Part One

Rewritten and reduced from History of the Church prepared by Miss Eleanor P. Jones for the Church’s Centennial Ceremony on June 23, 1929
This version appeared in “The Fulfillment”, a publication put out by the First Presbyterian Church of Carbondale to dedicate the present church building on June 3, 1951

Early Days

Following the exploration of this Lackawanna Valley in 1814 by the Wurts Brothers, two Philadelphia merchants, who probably mined coal here in 1822 and shipped it to Philadelphia via sled from here to the Lackawaxen and thence down the Delaware River on rafts, the eyes of the country were turned toward this valley. The activities on these hillsides became matters of great concern to the eastern public.

Owing to the competition of the more accessible Lehigh Company, another market was considered and the possibility of reaching New York City held the local attention.

New York State, by an act of April 23, 1823, incorporated a company for a water communication between the Delaware and the Hudson Rivers. A water communication! The beginning of the Delaware and Hudson Canal — from Roundout to Honesdale.

In 1827, an engineer came “to survey and locate a railroad route” to connect the mines with the terminus of the canal. A railroad over the Moosic mountains? Impossible! There was no railroad in the entire United States longer than ten miles, but two years later on October 8, 1829, the first loaded coal car reached Honesdale over the Gravity Railroad directly from the mines here.

By 1829, under the presidency of Andrew Jackson, 7th President of the United States, when our church was organized, the stir that held the country’s attention was the mining operation in Barrendale in the valley of the Lackawanna, by a company incorporated in 1823 as “The President, Managers and Company of the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company.” The first president was the fastidious mayor of New York, Mr. Philip Hone, for whom Honesdale was named. The selection of the name “Carbondale” instead of “Barrendale” is credited to Washington Irving, then a member of the Board of Managers of the Canal Company.

There were discussions concerning ascending and descending planes for crossing the Moosic mountains — “hemlock stringers” for rails and the possibility of a “steam locomotive” for the “nearly level” distance between the planes. “A steam locomotive,” indeed! That could not be. But, someone better informed, told of Horatio Allen, the resident engineer during the canal construction, who had been sent to England to order four locomotives. One of these four was the Stourbridge Lion destined to play an important part in our local history.

With the finished canal, the first cargo of company coal arrived at Roundout on December 5, 1828. This coal had been hauled from the mines on a wagon road through Rix’s Gap to Honesdale. In May 1829, the Stourbridge Lion arrived in New York from England and later arrived in Honesdale. A steam locomotive!

Organization of the Church (1829)

In an old church record, yellow with age, there appears on page No. 1, a carefully penned entry of great significance to each member of the Carbondale Presbyterian Church, for it records the story of organization and reads as follows:

“A number of members from Presbyterian churches in different parts of the country having settled in Carbondale, it was thought expedient to form a Presbyterian Church on this place.”

On the 27th day of June 1829, the Rev. Joel Campbell of the Hudson Presbytery, probably of Newburgh, N.Y., appeared as a committee and organized a church to be known by the name of “The Presbyterian Church of Carbondale.”

The following persons presented letters from sister churches and were admitted members of this: Sylvanus Jessup, Margaret Jessup, Samuel Hodgdon, Ann Hodgdon, Eliza Townsend, Thomas Sweet, Gilbert Miner Lee, Chapman Halsey.

Sylvanus Jessup and Samuel Hodgdon were elected Ruling Elders of the church.

So was established that early church!

The officials of the Delaware and Hudson Company had come from New York City to see Mr. Horatio Allen, who “unaided and alone drove the Stourbridge Lion upon an epoch-making round-trip, partly over a curved trestle, three miles into the woods of Pennsylvania to the site of Seelyville, returning to the starting point by reversing the engine.” (August 9, 1829.)

“The first steam locomotive to turn a wheel or to run on any track in the United States.”

These officials visiting Carbondale, seeing the effort of the pioneers, noting the church organization, appreciating its effect upon the people, and realizing the need of a building, donated land and contributed money towards the church provision.

