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The History of Saint Luke's Episcopal Church

Milestones Vol 27. No. 3

(Compiled by Mrs. Frances Finley,
Edited by Rev. Donald Hands)

I have fought a good fight, I have
finished the course, I have kept faith.
2 Timothy 4:7

St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Georgetown.

The history of St. Luke's Church is a story of faith. It is the story of a little group of people who knew the power of God, and a people who placed their trust in Him.

The beginning of St. Luke's Church is identified with the earliest history of America, of Georgetown, and of Beaver County; in fact, St. Luke's is the oldest Episcopal Church in continuous service in the Pittsburgh Diocese. The parish antidates the church, for services actually were first held on a flat boat anchored to the left bank of the Ohio River.

It was because of the fine location on the Ohio River that the village of Georgetown became a good stopping place for keelboats and other craft bound up and down the river. The village came into existence in 1793. From it you can see into Ohio and West Virginia, and for a century, it was known to every traveler going down the river to "the West."

Even before 1793, Georgetown was a known location with stop-over accommodations. On November 16, 1789, Major Ebenezer Denny (later to become Pittsburgh's first mayor) wrote in his journal while coming up the Ohio during the time of Indian trouble: "The river continued to rise. With hard work we made it to Dawsons, opposite the mouth of the Little Beaver, about 8 o'clock at night."

In 1806, Thomas Ashe, an English gentleman, traveled extensively in the United States "with the sole view of examining this interesting country." He descended the Ohio, stopping at various points in Beaver County. At Georgetown, he made a series of experiments having to do with oil, which he subsequently published in London in three volumes. He thus records his observations: "Georgetown is a small but flourishing place just above the mouth of MiIl Creek. It is pleasantly situated on a very high bank." Geographically, Georgetown is situated on the left bank of the Ohio River at mile 38.9 from Pittsburgh.

The principles of the Episcopal Church were imported into the community by the first settlers and by the Reverend Francis Reno, who was the first Episcopal clergyman west of the Allegheny Mountains and the second minister to serve St. Luke's Church from 1819 to 1825.

The Reverend Mr. Reno died at Rochester, Pennsylvania, on August 12, 1836. The stained glass window in the west wall of the church is a memorial to Francis Reno, who founded St. Paul's Church, Fairview, from whence the window came when this church was demolished. It seems fitting to mention that nearly every Episcopal Church in the Beaver Valley has been a direct result of the godly man's excursion into this territory.

As Georgetown grew, a rough log church was erected by a small group of faithful, devout men and women, who possessed high courage, vision and a deep love for their Lord. The congregation was served by ordained clergy who traveled to Georgetown on horseback or by boat. The first to minister to the people of Georgetown was the Reverend John L. Taylor, who organized the parish of St. Luke's in 1814.

In 1825, a notable event occurred in the history of the church in Western Pennsylvania. In spite of his nearly four-score years, Bishop William White made a journey across the mountains and visited the parishes in and around Pittsburgh, covering 830 miles of wretched roads and spending in all 35 days in his carriage. St. Luke's, Georgetown, by virtue of his visitation for confirmation and inspection of parish facilities, ranks among the few churches in the United States ever to have been visited by the first Bishop of Pennsylvania of the Episcopal Church.

On April 29, 1830, the Reverend Sanson K. Brunot became the fourth minister of St. Luke's and was the first native western Pennsylvanian to be ordained to the priesthood of the Episcopal Church. He served at Trinity in Pittsburgh, as well as Georgetown and other parishes. The Reverend Brunot established parishes in Blairsville, Greensburg, and Christ Church (Allegheny) in Pittsburgh. Sanson Brunot was the son of Dr. Felix Brunot, a Frenchman and a half brother of the Marquis de Lafayette.

From the Reverend Brunot's Journal of June 4, 1830, we have this account of his arduous trip to Georgetown to preach at St. Luke's:

"Started for Georgetown, Beaver County, on Friday, June 4, at four o'clock P.M. in the steamboat, 'Native.' Reached there about nine o'clock in the same evening and proceeded immediately to Mr. Thomas Foster's house, was kindly received, etc. I found that the ensuing Sunday had been fixed upon for the half-yearly communion of the congregation of St. Paul's Church (five miles from Georgetown) and that the major part of the Georgetown people would be there."

The first church made of logs was replaced in 1833 by the present brick edifice. St. Luke's was formally opened for worship on Sunday, December 15, 1833. This was during the second administration of Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States. It was then and is today a beautiful, well proportioned church building, of which any small village could be proud.

John Christler, whose portrait hung in the church for many years, built the church and is said to have furnished the lumber and other materials for its construction at a total cost of three thousand dollars. Solid wooden beams were used in the building of the church, and the bricks were hand made and "fired" in his orchard at Shippingport. The ceiling of the church is shaped like the bottom of a river boat, reflecting the prominence of boats in the lives of the congregation.

