Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
History Quarterly Digital Archives

Source: October 1967 Volume 14 Number 4, Pages 87–91

Early memories and a recent (1930-1967) historical sketch
of the Great Valley Presbyterian Church

Mrs. William L. Nassau, Jr.

Page 87

When the Tredyffrin-Easttown History Club suggested that the history of the Great Valley Presbyterian Church be updated from 1930 to 1965, I volunteered to inquire at the Church for a member who would do this. Not being successful, but with much help from the church historian, Mrs. Albert Pentecost, I will attempt it. And I must admit that I'm very happy to do so, for, although not a member, I attended Sunday School and Church services there during my early years. Later, I married a man from Germantown, with even deeper roots in the Church than I. We each had early ancestors, David Wilson and David Cloyd, who in 1788 were Corporators. Mr. Nassau's great-great- grandfather, the Reverend William Latta, was the minister from 1799 to 1847, his only pastorate. He also conducted services at old Norriton (Montgomery County) and at Charlestown, his horse "Orthodox" providing his means of transportation. He married David Cloyd's daughter Mary; they lived in the old Cloyd Homestead. Mr. Nassau's grandmother, Mary Cloyd Latta (Mrs. Robert Hamill Nassau), was a missionary in equatorial Africa. My father, Mr. C. C. Wilson, a great-grandson of David Wilson, was an Elder, Trustee, and Secretary- Treasurer of the graveyard for many years, carrying on the Wilson family tradition. Five or six generations of these two families are buried in the adjoining graveyard.

The first minister that I recall was Reverend Robert M. Patterson, D.D., an elderly retired minister, who had returned as a supply. He spent many week-ends with us and I, no doubt, felt that he was my special friend.

A most vivid early memory of Sunday School was as a member of the Infant Class (4 to 8 year olds). For the opening and closing service we sat in a circle in the large room, the Chapel, but marched into our own tiny classroom for instruction. Mrs. Henry R. Wilson, a cousin, was our teacher. Equipment consisted of small chairs, a blackboard, and a small foot-pedal organ, which we all adored. One Sunday, as my brother, Jack, was passing the small round collection basket, he dropped it. Pennies rolled everywhere - a most appropriate time, since during collection we always stood around the organ singing "Hear the Pennies Dropping!"

When I had learned to read I was promoted to "the big room" for classes. We were an enthusiastic group whose specialty was memorization.

Page 88

About this same age, we were permitted to help with the Annual Lawn Fete, especially at the Candy Table or the "Grabbag" Booth. One whole day was devoted to making candy, followed by a day of weighing and boxing it. Two memorable themes for the "Grab-bag" Booth were "Mrs. Wiggs and the Cabbage Patch" and "The Goose Pond". For the former, wrapped articles were concealed under large green crepe-paper cabbages arranged in rows surrounded by a post-and-rail fence. Over this patch Mrs. Wiggs presided wearing gingham apron and sunbonnet. "The Goose Pond" was hidden by tall rushes and cat-tails, through which emerged two goose-heads, swaying their long white flannel necks,"honking" noisily, and opening their beaks for the nickels or dimes and then retrieving the correct packages from the pond.

These suppers and fairs, although socially and financially successful, required months of preparation. Hundreds of guests attended, I remember one year 28 people (including our own family) spent Saturday night at our home, and (after breakfast) all attended eleven o'clock service at the church.

The church has always been active in missionary work. As early as 1820, the ladies of the church established a missionary society under the leadership of two of the Reverend William Latta's daughters. This work still continues with all-day monthly meetings. As an elementary school pupil, I frequently joined my Mother and Grandmother at the afternoon meeting, on my way home from the one-room public school which was located on Swedesford Road, opposite the church. However, I had been introduced to mission work in the primary department, for we had a "Sunbeam Mission Band", which met once a month.

During these school years, the Reverend E. Ray Simons was the minister (1907-1910), and his lovely wife was my Sunday School teacher.

The Rev. Richard L. Williams succeeded Mr. Simons (1911 - 1917). These were busy high school and college days for me, and my church activities were centered at the Washington Memorial Chapel at Valley Forge. It was during the early years of Mr. William's pastorate the Trustees purchased an automobile for the minister. This car was a Metz, the material for which arrived at the freight station in huge crates. These had to be hauled to a convenient location, where the young mechanics of the congregation finally assembled the automobile, and, it ran. We, too, had a car - a 1908 Maxwell. Each Sunday morning, Father would make a 5 or 10 mile circuit to bring about half a dozen elderly ladies to the service.

Page 89

The Rev. Arthur Willis Spooner was pastor for the 13 years, 1917 to 1930. We were married in 1920, and after 2 years in New England returned to Paoli. Mr. Nassau joined the church, became a Trustee, and Elder, soloist, choir leader, among other positions. We attended service regularly. The children were baptized and became enthusiastic Sunday School members, receiving the fundamentals which they in turn, gave to their pupils as adults. It was during Dr. Spooner's pastorate and due to his zeal that the church acquired electricity, an organ, and then the bell.

During the early 1930's we lived beyond Downingtown, but returned to the Great Valley in 1934. Our three children became members of the church under the leadership of the Rev. Henry L. Woll and were active in its life. Mr. Woll performed the marriage ceremony for each of our daughters. Many of our grandchildren have been baptized there, and four attended Sunday School regularly.

