This is copied from an undated newspaper clipping.Henry Weidley mentioned at the end of the article died in 1871.
Presbyterian Church had you been standing on the shore at New Castle in the year 1704, you would have seen a ship coming up the Delaware Bay, with two families from the North of Ireland who were to take a prominent part in the history of the Chestnut Level Church. They came from the North of Ireland in 1704. Their names were James Clark and Scott. They had two children John was a boy born 1701, and Scott was a girl born 1702. In 1711 Rev. Thome came from Long Island NY to what is Centerville and organized a Presbyterian Church. John Clark took his son to church with him. He handed the practice down from generation to the fifth generation of the Clark family. The Clark family consists of eight generations
John Clark was born in 1701, North of Ireland. He came with his father to Drumore Lancaster county Pa. In 1704 his father was 33 years old, and John three years old, when they settled on the land now owned by A.S. Clark. When John was a boy of about ten or twelve years old he attended meeting at the house of Mr. Thompson; said house stood near the graveyard now known as Morrison graveyard, being the graveyard of the church, and the first graveyard in this section. Everything points to the building at the church in 1711.
Then the second church was built at what was known as five points, near where Samuel Rogers’ House now stands, and also the old Presbyterian graveyard fifteen years ago there was an old gravestone stood inside the gate on the left, made of slate, inscribed 1726. The oldest stone now standing is Elizabeth Shaw wife of McPherson who departed this life Dec. 17, 1726. From the facts gathered there is no doubt that the second log church was built at the five points in the year 1717.
The third church was built of stone in what is now known as Chestnut Level. The building was commenced in the year 1765 and finished in 1769. The fact that it was built in 1765 is proven without a doubt. The land was sold for the church property only. It was recorded in 1765. David Bigham was born in 1762, David’s father boarded the hands that built the church. David was a boy of between five and six years old. He was sent to call the hands to dinner . Boy like he climbed to the top of the lad r to the surprise of the workmen. His mother repeated the story to David time and time again and so it has been handed down to the present time. The old Rietchey House was built the same year the church was finished. with a stone in the chimney dated 1769, which has been seen by Mr. John Rietchey. When a small boy. Mr. Rietchey’s father and Mr. Hugh McCollough, father of Sanders McCollough, were the first children to be baptized in the church after it was finished. They were born 1770 and 1771. The land was given by the Rietchey’s who held a title given by the Penn Heirs.
- Written by Henry H. Weidley, sexton for 26 years at Chestnut Level and the father of William Weidley , of Bart Township, the latter dying last week ---- Sept 22nd
We have authentic information, however, that the first place of Presbyterian worship in this township was about a mile south of Chestnut Level, prior to 1730. The second meeting-house stood at the foot of the hill, near the old graveyard. The present substantial stone church has been standing a century and a quarter, and is a grand monument of the skill, energy, and Christian liberality of its builders, During the pastorate of Rev. John Patton some internal repairs were made, and in the early pastorate of Rev. Lindley C. Rutter the pews and pulpit were placed In their present positions. in Under the pastoral care of Rev. John 31. Galbreath, in 1833, extensive repairs and improvements were completed, the roof was reslated, the walls frescoed,a tower built over the entrance.way, a new pulpit furnished, and stained-glass windows, including a memorial window to the Rev. Lindley C. flutter, took the place of the old ones. The cost of repairs was three thousand dollars. A. Scott Clarke and James G. McSparran, of the building committee, made a full report on the completion of the work, and the church was rededicated to the service of God free of debt. It is a pleasant, venerable structure. The tooth of time has made but Blight impressions on its strong walls. Present appearances indicate that the present congregation and their descendants may worship for another century in their old church, around which cluster so many tender memories. Among the oldest elders of the church were Robert King, Robert Clarke, Hugh Martin, William Calhoun, David Scott, James Penny, Joseph Penny, John Long, and Edward Crawford. The present elders are Thomas A. Clarke, A. Scott Clark, James A. McPherson, Sanders McCullough, W. W. Watson, William T. Clarke, Samuel Boyd , William S. Hastings, and William R. Boyd. The pastoral roll, commencing back far as 1730 is headed with Rev. John Thompson until 1744; Samson Smith until 1771; James Latta, from 1771 to 1801; Charles Cummings, from 1804 to 1808; Francis Latta, son of James Latta, from 1810 to 1820; John Patton, from 1832 to 1834; Lindley C. Rutter, from 1835 to 1875; John M.. Galbreath, Oct. 12, 1876, the present pastor.
