Church Histories - Rev. S. S. Gilson's Trip to Rural Valley (1893)
This article originally appeared in The Presbyterian Banner, Vol. 9 No. 79:49, 22 May 1893.
It was reprinted in "Rural Valley Presbyterian Church: The First One Hundred Fifty Years."
Among the Churches - Rural Valley, Pa.
"On the Way" by Rev. S. S. Gilson
Leaving Rural Avenue, East End, Pittsburgh, at an early hour and traveling on the Allegheny Valley Railroad to Kittanning, thence twelve miles overland, brought me to Rural Valley before the setting of the sun. It was a decided variety from the routine of railroad riding to travel the last dozen miles in old-fashion style. The stage driver was a duplicate of his typical ancestor of "ye olden time." He considered it no inconvenience at starting to detain his coach and passengers half an hour until one of their number could get his dinner. Then for the three hours of the journey he never ceased talking as long as three minutes at a time; discussing a great variety of subjects, from "How to make better roads," to the "World's Fair," which, he declared, he could not be hired to visit as "every fellow who went there would get his pocket picked." In his opinion he may have spoken wiser than he knew. He said he never ate dinner, but just "took a chaw of tobacco and chewed away and didn't get hungry." It reminded me of the Irishman breaking stone on the streets, who said when he got hungry he simply "buckled his belt another hole." The ride from Kittanning to Rural Valley is for the most part along the Cowanshannock Creek, through a district abounding in fine natural scenery.
A Specimen Village.
Rural Valley is a village of forty or fifty houses, stretched along one street; no lavish display of architecture, and, a dozen miles from the railroad, the people sleep in peace, undisturbed by the whistle of locomotives or steamboat; in no peril from electric wires; under no tariff from telephone or telegraph. But the holes for the poles are dug and in the near future phone wires will pass through the village from Kittanning to Dayton. There is no saloon in the town. The postmaster, the two physicians, the two blacksmiths, the four merchants and the two milliners are Presbyterians. It is remarkable how often this sentence may be written, substantially in the same words, of the average town in western Pennsylvania. Surely during the past eight years Presbyterians have had their share of public patronage, from President to village postmaster.
Parity of Ministerial Salary.
Another important thing suggested by observations and investigations in Rural Valley is that there is not as wide a difference in ministers' salaries as mere figures might seem to show. Rev. Francis X. Miron, my old seminary acquaintance, and pastor of the church here, lives in a fine house of eight rooms in the centre of the village; has a large garden; a barn with all accommodations for his horse and Alderny cows; four acres of pasturage; and for all these things he pays $90 a year rent! The last year there was a good crop; his apples cost him ten cents a bushel. Butter is now twenty-five cents a pound, eggs twelve cents a dozen, beef ten cents for the best cuts, and other things in proportion. It is easy to see that his $1000 a year salary here is better than $1800 in the city. Such cases are not uncommon, and if more widely known it would do considerable to make contented ministers and longer pastorages. As to books, magazines, newspapers, religious and secular, the average country minister is as well supplied as his brother in the city, and, as to opportunities for study, better. Let brethren anxious to get into the city "think on these things." Though they often have ills where they are, it is better to bear them than to fly to others incomparably worse. The best antidote to discouragement in many city churches on account of small congregations is to come into the country and see churches crowded to the doors with very attentive congregations. When the people come many miles, as they often do, through the cold of winter and the heat of summer, it is not strange that they are hungry for the Word.
The Rural Valley church was organized August 1, 1835. For a period previous a number of people had been meeting in a house two miles from the village, now marked by a grove and cemetery. Rev. Joseph Painter, D. D., of Kittanning, organized the church, and wrote subsequently "On August 22, 1835, the sacrament of the Lord's Supper was administered for the first time in this part of the valley, in the presence of a large congregation, and may the Lord behold and visit this vine which we hope his right hand has planted, and water it abundantly and cause it to grow and be fruitful till it fill the valley." The original church was of logs and 24 x 24 feet. Afterwards a side was taken out and an addition made. One stove heated (?) the building. The pulpit was a ten bushel store box placed on end, and the pews were made of oak slabs on pins. In 1836 the congregation decided to remove to the village, and in 1837-38 a brick church 80 x 40 was erected, which was abandoned in 1849 due to defective construction. In 1850 a frame church was built, 51 x 61, in the centre of town.
Rev. Joseph Painter, pastor of Kittanning, began to preach in Rural Valley in May, 1834, one-fourth of his time, on a salary of $80 payable in produce at market in Kittanning. In six years eight members were added and the church called Rev. James D. Mason for one-half his time. Mr. Mason served the church from 1843 to 1848, during which time he established Rural Valley Academy. Rev. Cochran Forbes was pastor from Jan. 1, 1849, to April 12, 1854, one-half of his time. He had been a missionary in the Sandwich Islands for seventeen years. He was subsequently, and at the time of his death, Chaplain of the Presbyterian Hospital in Philadelphia. Rev. Wm. F. Morgan was the third pastor, settled over this his first and only charge in 1855, and died here in 1875, while still pastor. Rev. J. H. Kerr, affectionately remembered, was installed in 1876 and served the church whole time until 1885. Rev. N. B. Kelly, now of Eldersridge, became pastor in 1887 and resigned in 1888. The present pastor, Rev. Francis X. Miron, took charge of the church in 1890. He settled first in Nebraska, next in Iowa, then in Indiana, whence his star brought him here.
