The year was 1792, George Washington was unanimously re-elected President of the United States, Thomas Mifflin was serving as the first Governor of Pennsylvania, both the U.S. Post Office and the U.S. Mint were established, there were 15 states in the Union, the most recent being Kentucky, and “The Farmers’ Almanac” was published for the first time. Internationally, France was in the throes of revolution, Mary Wollstonecraft wrote the feminist tract “A Vindication of the Rights of Women” and Russia invaded Poland. Locally, the first church in Lycoming County was established, Lycoming Presbyterian Church.
This venerable old church had its humble beginnings as a log cabin, but actually Presbyterianism in the Williamsport area predates the establishment of the Lycoming Presbyterian Church by more than 40 years. David Brainard was reported to have preached in the area of Lycoming Creek, not far from the present day church in 1746.
According to John Meginness in his 1892 “History of Lycoming County,” it is not known who was responsible for building the log building or cabin that became the church. Rev. Issac Grier became the first pastor of the church, and he also served charges on Pine Creek and at the Great Island at Lock Haven.
The Lycoming Presbyterian had some very distinguished figures as some of its early congregates. They included Judge William Hepburn, who many historians regard as the “Father of Lycoming County,” James Cummings, for whom Cummings Township and Cummings Street was named, Andrew and William Culbertson and John McMeens, who served as a county commissioner and a justice of the peace.
The log church burned in May 1817. For short time worshipers at Lycoming met at a grove along Lycoming Creek, not far from where their church had stood. A stone structure then replaced the burned log cabin church. It was 60-feet by 60-feet. The pulpit was elevated with stairs on either side. The pews were high and straight backed and reportedly very uncomfortable.
In June 1850 this stone structure was dismantled and new edifice put up. Large stones from the old church were used to surround the church’s graveyard that housed the remains of about 125 Revolutionary War-era patriot soldiers and residents of the area.
The present church was erected in 1891. A “Grit” article of October 22, 1905 described some of the interior of the church this way: “The ends of the seats in the sanctuary are handsomely carved. The seats are comfortably cushioned which helps to increase church attendance. The Presbyterians of Newberry are proud of this church….”
A new educational building was added onto the building in 1925.
The present pastor at Lycoming Presbyterian Church is proud to be a part of a church with such a long and rich heritage.
“It is kind of humbling to be the same pastoral line as a man like David Brainard,” Miller said. “The historic nature of this church played a major role in me accepting the calling here.”
Miller said he believes that the congregation is “very mindful” of being part of such a significant church, particularly the older members of the congregation.
“This church is a history of faithfulness and has a significant legacy of spirituality and faithfulness for the future,” Miller said. “I am particularly proud of this church’s role as a ‘mother church.’ Six other Presbyterian congregations sprung forth from the congregation here at Lycoming Presbyterian Church and I believe that is a wonderful gift for this area.”
As if to emphasize its historic nature the church served as the site for the “Inside Newberry” celebration in 2001 and 2002. The “Inside Newberry” event celebrates the heritage and people of Newberry. Artifacts, scrapbooks and vintage photographs were placed on display and many nostalgic conversations took place among the attendees. The event became so large it was moved in 2003 to the Roosevelt Middle School.
Miller and the congregation look forward to Lycoming Presbyterian Church continuing to serve as proud, spiritual home for many years to come.
By Lou Hunsinger, Jr., Williamsport Sun-Gazette