Church Histories - Rev. Newton B. Kelly's 1888 History of the Rural Valley Presbyterian Church.
This article originally appeared in "History of the Presbytery of Kittanning."
It was reprinted in "Rural Valley Presbyterian Church: The First One Hundred Fifty Years."
Rural Valley Church was organized August 1, 1835. A number of Christian people had been accustomed to meet in a house built for church and school purposes at a point eight miles east of Kittanning and two miles west of Rural Valley. The place is now marked by a grove and a little cemetery at the entrance of a quiet dell that runs down from the hills and widens out near the roadside where it is lost in the valley. The traveler from Kittanning to Rural Valley passed this peaceful spot where sleep the dead of Rural Valley Church. This plot of ground had been donated to the inhabitants by Hon. William Findley and here they had established a Sabbath School. They also met for divine worship and had joined the church of Kittanning in engaging Rev. Joseph Painter to preach. In April, 1835, they applied to Blairsville Presbytery for a church organization. Their petition was granted and Rev. Joseph Painter and Rev. Elisha D. Barrett were appointed a committee to organize the church. The committee met the congregation on August 1, 1835. On that day, Rev. Joseph Painter preached a sermon on the eldership after which his chosen chairman and Alexander Foster, Secretary, Ebenezer Smith, Richard E. Caruthers, William McIntosh and John Alcorn were elected to the office of ruling elders.
The organization of the church was consummated on August 20, 1835 by the ordination of Elders Caruthers and McIntosh and by reception of members. John Alcorn declined to serve as elder. Ebenezer Smith had been an elder in Cross Creek church, Washington County and was installed.
The following is a list of original members:
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 the season was interesting and solemn in a high degree," and to this penned in the record by the hand of Rev. Joseph Painter, is added the prayer: "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 building was of logs, 24 x 24 feet. It was square as the life and character of its builders, as humble and simple. Outgrowing it, they simply laid open one side and built on an addition. It was heated by a single stove. "Well do I remember it," says one, then a boy. "In winter going to church was to me an ordeal. The chilly atmosphere scarcely affected by the solitary stove presented a rather unfavorable condition for the development of piety in a boy." And yet boys then and there became possessed somehow of a singularly substantial piety.
"The pulpit was a ten bushel store box set endwise, and the seats of oak slabs, the sawed sides upward, and each supported by four wooden legs."
Within two years from organization the question of removal to a site in Rural Village came up. The question became an exciting one. A congregational meeting was called in May, 1836. Ebenezer Smith was chosen Chairman and Archibald L. Robinson, Secretary. At this meeting a motion was offered looking to the removal. William McCain, a ready and voluble speaker, undertook to prevent the taking of the vote by a time-killing speech. But Mr. John Patterson interrupted the speaker, moved that the resolution be reduced in writing, and cut short Mr. McCain's long speech by calling for the question. It was decided by a large majority to locate the church at Rural Village. "Mr. William McCain afterwards, as before, was a faithful trustee in the church. John Patterson gave the lots, Nos. 1 and 2, on the north side of Main Street in the old plot of the village for the erection of the new church and for church purposes." But the people, preferring to have the new edifice on higher ground and a little out of town, Alex Foster, Sr. gave an acre of the John Craig tracts, called "Leeds". This joins the lots given by John Patterson. On this ground a church building was erected in 1837 or 1838. It was of brick, thirty by forty feet. It was defective in architecture. The walls of it began to bulge and it was abandoned in 1849.
A new frame building was erected in 1850 on the lots given to the church by John Patterson. This building was fifty-one by sixty-one square feet. It is one of the old "squat" churches. Its roof is self-supporting, having no posts under its center. Rev. Mr. Kerr had the old high pulpit taken down and a modern pulpit platform erected, the only change made since the house was built. It is soon to be replaced by a modern structure.
Rev. Joseph Painter was the first minister of this church. He came from Newberry, Pa., in answer to an invitation from the officers of the First Church of Kittanning, which read: "In accordance with the unanimous wish of the Presbyterian Church here and of some of the prominent citizens of Rural Valley, etc." Dr. Painter began to preach at Rural Valley May, 1834, giving one fourth time to the Valley. His salary was $80.00 payable in produce at market price in Kittanning. His congregations were at first small. After the organization of the church he preached one third of his time in Rural Valley. The church flourished under his ministry and grew so that in the fall of 1840, eighty members having been added, it became strong enough to support a minister for half time. Dr. Painter then declined serving them longer.
Rev. James D. Mason was the first pastor of this church, his time being equally divided between Glade Run and Rural Valley, from June 16, 1843 to April 4, 1848. During this pastorate eighty-two were added to the church. Mr. Mason established an academy at Rural Valley in 1846 in the church edifice. This school had from twenty-five to thirty pupils in attendance and was sustained until 1884. Mr. Mason removed in 1848 and now resides in Iowa.
