Church History 1835–2010

compiled by Karl Rohrer for the 175th anniversary of the First Presbyterian Church of Girard — May 2010

Johnston Eaton received his theological training under Dr. John McMillan of Canonsburg, Pennsylvania who was the nestor of Presbyterian Theology and Seminary training West of the Alleghenies. Mr. Eaton was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Ohio August 22, 1805 and soon after came to the Erie lakeshore area.

In 1806 he came to this very region and preached his first sermon in a small log cabin at the mouth of Walnut Creek owned by Captain Swan and said to be the first house built in Erie county.

Literally this was a wilderness at that time. There were probably only two or three churches in all of Erie county and not a minister of any denomination. Robert Patterson was the first settled minister in Erie county. Johnston Eaton was ordained by the Presbytery of Erie June 30, 1808. That service was held in William Sturgeon’s barn at Fairview at which time he was installed as pastor over the churches he had formed out of pioneer settlers at Springfield and Fairview. He remained pastor at Fairview for more than forty years.

In September of 1806 Johnston Eaton married Elizabeth Cannon from Fayette county whom he had met while they were both in school at Canonsburg. As the Eatons were about their pastoral duties they often visited the home of James Blair who lived on the bank of Elk Creek. Another who welcomed pastoral visits was Deacon Porter who also had a farm along Elk Creek not far from the Blairs. From these visits grew friendships that lasted many years.

It was during these pastoral visitations that Mr. Eaton came in contact with the pioneer settlers on the banks of Elk Creek which is now West Girard. Many of the members of the churches at Springfield and Fairview lived in this area and at the mouth of Elk Creek.

It was a long journey to attend worship services especially on horseback as there were no roads, only trails and no bridges across streams. The Blairs, Porters and others were compelled to ride or walk to church. They would take as many family to church who could not be left home. It was the custom for the mother to take the youngest child with her. The father would take the next youngest with him. If there were more children one would ride behind the mother and one behind the father. If there were more somebody remained home.

Mr Eaton resigned from the Springfield church November 8, 1814 to give his time to Fairview, Erie and Northeast. From then Springfield was supplied by several pastors who also served the colony at Elk Creek. (our community now known as Girard.) On January 16, 1828 the Reverend Pierce Chamberlain was installed pastor of Springfield and was there only a few months because of ill health.

During this time and for the next few years there was only occasional preaching until in 1830 the Reverend Edson Hart became stated supply of Springfield and Elk Creek. At this time the Elk Creek church was known as the East Branch of the Springfield church. About 1832 Robinson S. Lockwood was appointed supply. Sometime between 1830 and 1832 our first church building was constructed on the crest overlooking Elk Creek on The South side of what is now Ridge Road. The property thereafter became the W. C. Kibler property and residence.

In 1832 a larger church, known as the Old Brick Church, was built on the property we now occupy but behind the Old Brick Church according to an article written by R. S. Battles. The cornerstone from the Old Brick Church was installed inside and above the front doors of our second building.

At a meeting of the Presbytery of Erie held in Mercer, Pennsylvania, October 8, 1834 a petition was presented by seventy-five persons of the East Branch of the Springfield Church, "requesting to be set off from that church and organized and constituted a separate and distinct church in the vicinity of Elk Creek." (On October 12, 1836 the official name of the community of Elk Creek would be changed to Girard.)

May 16, 1835 is the day organized history of this church begins. For some reason the father of the Presbyterian movement in this community the Reverend Johnston Eaton could not be present at the organization and Presbytery April 14, 1835 appointed the Reverend Pierce Chamberlain to organize the congregation.

Messrs James Blair, Robert Porter, and Phillip Bristol were elected elders having been elders in the Springfield church. Mr. John Caughey was elected elder at this time but declined to serve. James Blair was not present because of illness.

Mr. Robinson S. Lockwood, a licentiate of the Presbytery of St. Lawrence was appointed stated supply of the newly organized church. January 11, 1837 he was ordained by the Presbytery of Erie and on the same day installed pastor of the Girard church.