Rev. Francis Xavier Miron has an exceedingly interesting personal history. He is of French Roman Catholic ancestry and was born in Canada. His parents, with their only son, followed Father Chiniquy to St. Anne, Ill. With the most of the colony they became converts to Protestantism and united with the Presbyterian Church. Rev. Theodore Monod, now of Paris, was for a time supply at St. Anne and established a second Presbyterian church, of which the Miron family became members. He interested himself in young Miron; opened the way and provided the means through the last Dr. Em. D. Plumer for his education at Glade Run Academy, where he was the room-mate of the late Rev. Wm. F. Ewing. After Bro. Miron had received his classical education he took a full course in the Western Theological Seminary, where he graduated in 1872. The story of how he came out from the Roman Catholic Church is thrilling, and he has given it to his people much to their interest.
This church has been favored with a long list of honorable and useful elders. One of the first was Ebenezer Smith, who came from Cross Creek church, Washington County, Pa., and "while here he was the leading man in Rural Valley Church." Another distinguished elder was Richard E. Caruthers, who settled here in 1830. He was married to a daughter of Hon. Wm. Findlay, a member of Congress, and eminent in public life in the early history of Western Pennsylvania. Mr. Caruthers was the prime mover for the organization of the Rural Valley church. He had six sons and six daughters. Three of his sons entered the ministry. One of them, James E. Caruthers, served several years as an elder, successor to his father, and at a somewhat advanced age entered the ministry. His son is now pastor of the church at Delmont, Pa., and his daughter a gifted teacher in East Liberty Academy, Pittsburgh. Several other grandchildren of Richard Caruthers are ministers and the wives of ministers. Many of the descendants of Mr. Caruthers are still members of the Rural Valley Church. The present elders of the Rural Valley church are David Simpson, T. D. McColgin, J. A. McIntosh, Robert McFarland, and C. C. Cowan; the trustees, James C. Sloan, H. B. Schall, R. M. Trollinger, Robert Bowser, A. G. Schaffer, James Hilty, and Martin Moore.
The following ministers have gone out from the Rural Valley church. Barkley S. Sloan, Wm. F. Ewing, E. P. Sloan, S. B. Fleming, D. D., John Caruthers, James E. Caruthers, Alexander Caruthers, and Prof. A. P. Ormond of Princeton. Some young men of the church are now in course of preparation for the ministry. In brief, all departments of church work seem to be carefully looked after. The Sabbath School, Young People's Society, and the Women's Foreign Missionary Society are in a very prosperous condition. With the beautiful new edifice, the congregation is now decidedly in a better condition than ever before for onward movement. There is likely to be an increase of population, as a charter has been granted to build a railroad from Punxsutawney to Kittanning, which would most likely pass through Rural Valley. At all events the people are in high hopes.
The Dedication Services.
All in all, the seventh day of May was the greatest day in the history of the Rural Valley church. It dawned gloriously, the sun rising in piercing brightness, making the heavy white frost of the night before glisten like a bed of diamonds. The meadows around the village were besprinkled in indescribable beauty with the dandelion and violet in their first bloom; the forests were charmingly variegated with the dogwood and service-berry in their glory, and the orchards were fragrant from the blossoms of the apple, plum, peach and cherry. But the most attractive and admired object of all was the new church, justly regarded as the glory of the village. There are but two churches in the place, and the Sabbath previous the Methodist brethren dedicated the new edifice, helped considerably by the Presbyterians, who in turn on their day received help from the Methodists. The two churches are on most cordial terms. The new Presbyterian church, a frame structure, is built in handsome architectural style, cruciform, ceiled with yellow pine, most cheerfully lighted through beautifully tinted windows, seats about five hundred people, and it is hard to see how it could be better adapted to the wants of the congregation. The total cost was a little over $6000. The debt was $1100. That such a church was built for so little money is chiefly owing to the good management of the Building Committee, Messrs. Dr. J. M. Pettigrew, H. B. Schall, A. B. Marshall, Joseph Templeton and James Hilty.
The dedication services began at 10 A.M. and continued until 10 P.M. with two brief intermissions. Long before the hour for opening, the people began to assemble, many coming long distances, and filling the church to overflowing. They were there from Kittanning, Atwood, Dayton, Echo, Snyderville, Barnards, Goheenville, Bryan, Whitesburg, Greendale, Blanco, Tattletown and Pinch Gut. Rev. H. L. Mayers preached in the morning. Rev. G. W. Mechlin, D. D., in the afternoon, and Rev. S. S. Gilson at night. Other ministers who participated in the services were the pastor, Rev. F. X. Miron, J. D. Wampler, Rev. E. P. Sloan and Rev. J. D. Frum. Dr. Mechlin gave a very interesting sketch of the old pastors. Mr. Mayers made the appeal for the money to pay the debt, and in a comparatively short time secured more than enough, without any undue pressure. The people gave in all $1552, ranging in age from seven weeks to seventy years. It was remarkable how many babies were present in the arms of their mothers - I counted over thirty - and they made a chorus of sweet music through all the services of the day. It was a thoughtful thing to have them present, that in the remote future they may say, if their lives are spared, that they were present on this great day of dedication. The beauty of the contributions was that they were so well distributed, the overwhelming majority being in gifts of five dollars each. The liberality of the people was most commendable, and they continued to give cheerfully long after the debt line was passed. It is very creditable to this community that at the two dedications on successive Sabbaths they should give $3000 and clear the two churches of all debt. The people continued to show the deepest interest all day, packing the house at all the services. At the noon recess they "all sat down by companies upon the green grass, and they did all eat and were filled."
S. S. G.