The site “at the bend in the Scotch road” has been occupied continuously by one institution (the Ewing Presbyterian congregation) for more than 300 years. Last month this column discussed the first two buildings on that site. This month will briefly discuss the 1795 and 1867 structures on the site, using material from a sermon preached by Rev. David Atwater in March of 1867 at the last service in the 1795 structure.
The third structure was a “more impervious” brick structure to replace the wooden structure. Building began in 1795, with the congregation doing “a considerable part of the work themselves.” Members “burnt the bricks, brought them to (this) spot, piled up boards, mixed mortar and carried it to the masons… This was in addition to the subscriptions of money” they pledged to pay for the work.
The building was completed in October of 1797 and had separate entrances for men and women on the south side (facing Carlton Avenue). In 1839 it was “remodeled and greatly improved,” a recess was added for the pulpit and the entrances were moved to the east side of the building. The photo on the (left/right?) is of the remodeled 1795 building, with people gathered around.
The building served the congregation well for 70 years, and was the preaching home of the congregation’s longest-serving pastor, Rev. Eli Field Cooley, who served from 1823-1857 and greatly expanded the size of the congregation. But in a period of growth and optimism after the end of the Civil War, it was decided that the brick building was insufficient for congregational growth. Rev. Atwater preached that “we wish to enlarge our dimensions, to lengthen our cords, so that we can invite those who from time to time may settle among us, to unite with us in the worship of God.”
A building committee was formed, an architect and builder selected, and subscriptions (pledges toward the work) were taken. As much as possible, the new building would sit on the foundation of the older one and would recycle usable building material. Designed in the Romanesque style with heavy arched windows and doors, the brownstone exterior was to be quarried from the local Greensburg quarries along the Delaware River (between what is now W Upper Ferry and Wilburtha roads). It would boast a huge steeple (which came down in a windstorm in the 1890s), kerosene lamps, stenciled interior walls, a central arch behind the pulpit, matching arched windows with pastel stained glass, and solid wood pews — all for $21,608.70! (photo below)
Incredibly (considering the technology of the day), the building was begun in March of 1867 and was completed in November of the same year. It was dedicated on Nov. 20, 1867.
With seating for 250 or more, it soon became a central gathering location in the rural township for activities other than worship. Social events and meetings were commonly held there. The West Ewing Improvement Association’s annual report of 1880 describes how the Ewing Church was decorated for its annual meeting. It was a popular venue for many activities, and remained such for decades.
As the 1867 Sanctuary embarks on its new life as an arts venue, it will be in many ways continuing a long-forgotten role in the community. Please stop by the Holiday Open House at the 1867 Sanctuary on Saturday, Dec. 5 between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. to see the building and experience the future possibilities for this space. There will be a different performer every half hour, and treats and special guests as well. Be part of the continuing saga of activities at the bend in the Scotch Road.