A CENTURY OF SERVICE
ONE HUNDREDTH ANNIVERSARY
ASHLEY PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
1866 – 1966
“Others have labored and we are entered into their labors”
Dedicated to the memory of the men and women who believing in the Christian way of life established and sustained our church leaving to us the living a bountiful heritage and constant challenge.
This year the Ashley Presbyterian Church is celebrating its One Hundredth Anniversary of service to God and man. The observance of a centennial by a Christian congregation is a noteworthy achievement, and I am pleased to extend to the members and friends of this Church my heartiest congratulations and best wishes. It is a distinct honor for me to express my personal greetings to each one of you.
The fact that our Church has existed for one hundred years inspires us to give thanks for the past. We rejoice that men of vision and deep Christian concern began this Church when this area was still a small, insignificant community. We rejoice also that pastors motivated by a strong desire to serve Jesus Christ and laymen determined to offer their best talents for their Church caused Ashley Presbyterian Church to grow spiritually and physically. We are grateful too for the spirit of brotherhood and ecumenicity which has characterized our Church through the years and has prompted us to extend warm hands of friendship to our neighbors of every faith. What a thrilling heritage our Church offers us!
As we celebrate this Centennial, we might well reflect upon the past history of the Ashley Presbyterian Church. We would be stirred by the heroic faith and noble sacrifices of those who have gone before us. However, we may tarry to think about the past only for a moment. The important thing for each one of us is to move forward into the second century with renewed strength and enthusiasm. Let us rededicate our lives to Jesus Christ and His Church. May those who continue to live in Ashley remain steadfast in their loyalty and service to the church. May those who live elsewhere take with them the Christian faith and principles they have received here to undergird and strengthen their lives. Thus we shall exalt the name of Jesus Christ in our generation.
This Anniversary will be a deep spiritual experience for all of us. As we celebrate the close of our first century, we shall move ahead into our second century to make a significant witness for Jesus Christ.
Charles L. Bomboy
Minister, 1958 – 1966
In the beginning . . .
The origin of the Ashley Presbyterian Church is not to be sought in the records of the Presbyterian Church of Coalville, the old charger name, but in the archives of the first Presbyterian Church of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
The beginnings of Presbyterianism in Ashley may be traced to the missionary labors of the Reverend Cyrus Gildersleeve, who was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Wilkes-Barre from 1821 to 1829. He preached occasionally from house to house, sometimes in Samuel Pease’s barn. It may be said that the cradle of the Presbyterian, Methodist Episcopal, and Episcopal Churches is to be found in the organization of a Sunday School by William C. Gildersleeve, son of the Reverend Cyrus Gildersleeve. This was in the year 1833, in the old log school house, located on the present site of the Central Railroad of New Jersey Shops. Mr. Gildersleeve, the son, rode out each Sabbath with his own conveyance, accompanied by his two daughters, Mrs. A. G. Parke and Mrs. Chapman Sayre. Mrs. Parke taught in the Sunday School about ten years. Other teachers were Miss Laura Brower, Mrs. Miner, Mr. and Mrs. Hoyt, Mrs. E. McCarragher, Mr. Samuel Huntington, Mrs. J.B. Dow, Mr. Matthias M. Petty, Mr. Lathrope, and Mr. Samuel McCarragher. Mr. Huntington succeed Mr. Gildersleeve as Superintendent. These were some of the Sunday School workers who labored in the old log house.
The time came when a church building needed to be constructed. And why did the Reverend Dr. John Dorrance, who was preaching and laboring to build churches all over this region, take such an interest in this insignificant town with only a handful of people? The Master, who stirred the heart of Zerubbabel to rebuild the temple, touched the heart of Dr. Dorrance in a similar way to build the first church in Ashley.
In 1843 the Ashley Planes were completed to facilitate coal transportation out of Wyoming Valley. Ashley would be a great outlet for the distribution of coal. Dr. Dorrance said, “We must plant a church here to be ready for the incoming population. Soon the miners and railroaders and mechanics will be making their homes here.” With this thought in mind he conferred with Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Frederick, who had joined the First Presbyterian Church, Wilkes-Barre, under his ministry. He mentioned to Mrs. Frederick that the Huntingtons had offered a plot of ground for a church building, but he did not like the location because it was too low. He asked, “What place would you choose if I could get it as a gift?” “I think,” replied Mrs. Frederick, “the lot next to the Pease property, owned by Mr. George Lazarus. It is on high ground as well as on the main road, and it seems to be just the right place for a church.” Dr. Dorrance agreed and went to see Mr. Lazarus, the owner of the land. Mr. Lazarus gave him 10,000 square feet to be used only for church purposes, forfeiting it if used otherwise. It was also stipulated that no night meeting were to be held in the building.