During the Civil War, July 26,1863, General Morgan was captured at West Point, Ohio, which was close enough to Georgetown to cause quite a furor during the evening prayer service at St. Luke's. The Reverend Henry Mackay wrote this story to his bishop:

"When I arrived in Georgetown, the village was in great excitement. The people were armed with all kinds of weapons. I had the bell rung and began worship. Soon the building was surrounded by a yelling, howling, demonical crowd. Angry words and threats were made. The women were fearfully frightened. At some time during the prayer, someone entered the church and fired a pistol. Judge the terror it caused. I closed the service. They then took me to a magistrate and went through the form of swearing me to loyalty to the government. I was a 'dammed copperhead' and in that they were wicked liars. That is all I can tell you about Georgetown at present."

Seventy-eight years later, on October 21, 1941, a Civil War canon having been brought from the Pittsburgh arsenal, where it was cast, via steamer to Line Island (Georgetown) where it was to be used in halting Morgan's raid through Ohio, was donated by town councilmen towards relieving the nation's scrap metal shortage. Georgetown followed the example of many other cities and towns in sacrificing relics of the past to preserve the future.

Georgetown early became a place of residence for those engaged in steamboating. It was said that a steamboat could be run with just the men of Georgetown. There were captains, pilots, mates, engineers, and stewards, all of whom lived right in town. Boats were built at large shipyards in Freedom, Fallston, and Glasgow, PA. The boats churned up and down the Ohio, and gradually traveled the Mississippi and other western rivers. In this manner the people of Georgetown and St. Luke's were instrumental in helping to open up the West.

The place grew rapidly, and within a few years was full of Dawsons, Mackalls, Calhoons, Kinseys, Poes, Trimbles, Parrs, Laughlins and a few other families, most of whose names are still to be found in the town today or on tombstones just above town on a high hillside in the old Grand Heights Cemetery. Here most of the pioneer settlers along with many other river folks, who made transportation history in another, less hectic age, are buried. These families inter-married with other pioneer families of the area, and even today it is hard to find anyone who is not a relative of his neighbor.

On St. Luke's Day, Oct. 18, 1903, St. Luke's celebrated the 70th Anniversary of the building of the present church and paid tribute of love, honor, and respect to the sainted memory of those who had gone before, and whose mortal remains repose in the burial ground which overlooks the church. The Rev. Weary began the services at 3:00 P.M. The people came from St. Paul's, Fairview, from Smith's Ferry, and towns and villages in the immediate vicinity. Over 100 members from St. Stephen's parish in East Liverpool, Ohio, attended the services. They came by ferry, boat, and street car. They all came with one object of paying homage to the little church, which stands as a landmark in the history of Georgetown. The church was packed from the chancel to the entrance doors when the choir sang to the accompaniment of the reed organ, "0 Mother Dear Jerusalem." Mr. Wilkie Colling Peppard was master of ceremonies. There was an atmosphere of sacred consecration which prevaded all. The traditions and history of the church combined to effect a spirit of sweet awe in the minds of the congregation assembled. They knew that they had assembled to pay tribute to the makers of history, and to bow the head and bend the knee in commemoration of an epoch in the history of the town. Many who attended the anniversary service represented some of the pioneer families who struggled against the early environment in order to rear to the great God of the universe the little, substantial, brick church around which clusters the memories and associations of relatives and friends of long ago. The Rev. Edwin Weary conducted the service and gave the sermon.

St. Luke's was remodeled in 1905 under the direction of the Rev. George Lamb, and by living in Georgetown, he was able to oversee the extensive repairs made to the church. The interior was remodeled, and a sacristy built. The altar was enlarged with materials from the old window casements. The outside shutters were removed, and the window casements altered to provide for lancet shaped windows. Memorial stained glass windows were installed in honor of Miss Jane McMiffe, Miss Anna B. Ditmore, and Henry J. Kinsey. A brass altar rail was installed in the sanctuary in memory of Mr. James Kinsey.

In May, 1927, Bishop Mann gave the Rev. William S. Thomas a choice of serving All Saints' Church, Aliquippa, or St. Paul's, Mt. Lebanon, where Dr. W. Anthony had resigned. When the decision was Aliquippa, the Bishop informed the Rev. William Thomas that tied with All Saints' would be St. Luke's, Georgetown, once each week. His ministry to the two parishes began in June, 1927. As Priest-in-charge at St. Luke's, he held services in the evening.

