The First Presbyterian Church of Ardmore, Pa. is Born
On October 4, 1907 50 Presbyterian men and women became the charter members of the First Presbyterian Church of Ardmore, and immediately began regular Sunday worship at the old YMCA building on Lancaster Ave, just west of Ardmore Ave. Their first task was to find a minister to lead their small flock, and this was not so easy. Their first candidate received less than a unanimous vote of the congregation, and decided not to pursue the call. It was not until March of 1908 that a call was extended to the Reverend Edmund G. Rawson, then a pastor of a rural church in upstate New York. Dr. Rawson’s decision to become the first pastor of our church was not as easy one for him.
25 years later he wrote of his experience:
“It was a difficult problem to decide: to leave a church with a fine organization of men and women, … [a]nd to go to a new and small organization without and edifice – worshiping in a … glary room in an old YMCA building, full of light and noise and heat, with a tinkling old piano, without a foot of ground, without a dollar of money, with only a pledge of $50 from the Bible school – but with a group of men and women who had a vision.”
Dr. Rawson recalled his concerns:
He knew that the Methodist, Baptists, Episcopalians and Lutherans already had established churches in Ardmore. Was there need of another church? Had our church’s leaders, as Dr. Rawson put it, “combed the community and found only 50 Presbyterians?”
After a great deal of earnest thinking and praying, he decided to accept the call. In those days urgent messages were sent by telegraph, and they were often sent in abbreviated form to reduce costs. So Dr. Rawson sent a telegraph to the clerk of Session which stated simply “Philippians 2:24” referring to the verse: “I trust in the Lord that I myself also shall come shortly.” The next day the Session sent a telegraphic reply: “Colossians 1:3” referring to the verse: “We give thanks to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you.”
On March 12, 1907 the Presbytery of Philadelphia North passed the following resolution:
Whereas: It has come to the knowledge of this Presbytery that the town of Ardmore, situated in the bounds of our Presbytery, and having no church of our denomination nevertheless has a large and rapidly increasing Presbyterian constituency, and
Whereas: Ardmore is apparently one of the most important and strategic points in our Presbytery, therefore be it,
Resolved: That this whole subject be referred to the Home Mission Committee for thorough investigation and full report at the next stated meeting of Presbytery.
At that time there were multiple Presbyteries serving the Philadelphia area. An initial challenge was made by the Presbytery of Chester, which included the Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church and claimed Ardmore as part of its territory. The issue had to be resolved by the Synod of Pennsylvania, who ruled in favor of the Presbytery of Philadelphia North.
On June 20, 1907 a post card was sent out announcing that Presbyterian services would be held in the Masonic Hall, located at West Athens and Ardmore Ave., each Sunday at 11 am and 8 pm. On Sunday, June 23, 1907, 38 attended the first morning service with the Rev. Loyal T. Graham of Philadelphia preaching the first sermon. “The services continued throughout the summer with good attendance and increasing interest.”
On September 20, 1907 a Petition signed by 82 persons was forwarded to the Presbytery requesting that a church be chartered “if the way be clear.” The Presbytery approved the request and on October 4, 1907 the first Presbyterian Church of Ardmore held its first congregational meeting at the old YMCA building on Lancaster Ave., receiving 50 into membership and electing its first Session consisting of three elders: T. Edward Ross, R. B. Horsburgh, and Herbert M. Carson.
The first communion service was held on March 23,1908 with 63 in attendance.
On October 24,1907 the new congregation appointed a committee to select a suitable site for the church building. The church records report a division of opinion on the committee, with some favoring a site on the south side of the railroad, where all the other churches in Ardmore were already located. Elder Herbert Carson, however, stated that in his judgment, we should locate on the north side of the railroad, where there was more available space and the setting would be particularly well suited for the type of building that the committee had in mind. Elder Carson’s opinion prevailed, and after the decision as approved by the Presbytery, property on the corner of Montgomery Ave. and Mill Creek Rd. was purchased for the sum of $7,000.
The chapel was built at a cost of $15,5000, financed by a mortgage of $8,000 at 5 and 4/10ths interest payable in ten years. Ground was broken on December 20, 1909 and the cornerstone laid on April 2, 1910 at 5 o’clock in the afternoon “with impressive ceremony.” The congregation moved to its new location in September, 1910. The mortgage on the new building was paid off by the time the first service was held.
A newspaper account described the new chapel “the edifice is of gray stone, with granite trimmings and the interior is finished in hardwood. Seats for 400 are provided in the auditorium, and there is a large Sunday school room in the basement.”
Dr. Rawson, first pastor of our church, described the chapel in this way:
“It was a simple structure of stone to be used both for the Bible school and the worship of the church. We put in pews, each third one having a reversible seat in the middle so that the teacher could turn and face his class. It would seat about 200 people. …. All our buildings are constructed of a local stone, rough hewn, and therefore not very costly.”