John Thompson came from Ireland a probationer in 1715. In 1730 he came to Chestnut Level from Middle Octorara. July 31, 1744, he was released from his pastoral relationship and went as a missionary to Western Virginia and North Carolina, after which an effort was made to bring him back to chestnut Level. He was very prominent in the discussions of his day, was the author of several religious works, and ranked with Dickson, Blair and Tennent and died in 1753. The pastorate of Rev. James Latta, from 1771, covers a space of thirty years. He was a noted scholar and a pioneer in thought; avocated the introduction of Watts ' psalmody in the church service, and published a work of one hundred and eight pages in their defense which reached four editions. In 1785 he defended the church-incorporation acts. Many of the congregation were displeased at the church innovations he presented to their consideration. Time has shown, however, the wisdom of his views. Many hearts have been made glad since then with the time sentiments of Watts' psalmody made vocal within the old church walls. The University of Pennsylvania conferred the title of D.D. on the Rev. James Latta for rare scholarship. The Rev. Lindley C.. Rutter came to Chestnut Level in 1835, and his stewardship extends over a period of forty years. He lived to see those he first baptized grow to man's estate, and also baptized their children. The elders present at. his installation slept in the churchyard before he went to his rest beside them. He svas always willing and able to maintain his principles, popular or unpopular. When but one vote was cast for the anti-slavery cause that vote was that of Rev. L. C. flutter. He was a warm advocate of temperance, and never during his long pastorate did he lose the respect and love of his people, however great might be the differences of their opinions.
Traditional history claims that the first Chestnut Level Church was organized in 1711 and located at Hensel near what is known as the Morrison Cemetery. The name "Chestnut Level" was received from its location on a flat chestnut-covered table-land.
The second meeting house was built in 1729 by the old cemetery at the foot of the hill just south of the village of Chestnut Level. This was a log structure. The third house of worship is the one in which we worship today. William R. Ritchie and his wife Jane, in the year 1765, for the sum of ten pounds, turned over the land to the church. This transaction is recorded in Record Book "0," page 94, in the Lancaster County Court House. In the deed Mr. Ritchie stipulates that a gallery should be provided in the Church for the accommodation of his slaves. Two traditions come down to us regarding this building. One claims that this house of worship was started in 1765 and completed in 1767. The other states that it was begun during the Revolutionary War, 118 stood unroofed for a time, and completed after the men returned from the War.
As originally constructed, there was an arched ceiling; the pulpit was on the west side; and the door in the east wall. Later this entrance was changed into a window, which explains the five windows on one side and the four on the other. The pulpit was placed in the north end and two doors in the south end. And later still, the pulpit was placed where it is today in the south end. In 1882 the tower was added.
The present sanctuary was renovated in 1941. This included redecoration, new light fixtures, alterations in the" choir 10ft, and installa-tion of a new organ. During 1959 and 1960, the sanctuary was again redecorated, a new organ installed, a parking area provided, and a new stone manse built.
Colonial Presbyterians were convinced that understanding, intelligence, and teaching were important facets of the Christian life. They demanded an educated ministry. Thus, when there was a church, t here was bound to be a school house, too. This was particularly true at Chestnut Level. Many of our ministers did double duty, serving both as preacher and teacher. It was John Thompson, first pastor at Chestnut Level, who proposed to Donegal Presbytery the erection of a seminary of learning. This was taken up by the Synod of Pennsylvania, and it is interesting to note that beginning in 1755 this semi-nary was located at Chestnut Level, and was in charge of Sampson Smith, pastor of this church. Thus, for a time Chestnut Level was the center of learning for the Presbyterian Church of Colonial Pennsylvania, but later Synod withdrew its support and made the college of New Jersey, now Princeton University, the authorized school. It is interesting to speculate on what might have happened if Synod had continued to support the school here. Today Chestnut Level, rather _ than Princeton, might be the center of a great University!