The newly organized church and the newly ordained and installed minister began what should have been a happy ministry. Unfortunately there began to be a fiercely waged theological controversy that disrupted the peace and harmony of the Girard church family. "Articles of Belief" were drawn up and accepted by some. Others did not accept and many left after a lengthy dissension and never returned. In 1838 there was a division throughout the denomination into Old School and New School Presbyterians. The storm brewed for over thirty years before it finally came to a happy and peaceful end.

These were trying times for Girard church but under the leadership of Mr. Lockwood we were led safely through the strife. His salary at the time was four hundred dollars a year and was not always paid, in fact one of the trustees threatened to resign unless the congregation became current with their pledge. Mr. Lockwood was pastor at Girard until June 16, 1841.

Following that the Reverend William Fuller became stated supply for eighteen months. Then came the Reverend Mr. Root who supplied for a brief time.

The Reverend Josiah Vance was installed pastor for Fairview and Girard churches September 2, 1846. Apparently the two congregations met August 17, 1846 at which time Mr. Vance was called to be the pastor, which relationship lasted until September 18, 1854. This was a good period and many were added to the membership of the church.

On October 20, 1854 the Reverend Alexander Porter began as minister in this congregation. This pastoral relationship existed until early in 1863 when the Reverend H. O. Howland on May 1, 1863 began as pastor and was installed in September 1864.

During Mr. Howland’s ministry the congregation enjoyed the evangelistic services of the Reverend E. Payson Hammond. During May and June 1866 the entire community was moved mightily for God under the strong and vigorous preaching of Mr. Hammond. Many were gathered into the church. Mr. Howland was released by the Presbytery on April 9, 1867 at it’s meeting in Springfield.

May 12, 1867 the Reverend Ira Miller Condit became the pastor at Girard. This was a very happy and pleasing relationship. Mr. Condit had just returned from China where he had been a Missionary when called to this field. Few ministers have had such a happy pastorate. Mr. Condit was a "brother well beloved." When he preached his farewell sermon there were few dry eyes in the congregation. Mr. Condit resigned the pastorate in 1870 and returned to California and resumed ministry work among the Chinese along the Pacific coast.

The Reverend Dr. James F. Read supplied the church for a few months after the release of Mr. Condit. It was somewhere about this time that the congregation discovered that some person or persons had entered their building during the night and removed the carpet from the floor. The carpet was never found nor was it discovered who had removed it. Notwithstanding the loss the floor was soon covered with a new green carpet more handsome than the old.

May 7, 1871 the Reverend Mr. W. R. Moore, a licentiate of the Presbytery of Shenango assumed charge. Mr. Moore was ordained and installed August 22, 1871. The Reverend Dr. S. J. M. Eaton presided and preached the sermon. This was the beginning of another happy association. Mr. Moore gathered a great company of young people.

When the bicycle craze hit Girard, this Presbyterian minister was among the first to adopt this mode of travel. His was the longest pastorate at this time in the history of the church. Around 1879 Sabbath School work began at Miles Grove and finally in 1885 established a Sabbath School there.

December 2, 1876, it is written in the minutes of session :"only unfermented wine should be used in the administration of the Lord’s Supper." This was a pastorate of much enthusiasm and at the same time fraught with many heart-aches and trials. Mr. Moore was released from the pastorate September 14, 1886.

January 12, 1887 began the pastorate of the Reverend James W. Reese who until now served the longest pastorate ending June 1, 1910.

In 1892 a storm severely damaged the Old Brick Church to the extent it was decided to not repair it. The steeple was toppled and the bell was damaged, but later it was repaired to use in the new building. An offer was made by Mr. Kibler for the church to use the Opera House (located near the Universalist church) for worship services while a new church was being built. This created much discussion about holding communion services in such a place. After some time it was decided to use the building during the interim.

In 1892 a new church was built at a cost of $10,500 plus what could be salvaged from the old brick church which at that time was valued at about $350. The 1832 cornerstone from the Old Brick Church was installed inside above the front doors as seen here. This building was dedicated July 13, 1893.

A handsome pipe organ from an Erie company was installed in 1897 to replace a melodian which had provided music for the services. The old notes indicate that a Burdette organ was later installed. During this era organ bellows had to be pumped manually to provide the air to operate it. It would not be electrified until 1950. That organ was indeed the pride of the community as at that time there was no other nearby.