Since a former Tredyffrin-Easttown History Club member, Ruth Moore Styer, has written a very comprehensive history of the Church from its beginning through Dr. Spooner's pastorate, 1917 - 1930, published in the November, 1953, Quarterly, I'll try to tell of the church's activities beginning with the pastorate of the Rev. Henry L. Woll (6/19/1931 - 5/13/1945), a period of 14 years. Mr. Woll, as a recent graduate of the Evangelical College in Dallas, Texas, brought new life and enthusiasm to this quiet, rather self-satisfied, country church. The community also was changing at this time, with business and industry attracting many young families to the area, in which agriculture had formerly predominated. Mr. Woll a fundamentalist, felt that the congregation spent too much valuable time on lawn fetes, church suppers, Homecoming Day, and so forth so these were discontinued. Church support was financed by the Every Member Canvas. Even pew rents, which had been collected annually since 1929, were considered unnecessary and probably undemocratic, too. Many evangelistic services were held, and during Mr. Woll's pastorate four young church members went into the mission field and still remain there. The Sunday School expanded rapidly and soon the Sunday School building, always known as the Chapel, could no longer accommodate the membership. The passageway between the church and Chapel was enclosed and primary and kindergarten rooms were thus made. The space beneath it was excavated and finished as a service area. This was dedicated in 1931. It is now used as a library, which opened in 1858 and presently contains more than 1,000 volumes.

No historical sketch of the church during these years would be complete without the mention of Mr. James Gordon, sexton and caretaker for almost 50 years, (1905 - 1952). "Jim" as he was fondly known, took care of everything in the Church.

Page 90

This included maintenance, cleaning, "stoking-up" the coal heaters for all services and meetings, lighting the oil lamps, filling the water coolers with water carried from the neighboring spring (water was not pumped to the Chapel until 1930), ringing the bell, as well as mowing the grass and shoveling snow from the paths and drives. "Jim" also maintained the graveyard, hand-mowing around all the gravestones, walking a mile each way to borrow and return our horse "Belle" for the large mower, digging all graves, being available at funeral hours, resetting fallen and broken gravestones, and other related activities. It was "Jim" who always knew the location of each lot and the number and location of the graves therein, Nothing ever seemed too much trouble and he was ready with the answers to "Where is?" and "Will you?" I doubt that any congregation ever had so faithful a caretaker and friend!

In 1945, the Reverend Carl E. Anderson became pastor and remained for ten years,(December 22, 1945 to August, 1953). He also was energetic and enthusiastic as he continued the work and interests of the members. During 1950, the men of the congregation completely redecorated the interior of the church and replaced the well-worn carpet with cork tile flooring. In spite of holding many of the Sunday School classes in the church, there was still need for more room. In 1952, work was begun to enlarge the Chapel by excavating beneath it. This work was accomplished by a group of men from the church, who worked Monday evenings for five years; the ladies furnishing coffee and sandwiches. When completed, this nearly doubled the Sunday School floor area. The rooms were furnished with asphalt floor tile, acoustic ceiling tile, mahogany wainscoting walls and accordion type partitions - all for a cost of less than ten thousand dollars. Both Mr. Anderson and his successor; the Rev. R. Warren Hesson (April 25, 1956 to October 18, 1961), assisted the men with this work which was completed in 1957 . The Junior Department of the Sunday School meets in these rooms.

On November 8, 1959, ground was broken for a large Christian Education Building on the site of the original carriage sheds, which had been built in 1832 but were destroyed by fire in May, 1947. The new building is of blue limestone to correspond with that of the existing church, and, even though modern in design, its architecture is in keeping with its traditional setting. This building provides modern facilities for teaching Pre- School and Primary children, including Cradle Roll, Nursery, Beginners, and Primary Departments - a modern version of the "Infant Room" of my era, which cared for toddlers as well as 1st and 2nd grade elementary-school pupils. The new building was dedicated in April, 1960. In October, 1961, Mr. Hesson died very suddenly.

Page 91

In October, 1962, The Rev. Donald S. Stewart was installed as pastor. Annual Missionary Conferences were established under his brief pastorate which he resigned in May of 1964, to accept a church near Washington, D.C.

The present minister, the Rev. Leon F. Wardell, was installed on January 3, 1965. He has revived the Annual Homecoming Day and, with the enthusiastic assistance of Mrs. Albert Pentecost, has stirred up much interest in the historical background of the church and the adjoining graveyard. In addition to active church duties, he has a weekly radio broadcast Sunday afternoons over Chester County station WBYO. The church has currently established an Annual Evangelistic Week. To provide for the constantly growing congregation, plans have been made to enlarge the church by extending the north wall. Already by approval of court order, many very early graves have been relocated to make room for this expansion. This work was begun on May 1, 1966. The church now has a Sunday School enrollment of five hundred and sixty. Several additional young members have gone into the mission field, both home and foreign. The church furnishes partial support for about thirty missionaries, many of whom have lived in this area.

The church historian, Mrs. Pentecost, has recently compiled four albums containing detailed history records and photographs of the church and its pastors, also, some history of the adjoining graveyard. These books contain very interesting and valuable references and are arranged in chronological order. She has presented them to the church. They may be consulted for specific information, which I have not attempted to include in this sketch, since I've also included my personal association with the church through nine pastors from Dr. Patterson to Mr. Wardell.

Today, if one but glances at the weekly and monthly church bulletins, he will see that each day is a busy one and will be assured that after more than 255 years of continuous service, the church still remains a most vital and vigorous part of life in the ever-growing Great Valley.



History of the United Congregations of Great Valley, Charlestown, and West Chester - Reverend William Latta 1830

History of the Presbyterian Church of the Great Chester Valley Reverend Robert M. Patterson, D.D. 1869

Directory and Condensed History of the Great Valley Presbyterian Church Reverend Arthur W. Spooner, June 1922

The Great Valley Presbyterian Church, Ruth Moore Styer


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