, which was erected at a cost of about $20,000.

Evangelical churches were built in the New Lancaster valley, in Mifflin county, in 1872, and at Patterson (now Mifflin), Juniata county, in 1874, though little can be learned concerning them.


HEBREW CONGREGATION

The first Jewish congregation in the Juniata valley was organized at Lewistown and received a charter in January, 1913. Meetings are held regularly on the top floor of the Woomer building, at the southwest corner of the Diamond. On June 15, 1913, an association was formed for the purpose of building a synagogue. Of this association Henry Schurman was chosen chairman and Charles Gershman secretary.





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