The First House of Worship (1829)

The preparation to build the First House of Worship is found in an old record reading, —

“Not having a suitable place for worship, measures were taken to raise funds for the purpose of erecting a building that would be suitable both for a place of worship and also for a day school. With the aid of one hundred dollars given by the Delaware and Hudson Canal Co. to the Society and by subscription from the Society, an amount was very soon raised sufficient to pay the expense of such a building.”

On this very church plot was erected that simple little building — with a steeple. This single room school-house serving as a place of worship, a day-school and a general gathering place for public meetings, played a rare part in the history of our city.

Rev. Jonathan Noble, the first minister here, won the hearts of the people as he cared for the infant church.

In that school building quite near and facing the Church Street side of the present church plot, the little Church Society grew under the beloved Dr. Noble. Even then there was a Sabbath school in operation, for, in an early book of disbursements, one reads of the distribution of funds contributed to Home Missions, Foreign Missions, Tract Society, Bible Society and Sabbath School.

A New Church Building (1834)

In 1834, during the ministry of T. L. Conkling, a committee was appointed to solicit subscriptions for the building of a new church.

In the earliest book of record there is a list of the subscribers showing the amounts given. Subscriptions ran from $2.00 to an occasional $50.00 or $60.00 gift and only one donation of $100.00, that given by the engineer who had done the railroad surveying over our hills seven years before.

With the new church planned and subscribed for, the school-house was moved from its position quite near Church Street to the rear of the present lot, probably facing what is now Terrance Street. It continued to serve as a school-house. In the records it is referred to as “The Select School.”

The new House of Worship was placed on the present site near and facing Church Street. Mr. Samuel E. Raynor on the fiftieth anniversary of our church in 1879 described the building as “a very neat substantial edifice, of a considerable size and in those days considered to be a fine church. It was looked upon as a great ornament to our town.”

In the J.R. Durfee History of Carbondale, it is described as “without dome or steeple, Gothic style,” and one is reminded that with the publication of the city map in 1851, after Carbondale had been incorporated as a city, this Meeting House was not considered “an ornament” for its picture was not included in the group of churches shown on the pictorial map.

The amount credited to construction was $998.08. The church was completed for $1100.00 in November 1834 and in the winter of 1835-36 articles of incorporation were drawn. The original charter was signed by the Attorney General on February 17, 1836. Article No. 1 reads: “Name, style and title shall be ‘The First Presbyterian Society of Carbondale’.”

In 1836, a bell was purchased and placed in a bell house or tower built directly behind the Meeting House. This bell played an active part in early Carbondale’s day. Its ringing announced an important event for it called the children to school as faithfully as it called all to worship. Its ringing summoned the pioneers to work. It tolled solemnly when death occurred and brought out the bucket brigade in the emergency of fire.

Of the members joining during those first ten years, there are today a few lineal descendants actively engaged in the church’s work and support.

The Methodists and the Catholics had organized in the Fall of 1830. The former built its first church in 1832. The Welsh Baptist and the Welsh Calvinistic Churches were established 1833. The Trinity Church organized in 1832 and the Baptists in 1848.

Church Spared — Disasters

In March 1850, there was a motion to “move the original school-house off the lot immediately” but evidently this was not done just then for in December of the same year when the great fire swept Main Street and the westerly side of Church Street, it destroyed about sixty buildings among which was the one called “Temperance Hall”, corner of Main Street and Salem Avenue, where had been established an Academic School known as “Carbondale Academy and Lackawanna Institute.” After the fire, this school was carried on the little Presbyterian school-house.

All through the years our church has been spared — suffering neither from flood nor flame when these disasters wrought havoc in our town.

By 1851, Carbondale had become a city, receiving her city charter years before Wilkes-Barre (1871) or Scranton (1866), thereby deserving the name of “The Pioneer City.”

In 1854, a belfry was built and other improvements made on “The Meeting House.”

The poor little school-house was moved again and again, but sometime later than 1857, it was moved off the church plot and eventually it arrived at No. 100 Spring Street where for many years it has served as an attractive home, and is today [1929] owned and occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Davies. A worn doorstep, indeed!