The Ladies’ Aid Society has been one of the great financial forces throughout the early years of this church. The congregation owes to the ladies assisting in payment of the debt on the new church, the pipe organ and the electric lighting system. They helped many times to provide new carpeting, re-finishing the church and in the early 1900’s property for the manse.

The ministry of Mr. Reese continued with Girard and Miles Grove until released by the Presbytery of Erie June 1, 1910. After the release of Mr. Reese the Miles Grove branch petitioned Presbytery to be organized into a separate church which was done June 10, 1910. That removed 154 persons from the parent church. Mr. Reese’s death occurred shortly after in February, 1911. Mr. Reese served a lengthy term of twenty-three and a half years.

In those early years our meeting houses were rather crude and lacked the luxuries we enjoy today. Many folks had to travel long distances by horseback or wagon on dirt roads. Imagine the winters like some we have today. The only means of heat was a large iron kettle filled with fire in the middle of the meeting house. There was no chimney to let out the smoke so some folks would be overcome and had to be taken out into fresh air and be revived.

In those early years the celebration of the Lord’s Supper was a very important and memorable occasion. The minister was assisted by a neighboring pastor. The service began with a fast day on Thursday and continued until Monday. Saturday was a day for preaching, reception of new members and baptism of children. As folks left the Saturday service each was given a token which entitled the bearer to a seat at the communion table the next day. This was also a time of great vexation in the manse since it was the lodging place for some who came from a distance to the communion. They would stay from Thursday until Monday and often Tuesday as there was always the Monday address.

On November 4, 1910 Charles S Beatty began his pastorate of eight years and three months, which ended February 24, 1919. Then in 1919, Mr. Ralph V. Gilbert became pastor and served until November 1, 1923. During the term of Reverend Gilbert, in 1922 an addition was built onto the back of our building to provide for a kitchen (which later served as our crib room) and a lavatory; probably the first indoor plumbing. Mr. Gilbert served four years and seven months before leaving.

Our next pastor was Mr. J. Wallace Fraser who served two years and four months from 1924 to 1926. Mr. W. Gray Alter then served Girard church two and a half years between December 1926 and June, 1929.

On December 3, 1929 Geo. S. Mott Doremus began his pastorate at Girard. Much was done during his tenure to improve our building. The exterior brickwork was restored. The sanctuary received new carpet, and the chancel was split from a center pulpit. The organ was electrified and renovated. Mr. Doremus was pastor for more than twenty years until September of 1950.

Theodore DeWitt Taylor was installed pastor November 15, 1950 and stayed until August 30, 1954. During his term the men of the congregation decided on their own to excavate beneath the church to create space for Sunday school and a larger kitchen. The men accomplished this fete without benefit of formal plans. Judd Seldon was the engineer who led the work. The entire area was dug by hand one bucket of dirt at a time. When the basement was finished they had to create a separate basement entrance toward the front of the building. This would become known as Blair Hall, after the Blair family, who were founding members of the church.

Mr. Taylor’s successor was the Reverend Gregory Gnatuk who came March 18, 1955 and stayed until June 1, 1960. In 1955 Mr. Doremus was elected Pastor Emeritis.

On October 12, 1960 the Reverend Stuart Perrin was installed pastor of Girard church. During his time here many projects were completed. In 1961 talks began about a merger with the Miles Grove Presbyterian Church. There were many meetings between the two churches and representatives from Presbytery. Mr. Perrin became stated supply for Miles Grove in addition to his duties at Girard and continued doing that until April 1963. In March 1963 Girard voted to merge. The count was eighty-four in favor and three against. According to the minutes nothing happened beyond that. So the merger never took place.

During the 1960’s many projects happened around and in our building. The exterior brickwork was pointed and coated, the roof was coated again, the portico on the Southeast corner was removed and the door there was closed in. The front porch was enclosed with a new hanging light placed there. The sanctuary was redecorated, the pews were refinished and supplied with badly needed new cushions. The older ceiling lights were replaced with brighter and more hanging lights. The Berlin property situated to the West of our boundary became for sale and was purchased to provide the larger parking lot beside the church. Stuart Perrin served Girard church through July, 1966.