Rev. Cochran Forbes served as pastor from January 1, 1849, to April 12, 1854, half time at Glade Run. Mr. Forbes had been a missionary in the Sandwich Islands for seventeen years. His ministry contributed to the growth of interest in missions and temperance. There was a revival in the church in his time in 1851 when thirty-six joined the church on profession and ten by certificate. Mr. Forbes received 129 into membership. He afterwards served five years as pastor of Glade Run and Concord and some years in the state of Indiana. At the time of his recent death in Philadelphia he was chaplain of the Presbyterian Hospital in that city.
Rev. William F. Morgan was the third pastor. His entire ministerial life was spent on this ground. He was born in Lancaster County, graduated at Jefferson College in 1851 and the Western Theological Seminary in 1854. He was licensed early in 1854 by the Presbytery of Ohio. He preached first at Rural Valley in the third Sabbath of March 1855. He was ordained and installed January 31, 1856. He preached his last sermon the third Sabbath in March, 1875. He died on the 25th of April, 1875, and is buried in Rural Valley Cemetery.
Mr. Morgan's pastorate was twenty years in length. He preached on third time at Elderton as pastor till 1873, after which he was stated supply at Smicksburg church for one third of this time. He received 280 into this church. He married 122 couples in his pastorate. He was a pastor of untiring activity and is spoken of as pre-eminently A PASTOR. His devotion to educational interests was marked and is often mentioned. The author of the history of Armstrong County says of him: "He was an active and acceptable co-worker in advancing the educational interests of Cowanshannock Township." His family now resides at Wooster, Ohio where his children are being educated.
Rev. J. Horner Kerr was called to the pastorate in June, 1876. He was received from the Presbytery of Carlisle and installed June 29, 1876. The entire pastoral services of Mr. Kerr were given to this church. He was dismissed June 9, 1885 and is now at Centre Hall, Centre County, Pa. Mr. Kerr received 104 into the communion of this church and baptized eighty-six persons.
The Rev. Newton B. Kelly was engaged to supply in January, 1887 and was soon after called to be pastor over the charge of Rural Valley and Atwood. A revival followed in February, resulting in an addition of 110 to the membership on profession. Mr. Kelly was installed December 1, 1887.
Ebenezer Smith, one of the first elders, had been an elder in Cross Creek Church, Washington County. His term of service here was thirteen years. He removed in 1848. "While here he was the leading man in Rural Valley Church."
Richard E. Caruthers ceased to act in 1838 being estranged from the church on account of its removal from the original site. He came to Rural Valley in1830 from Westmoreland County. He was married to a daughter of William Findley, a man prominent in public life in the early history of Western Pennsylvania. Mr. Caruthers was the leading spirit in the organization of Rural Valley Church. He was the father of six sons and six daughters. Three of the sons were ministers. John was for thirty years casuist of churches in Indiana County. R. Alexander attained the distinction of presiding elder of the M. E. Church. James E. served as elder in the room of his father and then entered the ministry. Another son, Thomas, gave a son to the ministry. A daughter, Eleanor, wife of a Mr. William Findley, gave two sons to the ministry of the church. Another daughter, Nancy, became the wife of a Methodist minister. There are still members of this noble family in Rural Valley Church, a "Godly seed."
Wm. McIntosh died July 18, 1877. He had served forty-two years. His son, A. J. McIntosh, is now an elder in the room of his father, and a daughter, Mrs. James McKelvey, is a teacher in our Sabbath School.
Samuel Fleming and George Stewart were ordained by Rev. Joseph Painter, December 14, 1839. George Stewart served fifteen years. He united with Cross Creek Church, Washington County, in the time of a great revival. He died December 19, 1854. His zeal for the church was marked. Samuel Fleming was an elder forty-seven years. He and George Stewart were converted at the same time and place. He died October 13, 1886. He was a pillar of the church. His home was a center of Christian influence. His son, Rev. Samuel B. Fleming, is now superintendent of Home Missions in the state of Kansas, having been appointed to that position from the pastorate of Arkansas City. Members of this family are still in this church. A son-in-law now has been trustee for three years.
Hamlet Totten was ordained an elder in the Kittanning church November 14, 1834, the date of the installation of Dr. Painter. He was installed in Rural Valley in 1848 and has been clerk of sessions ever since, over thirty-nine years. He was born January 27, 1802. He has recently devoted himself to the work of preparing the books of his office that he might leave them in good shape. His last years are spent in retirement and great devotion to the church. He has in his time attended twenty-five meetings of Presbytery and five of Synod. He represented the Presbytery of Saltsburg in the Central Assembly of 1859 which met at Indianapolis, Ind.
Adam McConnell, James E. Caruthers and Isaac Rhea were ordained elders by Mr. Forbes April 1, 1851. Adam McConnell was an elder thirty-one years. He died March 6, 1882. He was never married. He devoted himself to this good work. The service of the Lord gave him a ready sympathy of heart and freshness of life. "He was a very substantial Christian."
