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