The Centennial of St. Luke's Church was celebrated with services on Sunday, October 15, Monday, October 16, and Tuesday, October 17, in 1933, with the Rev. William S. Thomas of All Saints', Aliquippa, and the Rev. John S. Taylor of Nativity Church, Crafton, conducting services. Bishop Alexander Mann of Pittsburgh made his visitation Wednesday, October 18, at 8:00 P.M. when he expressed the service performed by such a church in likening it to one of the brooks and rivulets which feeds a mighty river. "It is the smaller churches," he said, "that are the true source of strength of the main body of the church."

In 1951, St. Luke's was completely refurbished, inside and out. New plaster was applied to the interior, giving it the beautiful simplicity which is always associated with the early history of our country. The exterior of the homemade bricks was specially treated as a protection against weather and was painted white in keeping again with the clean, simple beauty of our early history. For many years, St. Luke's Church had been referred to by the people in Georgetown as the "red church" to distinguish it from the white painted Methodist Church. This name was no longer suitable with the new coat of white paint.

A strong arm of the parish life of St. Luke's has been St. Luke's Guild. The women of the church organized the Guild in February, 1952, at a meeting held in the home of Mrs. Phyllis Mackall. Through the years since its inception, the Guild has been active in helping to maintain the church and the parish hall, and in raising funds to be used as needed by the church. The Guild meetings and activities provide a time of fellowship for the women and girls of the church. The yearly spaghetti dinners, which the Guild members prepare and serve under the direction of Guild President, Mrs. Marie Andrews, have become famous in the area.

At a dinner held at the Georgetown Methodist Church January 24, 1970, plans were disclosed for a new Parish Hall to be built to meet the needs of the Georgetown community. It was to be a place for all of the people of Georgetown to use; that is, for meetings, youth parties and dances, private gatherings, and with main floor and undercroft facilities to conduct Sunday School. In attendance were the Rt. Rev. William S. Thomas, Suffragan Bishop; Mr. Francis C. Swem, the architect; Father Glenjenks, Vicar of St. Luke's; and the citizens of Georgetown. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held on the Sunday after Ascension Day, May 10, 1970, at four o'clock in the afternoon. This was a great "Service of Praise and Thanksgiving," with Bishop Thomas as officiant and the Rev. Glen B. Jenks, litanist. Samuel Laughlin was acolyte, and the combined choirs from All Saints', Aliquippa, and St. Luke's participated.

The Parish Hall was completed in early 1972 for use of the congregation of St. Luke's and for the people of Georgetown. It is a one story brick building with a complete undercroft. The bricks were painted white in keeping with the exterior of the church proper. The Parish Hall is joined to the sacristy of the church by a hallway. The Parish Hall is used as a classroom for Sunday School and for fellowship coffee hours held after Sunday Service. It has been used for wedding receptions, open house, district and town meetings, and is currently the place where people of Georgetown vote. We are grateful that our parishioners and friends of St. Luke's responded in love and sacrifice to make the dream of a Parish Hall a reality.

In the summer of 1974, a congregational meeting was called by the Archdeacon of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, the Venerable William Lewis, with the purpose of getting some idea as to the type of pastor who might best fill the needs of St. Luke's Parish. Archdeacon Lewis had visited St. Luke's from boyhood on as a member of All Saints', Aliquippa, and was quite familiar with the situation at St. Luke's. The only requirement expressed by the congregation was the wish that whoever filled the vacancy be interested in the people of St. Luke's. The will of the Lord, and wisdom and foresight of Bishop Appleyard and Archdeacon Lewis, and the life situation of Victor 1. Zuck combined to fulfill the wishes and hopes of the people of St. Lukes' beyond their greatest expectation. As Mr. Zuck accepted this assignment on October 13, 1974, he became our forty-second minister, and the first deacon to be ordained in the parish of St. Luke's.

On Sunday, May 29, 1977, another great event in the continuing history of St. Luke's occurred. A historical marker was presented to the church by the Beaver County Historical Research and Landmarks Foundation, and was accepted and dedicated in a service on the church lawn by the marker, and later in the church. The marker reads:

St. Luke's Episcopal Church

First service was held on a flat boat on the Ohio River around 1800. St. Luke's admitted into union with the Diocese of Pennsylvania in 1814, was visited by the First Presiding Bishop in 1825. Present structure built in 1833.

In March of 1984, Dr. Donald Hands became Priest-in-charge of St. Luke's and its forty-third minister. Dr. Hands was ordained to the Priesthood in 1979 by the Rt. Rev. Robert B. Appleyard for the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Dr. Hands is also a licensed psychologist and directs the Samaritan Counseling Center of Beaver Valley.

Pages of this historical volume of St. Luke's are daily being added to. This history is just a beginning, which we hope is adequate to show affection and appreciation to those loyal members and clergymen who throughout 171 years have written in deeds the St. Luke's story.