Charles Crist was installed pastor in August 1967 and served here until March 1970.

The Reverend Alan Darling became our pastor in September 1970. Mr. Darling was an avid gardener who produced many more fruits and vegetables than he and his wife could ever use. Most folks in our church benefited from his over production. He especially liked experimenting with new varieties. Alan Darling was active throughout the community and also served as Worthy Patron for the local chapter of Eastern Star. When he retired in December 1978 he remained in Girard and served as Stated Supply for Bethel Presbyterian church at Cranesville for several years before moving away. In 1985, Mr. Alan Darling would be elected our next Pastor Emeritus.

With the retirement of Mr. Darling, the manse was sold as had been discussed for many years. It seemed the right time to finally do that.

On July 1, 1979, Robert J. Rogers was installed pastor. In 1981 Happy Days Preschool began operating in Blair Hall. A few concerned members in 1982 began operation of our food pantry, which was initially located in the small closet across the back hall from the secretary’s office. Session minutes indicate that six families were served in December of that year. It would eventually grow considerably over time. Now in 2010 the pantry serves more than three hundred families each month.

During 1983 a craze grasped the country for drilling gas wells, so our church did that at an expense of $8300. It served only a portion of our needs, but the general feeling is that we broke even on that project. In 1989 the property North of the church became available and it was purchased to utilize for Sunday School use and other meetings. It would eventually become the home of food pantry when there was a need to expand it. It was known as the Mark J. Adams Christian Youth Center. Mr. Rogers served Girard Church until September 1991.

Dr. James E. Rimmer was installed in January 1993. Soon afterward it was discovered that the exterior walls of our building were buckling and attention was needed. An engineer discovered that the main support beams for the roof were stressed and beginning to crack from the weight of many years of roof coatings adding too much weight to the roof. This was the cause of the problem. A capital campaign fund raiser was held to repair the beams and replace the roof and related exterior needs. Much of the exterior trim and the cap stones were covered with stainless steel to eliminate painting and further preserve the building. The exterior bricks were repaired and sealed at the same time.

The next few years were just as busy with the repair of the sanctuary walls, the worn carpeting was replaced in the hallway as well as the sanctuary and the Lecture room. New pew cushions were added around this time. They were purchased with funds raised from many chicken and biscuit dinners.

By 1997 the food pantry client base had outgrown the original space in the hall closet that it was decided to move it to the Adams Center next door. It remains there 13 years later, but has expanded within the building. The following year we felt the need to replace the old heating system in the church and it seemed the right time to add air conditioning for more comfort in the summer months. Dr. Rimmer resigned in October 1999.

In the year 2000 a beautifully landscaped prayer garden was added to our property. It was a gift to the church from Richard Wallace as a memorial to his wife Barbara who had been so active here until her passing. It was dedicated on October 22, 2000.

The Reverend Keith W. Gallagher was called to Girard and was installed in November 2001. Soon after his arrival was begun the process of restoring and updating our Felgermacher pipe organ. This was quite a process and had been discussed and planned for several months. It was completed in 2001.

Much discussion took place over several years with the final decision to have the stained glass windows completely restored. That work was done by the Tirpak Company of Erie. They moved work trailers into our parking lot so the work could be done on-site. The window restoration was funded by a designated bequest from the estate of Nan Reed, in memory of her good friend C. Elizabeth Battles. The windows were protected outside with clear glass which allows the beauty of the windows to be seen better by the community. They are truly beautiful. Since that work disturbed the interior walls the company repainted at the same time. Also during that time period, Blair Hall was redecorated with new flooring, ceiling, lights and new paint.

The church kitchen also received a complete make-over during that year. It was stripped to the bare walls and received all new stainless fixtures to bring it up to modern codes.

In 2009 the church food pantry merged with the Red Cross food pantry and became incorporated as the Christian Cupboard. It is currently an ecumenical ministry of eight member churches from the area, under the guidance of the Girard-Lake City Ministerium.

May 2010 — the 175th anniversary of the First Presbyterian Church of Girard