In The Beginning
100 years. A century. When historians write the history of the last ten decades probably none will mention the small white frame church tucked away in the corner of Western Pennsylvania in a place called Castle Shannon. It falls to us to tell our own story.
A group of 73 Presbyterians gathered in the Castle Shannon Public School on March 28, 1897 to hear a sermon preached by the Reverend W. A. Jones of the Knoxville Presbyterian Church. His text was Psalm 26, which in part reads, "I love the house where you live, O Lord, the place where your glory dwells....My feet stand on level ground; in the great assembly I will praise the Lord." We don't know what the Rev. Jones said but from the text we might conjecture that the topic of forming a church was definitely being discussed. We do know that those words set in motion the beginning of 100 years of service to God by a body of believers that has remained strong and viable down to the present.
It was decided at that meeting to go ahead and form a Sunday school and, eventually, to incorporate as a church. This was to be a mission project of the Pittsburgh Presbytery. As always a collection was taken and 75¢ was gathered. We will leave it to you to decide if that small amount has been blessed and multiplied over the last century.
Ground was broken and the corner stone was set for the church on October 2, 1897 on a piece of ground given by George Smith. In previous histories this land is listed as being at the corner of Maple and Lebanon Avenues. Since those streets are parallel today, we would find that location to be Lebanon Avenue and Shady Lane. While the construction continued, the small congregation continued to meet at the school house and eventually at the Odd Fellows Hall.
On February 14, 1898, the mission was incorporated officially with 56 charter members. Now they were officially a Presbyterian Church. On that day several baptisms took place including the first infant, Wanda Lucille Herron born in the previous August and two adults, Minnie Skees and Sarah Jane Campbell, whose family name is still on our membership roles today. The church issued its first call for a pastor and hired the Rev. Edwin L. McIlvaine for a yearly salary of $800.
In 1898, William McKinley was President of the United States. People still moved west in wagon trains. Horseless carriages were the coming fad, as were phonographs and telephones. Flight was still a few years off, and electricity was slowly making its way out of the cities into the rural areas such as Castle Shannon. In fact, the electric trolley had a major stop in Castle Shannon. Many people traveled out of the city in those days to enjoy a "country outing" at Linden Grove.The country folk of this simple village were farmers, coal miners, shop keepers and hotel owners. Farmers grew vegetables, had orchards and raised livestock. Most of these products were sold in the city or locally. The coal went to the mills along the Monongahela. The day following the incorporation meeting the battleship Maine exploded at anchor in Havana, Cuba, and America was about to go to war.
This was the backdrop against which the founding of the First Presbyterian Church of Castle Shannon occurred. The name tells us that great expectations for growth in Castle Shannon seemed to be on the horizon. Why call it the "First" if no others were to be expected in the future?
By May 8, 1898, the new church building (costing $1800) was ready for its dedication service. Of course an organ would be needed and by some unknown set of circumstances one was donated by the most famous Presbyterian in Pittsburgh at that time, Andrew Carnegie. It was a pump organ and would remain in use until 1928 when it was replaced by a pipe organ for the princely sum of $3800. A surviving copy of the "programme" was donated by Jean Martin to the History Committee. It tells us that the sermon was preached that day by the Rev. Matthew B. Riddle (McIlvaine would not be installed until later that week) but no topic is mentioned. His text, however, came from Exodus 35, v. 4-29 and 36, v. 5-7, "Building the Tabernacle." Probably because of the lack of hymnals the words to the hymns sung were printed in the bulletin. Among the songs sung was "The Church's One Foundation." By May of the following year, the first recorded wedding took place as Carl Christian Zirckel wedded Bessie Girard Tyler.
Possibly because of finances, McIlvaine resigned in October, 1899. During his tenure the church's income, including the money from Presbytery, was not sufficient to pay his salary. (The church's total income for 1898 including $215 from Presbytery, was $748.18.)
On May 10,1900, the Rev. Bryon E. P. Prugh was called as pastor and, again, Rev Jones of Knoxville preached the installation service, this time from John 13:8. But the Rev. Prugh was to resign within a matter of months with no indication in the records as to why his tenure was so brief. By January, 1901, he had moved on.
A supply preacher by the name of the Rev. Harry Bailey was retained for $600 per year. Bailey would remain until October 22, 1902 when D.B. Rogers was called at a salary of $800, of which Pittsburgh Presbytery was paying $200. Rogers remained until August of 1905.