Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Reverend Thomas Love

Rev. Thomas Love
Nineteenth Century Mill Creek Hundred, like the rest of the country, was a highly religious place. The smattering of small, country churches helped to define and unite the communities, and in doing so the leaders of those churches (especially ones who remained for an extended period of time) became influential and well-known in the community. In the mid-1800's, few men were more respected in this area than the Presbyterian minister Rev. Thomas Love. He preached at local churches for over 35 years, taking several struggling congregations and building them into strong churches. He also managed to be a gentleman farmer in eastern MCH for more than 55 years, joining his ministerial predecessor in leaving his name on the map even today.

Thomas Love was born on March 22, 1796 in Faggs Manor, PA (near the present-day towns of Avondale and Cochranville). His parents were James and Mary Love, and his grandfather, also Thomas Love, was a soldier in both the French and Indian War as well as the Revolution. It was this elder Thomas' grandfather who first emigrated from Ireland to America. The family was likely Scotch-Irish and devoutly Presbyterian, like the MCH residents to the south to whom the younger Thomas would ultimately minister.

Thomas spent his formative years working on his father's Chester County farm, and it wasn't until age 23 that he began studying for the ministry. In April 1823, Thomas Love was officially licensed by the Presbytery of New Castle to preach. Later that same year -- in October -- Thomas married Sarah Latta. The Lattas were also a very religious family, counting among their number several ministers, including Sarah's father. Thomas' primary instructor in studying for the ministry may have been Sarah's uncle.

For the first two and a half years of his ministry, Rev. Love supplied several congregations, including Upper West Nottingham (Chester Co, PA), Red Clay Creek, Lower Brandywine, and First Presbyterian in Wilmington. In the fall of 1825, he accepted the calls from two churches to become their regular pastor -- Lower Brandywine and Red Clay Creek. Rev. Love continued to supply First Presbyterian for five more years after settling in at Brandywine and Red Clay.

Just before ceasing his affiliation with the Wilmington congregation -- 1829, to be exact -- Love purchased a small stone home, located about a mile north of the Red Clay Creek church. Sitting on the north side of Lancaster Pike a few hundred feet southeast of its intersection with Newport Gap Pike, the house had been constructed about 20 years earlier by William Jordan (as detailed at the beginning of this DelDOT report). Sometime after acquiring the house, Love greatly enlarged it by adding a three-bay, Federal-style fieldstone addition on to its west end. This new section is actually larger than Jordan's original house. Both Reverend and Mrs. Love would spend the rest of their days residing here, and their daughter and her family would occupy it for another nearly 30 years.

Sarah Latta Love

Thomas and Sarah only had one child, Mary Elizabeth Love, who was born in 1825 when the family may have been living near Greenville. In 1848 Mary married Stephen Springer, with whom she would have five children. Mary and Stephen first lived on his portion of his family's land, in a house west of Mill Creek and south of Mendenhall Mill Road (it's only recently come to my attention that this house is still standing). Although it seems that Stephen retained ownership of this house, by 1870 they had all moved into Rev. Love's house, maybe after Sarah Love passed away the year before. Stephen would live here until his death in 1895. In 1906, Mary finally sold the house out of the family.

As mentioned earlier, while he lived in his Loveville home (the area, of course, named for him) Rev. Thomas Love primarily tended to two congregations -- Red Clay Creek and Lower Brandywine. There was a very good reason why he split his time between two churches -- neither one was really large enough to support a full-time pastor. When Rev. Love took them over, Red Clay had only eight communicants in its congregation, while Lower Brandywine (known then as "The Old Log Church") had twenty-five. In only eight years, the united congregation grew under Rev. Love from 33 to 189.

Red Clay Creek Presbyterian, c.1937

At Red Clay Creek and the surrounding community, his influence was strong for many years. In addition to enlarging the congregation, he also oversaw the construction of a new church building. In 1853, the old small church dating to Rev. William McKennan's pastorate in 1761 was replaced with a larger one, seen above. Love's new church is still there, dwarfed by numerous 20th (and I believe 21st) Century additions. During his pastorate, Rev. Love was well-known and admired in the area. One history describes him as, "...a sound, plain, and instructive preacher, and possessed a spirit which made his name of Love a truthful one. The influence of his life and character, as well as his words, in promoting temperance, education, religion, and everything good, was wide, and acknowledged in all the region in which his lot was cast."

Headstone of Thomas and Sarah Love
After nearly thirty years of faithful service, the 60 year old Rev. Love resigned the charge of Lower Brandywine in 1856, because, "he felt himself unable to undergo, as formerly, the fatigue and exposure, especially in the winter season, of journeying to and preaching in a house so open to the cold as this charge called him to." The Old Log Church was definitely further from his home than was Red Clay Creek, and not surprisingly, four years later Lower Brandywine replaced its old log church with a new brick one, which remains today.

Rev. Love continued to preach another six years at Red Clay Creek, until he resigned from there, too, in 1862. He remained on his home farm on Lancaster Pike for the rest of his time, a retired and respected gentleman farmer. His wife Sarah passed away in 1869, and Rev. Thomas Love followed her ten years later. They were both buried at Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church, which he had helped to grow so much over the preceding half century. He was undeniably one of the cornerstones of the Presbyterian, and the Mill Creek Hundred, community for all those years.

Additional Facts and Related Thoughts:
  • First Presbyterian Church in Wilmington was located on Market Street just south of where Rodney Square is today. The original brick church building was moved to Brandywine Park Drive near Brandywine Creek in 1916, and is now owned by the Colonial Dames of America.
  • The 1870 Census seems to show Thomas Love living in his home, along with Mary, Stephen and their children. Stephen Springer is listed as the head-of-household. In 1880, just after Rev. Love died, Stephen and Mary appear to be listed in Stephen's home west of Mill Creek Road, so they may have moved back and forth between the farms over the years, possibly leasing out whichever one they were not living in.


  1. Meaning no disrespect to Dr. Love, it would be fair to note that the locale may have earned its name many years earlier.

    In 1702, George Read purchased a tract of 208 acres from Letitia Penn, it being the southeast corner of Letitia's Manor. The name of the tract was Level or Levil, as recorded in Phila. Book B3:180 and subsequent NCC deeds. It's western boundary was the current Loveville Road, from Lancaster Pike to Newport-Gap Pike.

    Thus "Loveville" may have been a corruption of "Level." It's a reasonable possibility, and Dr. Love's presence may have reinforced the current spelling in the 19th century.

    1. That's really interesting. Thanks Walt. I still think it's most likely that the Loveville name came about when the post office was established there in 1830 or 1831. A PO needs a name, so the community, postmaster, and postal service come up with one when there's no established town or village name there already. Since Rev. Love was the first postmaster, I don't think there's any question that this is where the name came from. But....

      If the area already had a tradition of being known as "Level" or something close to that, then "Loveville" might have seemed an appropriate and almost word-playful name. Goes to show that not everything is always black and white. Sometimes the answer can be "A little from column A, a little from column B."

      I guess the way to figure it out would be to see how late some variation of Level can be found being used. It might be tough since there never really was an actual village there, especially not in the 1700's. How late of a "Level" reference one can find might be a clue to (if there was a connection) whether it was an homage by a few old-timers to an old name, or if it was a new "official" variation of a term still in use. Great catch, though!!