The Third Church Building (1865)

In 1859 the congregation started a subscription list towards the raising of $10,000.00 for the erection of a new place of worship. In a record of June 1859 the following statements appear: “Consider the sale of the old church for sum not less than $500.00” and “proceed to the erection” of a brick church.

There was indecision concerning the site. To use a lot farther up Church Street (offered as a gift) or to remove the old church and build on the original site. A decision in favor of the latter resulted in the purchase by the Church of two lots on the Southerly side of Salem Avenue, No. 58 and in the summer of 1860 the “Meeting House” was removed to these lots and for five years the church services were held there.

These were momentous times in our country for that grave man, Abraham Lincoln, had just been elected President and without the support of all in the North and facing the opposition of the South, the outlook was gloomy indeed.

Indecision here continued. Delays and changes of plans prevailed. Even after material was ordered, the brick on hand was ordered to be sold, for the time was not right for the building of the church. Then came the Civil War and all erection plans were postponed.

Shortly after Lincoln’s Emancipation proclamation on March 17, 1863, church erection movement started again. Ground having been broken, the original subscription list was brought out, but still the work lagged and all was delayed. Then in December 1863, the Black Fever swept through the homes. In the following February, Mr. Ward, the pastor, died.

In the summer of 1864, work on the new church was resumed and hurried. At various times the amount for construction had been placed at figures ranging down the scale from $10,000.00 to $7,000.00.

Mr. Oliver Crane became the new pastor when the erection of the new church was almost completed. The new church, with its beautifully proportioned spire (tall, slender and tapering) was dedicated in August 1865. It had cost $1,700.00.

Abraham Lincoln was dead but his dream became a reality when the thirteenth amendment, freeing the slaves, became a part of our Constitution in 1865.

From 1870 to 1881, Mr. Edward D. Bryan was the pastor. 1882-1885 Mr. Gustavus Alden served the church.

In 1885 came that shepherd, Dr. Charles Lee, who tenderly guarded his flock for two score years.

During Dr. Lee’s ministry the church was enlarged and remodeled. The pulpit was placed in the addition toward the south and an entrance opposite the pulpit was built on Salem Avenue. This enlarged church was dedicated in 1888. Later, the Salem Avenue entrance was eliminated and later than 1894 the beautiful spire, having been declared unsafe, was removed and in its place was built the belfry which greatly lessened the dignity and beauty of the church’s exterior.

With the resignation of Dr. Lee there came to us Dr. S. Turner Foster. Strong, radiant, eager — a tireless worker filled with a dream for the future of the Presbyterian Church of Carbondale.

An outstanding event during this ministry was the Centennial Celebration held the week of June 23, 1929, commemorating the Organization of the Church on June 27, 1829.

During this time there was a plan for the erection of a new church. With $50,000.00 in hand there was an effort for additional funds and on a Pledge Sunday $13,000.00 were raised. However, due to circumstances, to war, and to Dr. Foster’s failing health the plans did not materialize. Dr. Foster resigned March 28, 1948.

The Church of God Goes On

On February 6, 1949 a call to become the new pastor was accepted by Malcolm Sweet, son of the distinguished Dr. Louis Matthews Sweet, S.T.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Sweet by his deep interest in his son’s new charge endeared himself to this congregation to a remarkable degree and his death on October 3, 1950 was felt as a personal loss to each active member of the Presbyterian Church of Carbondale.

The new pastor, Rev. Malcolm Stuart Sweet, honor graduate of Hobart College and winner of the Bernadine Orme Smith Fellowship at McCormick Seminary, Chicago, Illinois, came to us from the Presbyterian Church at New Hartford, N.Y. The Rev. Mr. Sweet is well qualified to carry on magnificently the work so nobly begun in the far away days of 1829.

The spirit born on that June day one hundred and twenty-two years ago is strong with the strength of the ages and bids us reach “forth unto those things which are before” and “press forward toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

The Delaware and Hudson canal abandoned in 1898, the Gravity Railroad a memory since 1899, but the Church of God goes on. So on July 15, 1949 the razing of the old church was begun — the first step towards the realization of a new church on the old familiar site at the corner of Salem Avenue and Church Street.