The next step was to get the people together and secure subscriptions to build the new church. On February 15, 1844, a meeting was held and the following preamble and resolutions were adopted:
“WHEREAS, A house of worship is much needed in the neighborhood and the members of no one denomination of Christians are sufficiently numerous to justify them in the attempt to erect a house for themselves exclusively, and
“WHEREAS, Experience teaches that a house, the ownership and control of which is in several religious denominations, is very liable to neglect and abuse and to become a subject of contention and consequently an evil rather than a benefit to society;
“THEREFORE we, the undersigned, do agree to the following conditions as to the basis of our subscriptions:
“First. That the house shall be for the use of the Presbyterian Church and the people of the neighborhood, to be occupied by the ministers connected with the Presbytery of Luzerne or under their jurisdiction as frequently as desired by them.
“Second. When not wanted for the use of the Presbyterian Society said house may be opened in the daytime for the preaching of the ministers in regular standing of the German Reformed, the Lutheran, the Methodist Episcopal and the Protestant Episcopal Churches with consent of trustees, in rotation.
“Third. For the protection, preservation and control of the house under the preceding stipulation, there shall be chosen by the subscribers a board of trustees, in such manner and for such term as they please. Provided, that in these elections and in all other matters relating to said house, for the payment of every five dollars by a subscriber, he or she shall be entitled to one vote.
“On the above conditions we, the undersigned, do promise to pay to Frederick Detrick, Daniel Frederick and David Inman (as building committee, to whom the charge and superintendence of the building, while in process of erection, shall be given), the sums set opposite our names, respectively, at such time and in such manner as said committee shall direct.”
Sixty persons signed this document and the sums pledged varied from fifty cents to twenty dollars. The total amount pledged was $334.50, of which $162.00 was paid in work, $89.00 in materials, and $83.50 in cash. Frederick Detrick, Daniel Frederick, and David Inman comprised the Building Committee named to supervise the construction of the church. The church was completed in October, 1844, by Daniel Frederick, who worked without compensation. Since there were no pews available, he laid planks for seats and brought his own bench for his family.
The building was twenty-four by thirty feet and stood on the site of the present church. Dr. Dorrance opened the building for worship services on October, 1844. He preached in the church until his death in 1861.
For the first Communion Service, Dr. Dorrance asked Mrs. Daniel Frederick if she would bake the bread. She replied that she had never done anything in that way, but she would do the best she could. If it were nice enough, they could use it. To her timid heart it seamed a great undertaking to prepare communion bread. Dr. Dorrance encouraged her with the reply that it would be all right. She brought her own bread and tablecloth and two plates, while Dr. Dorrance and Mr. Nathaniel Rutter of Wilkes-Barre furnished the wine and two small silver cups.
In addition to the Reverend Cyrus Gildersleeve and the Reverend Dr. John Dorrance the following ministers conducted services in the new church: The Reverend Nicholas Murray, the Reverend John Sargent, the Reverend Jacob Weidman, and the Reverend Thomas P. Hunt.
On July 12, 1865, the Reverend William J. Day came to Wyoming Valley as a home missionary. In September of the same year the Presbytery of Luzerne, meeting in Conyngham Valley, appointed a committee to consider the request of the Presbyterians in Ashley to organize a Church. The committee was composed of the Reverend S. B. Dod, the Reverend N. G. Parke, the Reverend H. H. Welles, and Elder O. Collins. In December the First Presbyterian Church of Wilkes-Barre dismissed twenty-one members to become the charter members of the new Church.
