|White Clay Creek Presbyterian Church|
White Clay Creek Presbyterian Church sits on the north side of Kirkwood Highway, at the base of Polly Drummond Hill Road. Before it was known as Polly Drummond Hill, though, the high ground to the north was called Meeting House Hill. The meeting house for which it was named was not where the present church is, but about a mile up the road, on Old Coach Road (actually, it's on an old section of the road now called Coach Hill Drive). As early as 1708, residents near White Clay Creek petitioned the Presbytery to be allowed to set up their own meeting house, but the New Castle church objected, not wanting their congregation to be split.
Finally, in about 1721, the local worshippers were allowed to form their own congregation, and they soon erected a small meeting house near the top of the hill, on land owned by Jonathan Evans. The exact date is unknown, but there is a reference to it being in place in June 1723. The first regular pastor at the church was Thomas Craighead, installed in September 1724. Rev. Craighead remained at White Clay until 1733, when he moved on to a church in Pennsylvania. His son Thomas, Jr. remained in the area, and shortly before his death in 1735, a second, larger meeting house was built on land donated by him. This second church, said to have been 25 by 40 feet in size and built to accommodate the growing congregation, was probably on the south side of the road, directly across from the wooded plot (still owned by the church) that contains the original cemetery.
The next full-time pastor was Rev. Charles Tennent, called to White Clay in 1737. Charles was the son of William Tennent, whose Log College in Bucks County, PA was somewhat of a predecessor of Princeton University. Tennent preached at White Clay for 26 years, and oversaw several major events during his tenure. The first of these events was possibly the largest single gathering in the hundred at the time, when in 1739 evangelist George Whitfield held a revival attended by up to ten thousand people. That estimate, of course, was Whitfield's own, but even if the real attendance was half that, it's still a staggering number for the area at the time.
The next event was a theological one within the Presbyterian Church, and was known as The Old Side-New Side Controversy. Rev. Tennent was on the New Side in the debate, not surprising considering that his father and brother were very much at the center of the New Side split. It was during this schism, which lasted from 1741-1758, that the last major event occurred. In May of 1752, Joseph England (who owned a mill just to the south) gave a plot of land to the supporters of Rev. Tennent for the construction of a new meeting house. This new church, as Scharf tells us, was a simple structure, 36 feet wide by 60 feet long, but would serve the congregation for over 100 years. In 1785, the plastered stone wall around the north and east sides of the lot was added.
|The 1752 Meeting House, by Newark College professor Seth C. Brace, 1844|
|The church in 1958, before the addition of the steeple/elevator|
Additional Facts and Related Thoughts:
- The Old Coach Road on which the first church sat was the original east-west route through western Mill Creek Hundred, pre-dating the "Road from Newark to Cuckoldstown (Stanton)" commissioned in 1768. This road would be laid out approximately where today's Kirkwood Highway/Old Capitol Trail is, and was positioned to go by the recently-built church.
- I couldn't find anything that stated it specifically, but I got the impression that an Old Side congregation may have remained in the old meeting house after the new one was built in 1752. In fact, it seems that this is when Rev. William McKennan preached here. McKennan may have been the last to preach at the old meeting house up the hill. The "Old Siders" would have then rejoined their neighbors in the new church in 1759, after the reunification.
- Oddly, like his predecessor Tennent, James Vallandigham also had a very controversial brother. Clement Vallandigham was one of the leaders of the Copperhead movement during the Civil War, and was an outspoken opponent of Lincoln and the war itself. He was eventually arrested for and convicted of "uttering disloyal sentiments". He was first sent to a military prison, then sent to the Confederacy. After his death in 1871 (and you have to read about that to believe it), his brother, Rev. James Vallandigham, wrote a very sympathetic biography of him.
- The rather brief National Register of Historic Places form for the church states that there were two earlier churches on the present site -- one in 1752 and one in 1785. I've not seen that stated anywhere else, and I think they may have been confused by the stone wall, which was built in 1785.