Our debt of gratitude is to the past, but our great obligation is to the future.

–Eleanor P. Jones

Part Two

Part two of the History of the First Presbyterian Church of Carbondale is an ongoing project. Presented here is the “History of the Church 1829 – 1979” written by Mary E. Chase to commemorate the 150th anniversary of this, the oldest Presbyterian Church in Lackawanna County. This portion of Ms. Chase’s history from 1948 to 1979, the 150th anniversary year of the First Presbyterian Church of Carbondale, has been edited and rewritten from the original.

The Present Church Building

January 22, 1948, a building Committee was appointed by the elders and trustees with Lawrence J. Renaud as Chairman. Of that committee of twenty – four other members are living: Marion Campbell, Oswald Chambers, Mary E. Chase, and Albert J. Hoole.

In April 1948, Dr. Foster resigned following an illness, and Rev. Malcolm S. Sweet came to our church.

While the church was without a pastor, the renovation of the Manse took place. Rev. Richard Rinker was the supply pastor.

The members of the Boards of Elders, Deacons and Trustees were declared ineligible to succeed themselves for a period of one year after their term of office had expired.

Plans were presented for a new church to be built in Gothic style of granite stone with a tower entrance on Salem Ave., at the cost of $437,000. On May 26, 1949 the Trustees were authorized to proceed to enter into contracts for the church building and to negotiate such loans as necessary to meet the costs thereof. At the time $184,000 was available in cash and bonds. Insurance (endowment insurance taken out on young men twenty years before) of $50,000 was available. A fifteen year mortgage for $165,000 from the First National Bank was procured.

Charles Bolton, Philadelphia, was the architect, and Samuel G. Mastriani was the General Contractor.

The ground breaking was held July 13, 1949 with Rev. Sweet and Frank S. Hauenstein, President of the Trustees, wielding the pick and shovel. These are displayed in a case located in the vestibule of Fellowship Hall.

The razing of the old church began on July 15th, and the first step was taken toward a new church – the fourth on the same site.

Mr. L. A. Farrell, manager of the Irving Theatre offered the use of the theatre for Sunday morning services for as long as necessary without charge.

The cornerstone was laid December 11, 1949. Placed inside the cornerstone in a waterproof box was a Bible, current church records as well as the old historical data from the cornerstone of the previous church along with a picture of the former church. Also included was a list of all the members, associations, and committees of the church.

The construction of the new building finally began in September of 1949, just two months after the groundbreaking ceremony.

It was voted to take control and operation of the American Legion home across the street from the church, receiving all revenue, paying all expenses etc. in lieu of paying rent for the use of the building with taxes and building repairs excluded.

The Couples Club was organized and Harry Meyle was honored for having completed 45 years of perfect attendance in Sunday School.

May 1950, the title of the church property at the corner of Salem Ave. and Church St. rested in the Hudson Coal Co. and proceedings were started to obtain from them a quietclaim.

The new church was dedicated June 3, 1951. Frank S. Hauenstein, President of the Trustees presented the key to the Church to Rev. Sweet. The act of dedication was performed by the Rev. Brewer L. Burnett, moderator of the Presbytery of Lackawanna. Dr. Peter K. Emmons preached the dedicatory sermon “Glory of the Temple.” The dedication of Memorials and Special Gifts was held the following week. Member of that Committee still living is Mrs. K. H. Colville Sr.

The new church, costing $485,703.89, was the fulfillment of the hopes and dreams that had extended for more than thirty years under three pastorates. We, who had a part in the building of our present church, are united with those of earlier generations, who wanted this congregation to continue.

Resignation of Rev. Sweet

At a special Congregational Meeting, November 22, 1953, Rev. Sweet presented his formal resignation. “No minister could ask for a more wonderful congregation than you have been to me. You have supported me, you have been warm and friendly and understanding. These past five years have been the happiest in my ministry. But I am like a soldier in the army, subject to orders of higher headquarters; to go here or to go there according as God wills it. This is not my church, nor is it your church, it is God’s church. I hold a firm conviction that it was by God’s providence that I was called here. I hold an equally firm conviction that it is His providence that I am called away.”