The committee appointed by Presbytery met in the church at Coalville (now Ashley) on January 16, 1866, and after appropriate opening services they read the directive of Presbytery. Then a letter was read from the First Presbyterian Church dismissing the following persons to the new Church:
Mrs. Isabella Barakman Mrs. Susan Frederick Robert H. Johnson
Robert Brown Jonathan Johnson Mrs. Fannie B. Johnson
William Brown Miss Rebecca Johnson James Williamson
Mrs. Elizabeth Brown Mrs. Catherine Johnson Margaret Johnson
Mrs. Eliza Brown Joseph Johnson William Johnson
Daniel Frederick David Johnson Ellen Johnson
Mrs. Christiana Frederick Kennedy Johnson Mrs. Nancy Johnson
The minutes of the meeting contain this excerpt:
“These named persons having signified by rising, their desire to become an organized Church, and having entered into covenant with one another, mutually to sustain the cause of Christ and the peace and purity of the Church, were declared to be an organized Church in connection with the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, and under the care of the Presbytery of Luzerne, to be known by the name of The Presbyterian Church of Coalville.
“The following named persons were nominated and elected ruling elders of this church: Daniel Frederick, Robert H. Johnson, Robert Brown.
“Attest – Committee of Presbytery of Luzerne.
“S. B. Dod
“N. G. Parke
“January 16, 1866.” “H. H. Welles
Since the Church was rapidly expanding, the original building became too small for the increasing population. In the spring of 1868 a congregational meeting was called to consider the matter of erecting a new church to serve the growing community. Only ten men were present at this meeting, and the outlook seemed discouraging. The names of these ten men are honored in the history of this Church because of their courage and optimistic outlook. They were the Reverend William J. Day, Joseph Johnson, Samuel Clark, Daniel Frederick, Robert H. Johnson, William H. Thomas, David Johnson, Robert Brown, Frank H. Clark, and W. C. Butler. Mr. Day always referred to these men as the ten who saved Ashley from becoming a Sodom. They personally subscribed $400 for the new church, and a committee was appointed to solicit the congregation for additional contributions.
Daniel Fell, master builder of the Central Railroad of New Jersey, designed and supervised the erection of the new church, without charge. The total cost was $10,500. More than half of this amount was collected before the church was dedicated on February 15, 1870.
To make room for the erection of a new sanctuary, the original building erected in 1844 had to be moved to the rear of the lot. Enlarging this structure by extending it thirty feet cost $1,200. It was then used for Sunday School, prayer meetings, and social gatherings until the present Sunday School building was dedicated on February 15, 1894.
July 12, 1865, is a memorable date in the history of the Ashley Presbyterian Church, for it was on that date that the Reverend William J. Day came to Wyoming Valley and took charge of the Ashley Church. A recent graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, Mr. Day came to the Valley as a home missionary and made Ashley his home and base of operations. He traveled from Ashley to Shickshinny, and preached at Buttonwood, Nanticoke, Newport, Sugar Notch, and Mountain Top.
Arriving in Ashley, Mr. Day found a few scattered homes and a small group of Scotch-Irish immigrants from the north of Ireland, members of the First Presbyterian Church, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. They were worshipping in the small church built in 1844. He preached his first sermon in this church on July 23, 1865. In September, 1865, he was received into the Luzerne Presbytery (changed in 1870 to the Lackawanna Presbytery) and was ordained an evangelist. At the same meeting of Presbytery a committee was appointed to organize a Church at Ashley. On January 16, 1866, Presbytery organized the Ashley Presbyterian Church.
Mr. Day was a man of vision. Knowing that the Central Railroad of New Jersey Shops were to be transferred from White Haven to Ashley, he saw the need to build a larger church to meet the spiritual needs of the incoming families. He stirred the hearts of his congregation to break ground for a brick church in March, 1868. The new church was finished and dedicated on February 15, 1870. With its membership steadily increasing the Church formally called Mr. Day to be its pastor on September 17, 1873, at a yearly salary of $1,000. He was installed on October 1, 1873.
During Mr. Day’s pastorate the Ashley Presbyterian Church became the mother of two other churches. In 1887 eighty-two members were transferred to the rolls of the newly organized Presbyterian Church at Mountain Top. A year later thirty-five members were transferred to the Presbyterian Church established at Sugar Notch. Through the tireless efforts of Mr. Day many substantial donations were received from prominent people in Wilkes-Barre and Scranton to help finance the building of these churches.
Under Mr. Day’s strong and inspiring leadership the Ashley Presbyterian Church continued to grow. On August 7, 1882, the congregation purchased the present Manse from W. H. Tennant at a cost of $4,100. The sum of $2,100 was borrowed, and Mr. Day promised to raise $2,000 from friends outside the Church. A few years later Mr. Day started a building fund for a new chapel and contributed the first ten dollars.