James E. Caruthers was an active resident elder for four years. "By the will of his father he was entrusted with the charge of his aged mother, and piously he fulfilled the commission even at the expense of keeping him back for ten long years from the ministry to which already his mind and heart alike aspired." In 1853, at the age of thirty-two, he began his studies at Elder's Ridge Academy, preparatory to the ministry. He graduated at Canonsburg and entered the Seminary in Allegheny in 1857. "In 1856, he was commissioned to the General Assembly by the Presbytery of Saltsburg to sit in New Orleans as an elder from the Rural Valley Church." He was retained as an elder of this church during his entire preparation for the ministry.
Isaac Rhea was an elder twenty-seven years, from April 1, 1851. Surviving colleagues speak of his kindness, wisdom and faithfulness as a friend, a counselor and a Christian man. Mrs. Rhea was a daughter of Richard E. Caruthers. Isaac Rhea died January 12, 1878. Members of his family are now active and useful in the church.
James McFarland, Joseph T. Hosack and John T. Sloan were ordained by Mr. Morgan, January 13, 1860. James McFarland served twenty-five years. He was Sunday School Superintendant, Sunday School Teacher, trustee, treasurer successively. "As a member of session his counsels showed that wisdom which is the fruit of deliberation." Joseph T. Hosack was an elder here nine years. He was dismissed in 1869 to West Lebanon.
A. A. Marshall was ordained an elder in Rural Valley Church in 1870 by Rev. Mr. Morgan. He became an elder in Atwood Church at its organization in 1874. Thomas D. McColgin, David Simpson and A. J. McIntosh were ordained November 31 [sic] 1876. The three last named with Messrs. Totten and Sloan constitute the present Session.
The church has thus had sixteen elders. These sixteen represent 325 years of service. The longest term is that of Samuel Fleming, forty-seven years. Mr. Totten wishes it stated that of these sixteen elders eight were Democrats and eight Republicans.
Sketch of Church Life.
In November, 1840, Dr. Painter, pastor, it was agreed that an examination upon the Shorter Catechism be held in four sections of the congregation, viz., at the church, at the house of Ebenezer Smith, and of Samuel Fleming, and of George Stewart on certain Saturday afternoons. This represents an instruction of the youth that may now be said to belong in the past.
In 1852, April 10, under the ministry of Rev. Mr. Forbes, the following resolution was unanimously adopted:
"That the session of this church consider the using of intoxicating liquors as a beverage or signing a petition for a tavern license as highly inconsistent with Christian character and a censurable offense against the Church of Christ."
Thirty-five years ago this session took the position of prohibition. Its objection was to the liquor business itself.
The "tokens" of the church were manufactured by Richard E. Caruthers. They were of lead, the size of a cent piece with the letters R.V. stamped thereon. These tokens were given to the people at the Saturday service. They were taken up after the people were seated at the communion table. An elder passed along on either side of the table and the tokens were dropped into his hand. In 1850 elder Totten purposely failed to take up these tokens at Communion. The people were surprised and many offered them after service. They were told to keep them as souvenirs of a past custom.
In 1860 tables were dispensed with upon entering the new church. In 1851, Isaac Rhea elected an elder, refused to serve without the tables. They were then again used until a short time, Mr. Rhea changed his views of the matter, and himself moved they be dispensed with. Rev. Mr. Forbes was the first minister in the history of the church to invite members of other denominations to the communion. He had been a missionary. He said you couldn't be a missionary without losing your sectarianism.
There was a colonial dismissal to Atwood in 1874 when twenty-two were dismissed. In and since the organization there have been:
Members received . . . . . . . . . 709 Infants baptized . . . . . . . . . 686 Adults . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 64 Total baptisms . . . . . . . . . . 760 Marriages. . . . . . . . . . . . . 164 The present membership is. . . . . 300
The Sabbath School was organized in 1834. An Aunt of Richard E. Caruthers writing to him in a letter in 1834 says:
"He seems to be much engaged in religion. He has got up a Sabbath School; has thirty or forty scholars and no teachers except out of his own family."
The Sabbath School was begun in Rural Village by Ebenezer Smith. It at first met in the house occupied by the Misses June and Hattie Reed. At a later date it was held in the house now occupied by Dr. Pettigrew, a house then new and unfinished. When winter came the school was moved into Mr. Stoop's kitchen where it was kept warm. This was the first winter. There was no room for separate classes; all were seated compactly on boards laid on trestles. Mr. Smith and Mr. Archie L. Robinson superintended. Mr. Robinson led the singing. The school was taught as one class. In May, 1838, it was moved into the new church and organized.
A perfect list of superintendents cannot be given. Rev. Mr. Kerr was head of the school during his pastorate. He organized it into a Sabbath School organization. It had been managed by the Session previous to his time. The Sabbath School flourished under the rough administration of Mr. Kerr and is now successful. Elder John T. Sloan is the present superintendent.
Earlier superintendents in succession, so far as ascertainable, have been Ebenezer Smith, A. L. Robinson, Hamlet Totten, Adam McConnell, James McFarland, George Stewart, James E. Caruthers, James McKelvey.