During his tenure, Rev. Sweet proved his worth as a citizen, his merit as a leader, and his Christian attitude as a minister. He was saluted as one of the most sincere and understanding clergy in Carbondale’s history. He made a very deep impression on the people of all faiths. He will always be remembered for making our dreams of a beautiful new church come true. His five years in Carbondale were short but far beyond our expectations.

On January 18, 1954, a farewell reception was held. Trowbridge Warner was General Chairman – the living members of the committees are Mrs. K. H. Colville Sr., Everett Kitchen, John Evans, and Mary E. Chase.

More than 500 persons attended. Special resolutions, adopted by the congregation, were read by Mr. K. H. Colville Sr. Mayor Frank B. Kelly extended a farewell, representing the City of Carbondale. Salute from the press was given by James F. Beamish and a scroll from the Lackawanna Valley Community Chest was presented by Attorney Bernard J. Brown.

Changes and Debts Paid

After Rev. Sweet’s Resignation, Rev. Frank Sneberger acted as moderator and provided pastoral services until Rev. David R. Kennedy came to our church April 11, 1954. During the period from 1852 to 1954 the ministries of seven devoted men covered the entire century.

On June 27, 1954, a Commemorative Service celebrating our 125th Anniversary culminated with the Sacrament of our Lord’s Supper.

February 1955 – Carbondale suffered a disastrous fire. The church was once again spared disaster, and our Fellowship Hall was opened for food and shelter for the firemen.

The property next to the Manse was sold to Frank Zazzera.

Mrs. Grace Sleppy had been Church Secretary since 1945 although she had been doing clerical work for the church since 1940. In 1956, Mrs. Sleppy resigned and Mrs. Hazel Snedeker became Church Secretary.

The church almost avoided a major disaster on July 12, 1956, when a bolt of lightning struck one of the small spires atop the church and broke it off. The spire was later repaired to its original condition.

New By-Laws of the Church as a Congregation or Ecclesiastical Body and as a Corporation or Secular Body were approved.

From the time that the new church was built, the Women’s Association had been providing Business Men’s luncheons every Thursday, earning many thousands of dollars toward reducing the mortgage on the new church. On January 12, 1958 at the Sunday morning service, the mortgage on the church was burned. Frank Fiedler was President of the Board of Trustees at the time.

The members of the Building Fund Committee with Trowbridge Warner as Chairman, having completed their work, were dismissed. Only member, still living of this committee, is Albert J. Hoole.

In 1959, the Manse property on North Church Street was sold with a new manse to be built on Hendrick Lane – a new street – a part of the estate belonging originally to Eli E. Hendrick. The new manse was dedicated December 11, 1960.

February 1963, Rev. David R. Kennedy submitted his resignation. A reception was held for him in Fellowship Hall with W. J. Kaufman as Chairman of the Arrangement Committee.

A New Era

In September 1963, Rev. Charles F. J. Starzer was nominated. In his formal statement to the pulpit committee he said: “Like a doctor, I am a professional, and like a family doctor the wounds and heartaches of the members will become just as much of a burden to me to be shared in prayer and devotion to the tasks that lie ahead. If the call is extended, I plan to give as much of myself to the work as possible and will expect the same from the dedicated members of the church.”

On December 3, 1963, Rev. Starzer was installed as the new minister of the First Presbyterian Church.

In 1966, Hazel Snedeker resigned as Church Secretary and Mrs. Margaret Price succeeded her.

During the same year, the new Manse was paid for in full.

During Holy Week 1969, our new organ was used for the first time.

In 1977, Stephen Starzer, son of The Rev. Charles F. J. Starzer, presented to the Session his desire to become a Presbyterian minister.

Looking Ahead

And so we come to the present time [1979]. One hundred fifty years have passed and our church is still strong. We have learned many lessons in going through the records. The records of the first meeting of the session as well as the Board of Trustees are as orderly as those of the present month. The future is before us – it is up to us and to the generations to come to preserve the glorious and shining heritage of the First Presbyterian Church of Carbondale.

—Mary E. Chase

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