Having built a commodious church in Ashley, Mr. Day yearned for more challenging pastoral fields. In January, 1889, he submitted his resignation to the congregation to accept a call to the Plymouth Presbyterian Church. The congregation accepted his resignation reluctantly, being very conscious of his years of “showers of blessings” in Ashley.
The Ashley Presbyterian Church is Mr. Day’s monument. Here he gave the best years of his life to the work of this Church, yet found time to spread the Gospel to nearby towns. He was truly a pioneer with missionary zeal, who ministered in Ashley even before it became a borough on December 5, 1870.
Mr. Day in a statement made long after leaving Ashley said, “After more than twenty-three years of service, I did not leave Ashley because my work was a failure or the people unkind. I shall keep green in my heart the ten thousand acts of devotion and affection they showed me and mine all through my ministry.” He always referred to Ashley as his “first love” and thanked God for the love of its people who “cheered me from the first tot he last of my ministry."” He praised them for the splendid sacrifices they made to wipe out the debt when the church was built. After a fruitful ministry of fifty-four years Mr. Day died in 1921 while serving the Luzerne Presbyterian Church. He was buried in Maple Hill Cemetery, as he wished. “I shall ask no greater honor than to sleep in the same cemetery with those whose hand held up mine in the great battle against evil.”
In addition to the Reverend William J. Day, the following five ministers have served our Church
The Reverend Morvin Custer received a call to the pastorate of the Ashley Presbyterian Church in 1889. He and his family moved here from Elmer, New Jersey. Mr. Custer was formally installed as pastor on May 3, 1889, and he served this Church until January 12, 1902. He was a preacher of much force and ability, thoroughly evangelistic. Under his leadership the Ashley Presbyterian Church became one of the largest Churches of the Presbytery, with the membership of the congregation and the Sunday School each numbering nearly five hundred. While Mr. Custer was minister, the present Sunday School building was erected. It was dedicated on February 15, 1894.
The Reverend George H. Broening, Ph.D., followed the Reverend Morvin Custer and served this Church from 1902 to 1912. Dr. Broening was a graduate of New Windsor College and Princeton Theological Seminary. On completing his education, hew as selected in 1893 by the Presbyterian Board of Sabbath School Work to organize Sunday Schools in the West. Later he became minister of the Wissinoming Presbyterian Church at Philadelphia. After serving in Millville, New Jersey, Dr. Broening was installed as minister of our Church on May 8, 1902. The church was modernized and improved during his pastorate. The gallery was torn out, the steeple taken down, the present front entrance erected, and the art glass windows installed. In 1912 Dr. Broening accepted a call to the Fewsmith Memorial Church in Newark, New Jersey.
The Reverend Thomas McKeen Polk was installed as minister of the Ashley Presbyterian Church on May 6, 1913. Before he came to this Church, he served the Presbyterian Church at Olyphant, Pennsylvania. This was an opportune time for a new minister to come to Ashley. As a result of the Billy Sunday campaign in Wilkes-Barre two hundred and forty-one members had been examined and received into the Church. This had been the largest accession of new members in history. Mr. Poke ministered in Ashley until December 5, 1920, when he resigned to accept a call to the Reformed Church at Richboro, near Philadelphia. During his pastorate the Sunday School building was completely renovated and modernized. These improvements made it one of the finest Sunday School buildings in this section at that time.
“Well done good and faithful servant . . .”
The Reverend Robert Graham came to this Church from the Presbyterian Church at Hallstead, Pennsylvania, and was installed on October 18, 1921. He faithfully ministered to our congregation for over thirty-five years, this being the longest pastorate in the history of the Church. His resignation, effective February 28, 1957, was reluctantly accepted. He was then named “Pastor Emeritus” of the Ashley Presbyterian Church. Loved and respected by the members of his congregation and the citizens of the community, Mr. Graham will long be remembered for the countless acts of devotion and affection which marked his splendid ministry. He was also highly respected by the Presbytery of Lackawanna, which honored him with the posts of Moderator, Permanent Clerk, and Commissioner to the Synod and General Assembly.
His son, the Reverend Robert S. Graham, entered the ministry from the Ashley Presbyterian Church and presently is minister of the First Presbyterian Church, Ardmore, Oklahoma.
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