Then there was the famous Latin School founded by James Latta, pastor at Chestnut Level from 1771 to 1801. A relatively large institution of learning, it gave an impulse to higher education that has lasted ever since. It sent scores of young men into the learned professions , and other fields of great achievement, It is said that when news was heard at the school that the British had been defeated at Concord, many of the scholars ran away to enlist in the Revolutionary Army , A number of them became distinguished officers. After the, War, Dr. Latta's school regained its prosperity and was continued by his son Francis, also II distinguished pastor of this church,
Best known, however, to all of us, and attended by some still living, was the Chestnut Level Academy which was established in the year 1852, largely through the efforts of Lindley Rutter, forty years pastor of this church. Although located in a Presbyterian community and founded and supervised by Presbyterians, it was not sectarian in nature. It was attended by students of many denominations from a wide area. The training received at the Academy was thorough, and its influence across the years cannot be measured. Sampson Smith's Seminary, James Latta's Latin School, the Chestnut Level Academy are no more. Their place has been filled by other institutions of learning, but what they stood for remains with us; their influence lingers. The former dormitory of the Academy is now the center of education activity in the church. It was the center, likewise, of the Westminster Bible Conference, where young people of the Presbytery, summer after summer, met to study the Scriptures and learn to live together as Christians. The Westminster Bible Conference had its beginning in 1900 as "a Presbytery Ministerial Conference for Bible Study and the deepening of the spiritual life." The first Conference was held at the Chestnut Level Church on May 29, 30, and 31. The highlight of the Confer- ence was an address by the Rev. Robert E. Speer. It was decided to make this Conference an annual affair. In the first year, only ministers were invited to attend. In the fu- ture, it was thought that elders and young people from the churches should be encouraged to attend. The record would seem to show that from its inception, this Bible Conference was designed to attract and train the youth of the Church. Subsequent speakers at the Conference included such men as the Rev. William J. Erdman, D.D.; Dr. R. A. Torrey; Dr. J. Ross Stevenson, Moderator of the 127th General As- sembly and President of Princeton Theological Seminary; Dr. Lewis Seymour Mudge, Moderator of the 143rd General Assembly and Stated Clerk in 1921; Dr. Charles R Erdman; Dr. Clarence Edward Macartney, Moderator of the 136th General Assembly; Dr. Samuel M. Zwemer, missionary to the Moslem world; along with numerous others. Decisions for the ministry and the mission fields were made here. Many of the men now in the ministry are products of this Bible Conference. It continued to operate until 1953, a period of fifty-three years. Some of the early ministers of the Chestnut Level Church were John Thompson, David Thom, Sampson Smith, James Latta, Francis Latta, Lindley Rutter, John Galbreath. These men were preachers of power, missionaries, writers, and educators. We can focus our atten- tion on only one of them: James Latta, perhaps the most famous and distinguished minister ever to serve this church. Pastor here for thirty years, he was a soldier of the Revolution, chaplain in the Continental Army, teacher of the young, comissioner to the First General As-sembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. and Moderator of that body in 1793. His tombstone is in the old cemetery at the foot of the hill south of Chestnut Level village. The first regular pastor began his labors here in 1732. Since that time, only seventeen pastors have served this church. The present pastor, Rev. Richard E. Dunham, Jr. began serving the Chestnut Level Church in January of 1954.
Date of Organization 1711
Name Chestnut Level Presbyterian Church
(National Affiliation-The United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America)
Membership: Church- 500
Sunday School- 335
Hours of Services _ Morning Worship _ 11: 00 a.m.
Sunday School - 9: 45 a.m.
Youth Fellowship - 7: 30 p.m. address of the church is RD. 1, Quarryville, Pa.
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