Home | Mission & Goals | Meeting Schedule | Search | Contact Us | Submit A Story | Links

Emmitsburg's Presbyterian Church

Ruth Richards

(Published in 1960)

It is difficult for us in this day of motorized travel, straight good roads, cleared land and rapid pace of living to turn back two hundred years in our history and try to imagine what life was like in the early days of Maryland, and more specifically, in Emmitsburg.

An excerpt from an address given by Rev. William Simonton in July, 1876, at the 100th anniversary celebration of the founding, can best describe the conditions of this little settlement at the time the first church was established here.

"The present improved condition of the country contrasts strongly with what it was over a century ago. The population was then sparse. The still heavily timbered tracts of land far exceeded the clearings. The fields under tillage were yet in the rude stages of cultivation, and presented the unsightly appearance which accompanies the transformation of the forest into the productive farm. The highways were at certain seasons almost impassable, the streams were unbridged.

There were few mills, tanneries or other manufactories. Not to speak of the steam engine, the iron track, the telegraphic wire, and like modern improvements, there were no turnpike roads, or canals intersecting the country, and, with rare exceptions, no stage lines connecting remote parts of the same county. Few newspapers were in circulation and the family library did not often exceed a dozen standard volumes.

The houses were small wooden structures, unpainted without or within, and the furniture was correspondingly plain. The habits, manners and tastes of the people were simple. They wore home-spun clothing. Their food came from their own fields and flocks. They indulged in few luxuries which their own farms did not produce, or their own handiwork provide. They knew nothing of the easy, comfortable vehicles of our day, and either walked, or rode on horseback to church, to funerals, and to their social gatherings."

And if the above is a contrast to the lives of the people in 1876, an even greater contrast would certainly be in evidence today.

Because we are dealing specifically with the history of the Presbyterian Church of Emmitsburg, we will naturally narrow our field and become more specific as to the people who established and made up the church at that time.

In the early days individual nationalities were easier to spot and point out, for as these people came to settle they brought with them the customs of their native lands, and from that has grown the varied but interesting culture of our own country.

Again I quote from Rev. Simonton's address: "They came from Scotland, the North of Ireland and are frequently designated Scotch Irish, especially in local ecclesiastical history. They planted themselves upon the `red lands' in the southeastern part of York County, Pa., which then included Adams. Their settlements extended across the border of the Province into Frederick County, Maryland, then embracing also what is now Carroll County, of the latter state. They were a moral, frugal and industrious people.

They brought with them the characteristics of their native country. Among these were courage, determination, and an exalted spirit of patriotism. Being lovers of liberty and independence, they were pronounced in their opposition to all political tyranny. They were accordingly among the foremost to espouse the cause of the Revolution, and to resist the encroachments of the parent country. They were ardently attached to the doctrines and worship of their forefathers. They carried with them to their new homes in the wilderness, the Bible, the Confession of Faith, and the Catechism, and as soon as circumstances would permit, they reared for themselves a sanctuary, and hard by a school-house, as its necessary complement and accompaniment."

Such were the problems of living, the character of the people, and the life of the people who decided two hundred years ago that it was necessary to establish a Presbyterian Church for the surrounding community of Toms Creek and Emmitsburg.

The birth date of this church was figured from the time the first service was held under the supply of Rev. Robert McMordie. From the HISTORY OF EMMITSBURG, by Helman, I quote

"The minutes of the Presbytery of Donegal show that the Rev. Robert MeMordie was appointed to supply at 'Monakasy.' On the second Sabbath of September, 1760 . . . . The precise locality is unknown, and. hence cannot be determined, whether the services were held in the territorial limits of Emmitsburg or Piney Creek Church, is even without traditional sanction."

We do have knowledge though, that Tom's Creek asked for, and was accorded a supply who preached at Tom's Creek early in October, 1761. From this meeting came the church which was called Toms Creek Church. The date of the original formal church building known as Toms Creek Church cannot be determined. It is known, however, that the original building stood on a piece of property one mile north of Emmitsburg, along the Gettysburg Road and that the Presbyterian Cemetery still occupies that land. Here the church stood until it was removed to Emmitsburg.

Among the records of the church is a notebook containing the Constitution of the Church; the record of the meeting at which it was decided to move the church to Emmitsburg; the details of the dedication of the newly-built church in 1879, and the mention of the 1902 fire. The notebook is not dated, but because of the nature and condition of it, I am led to believe that it is a copy rather than the original. No indication is given, however, of who might have copied it nor from what it was taken. It also seems to be all written in the same handwriting.

According to this notebook a Constitution of the Presbyterian Church was drawn upon the recommendation of the pastor, Rev. Robert S. Grier on Sept. 15, 1838. The Constitution was recorded in Church Record folios 57, 58, 59 and 60 of the Record Books of Frederick County, February 5, 1839. The following is from the notebook referred to above.

"At a special meeting of the board of trustees held January 23, 1839, Rev. R. S. Grier in the chair, it was resolved 1st That the Tom's Creek meeting house be removed to Emmitsburg.

2nd Resolved that a committee of five persons be appointed by the president to purchase a suitable lot of ground in Emmitsburg for the erection of said house with such attention as they may deem necessary and to contract with mechanics for said work. Whereupon the following committee was appointed: Thomas Hays, David Gamble, Maxwell Shields, James McKeehan and Andrew Annan."

Purchase Of Lot 2: Received April 20th, 1839 of Andrew Annan, one of the trustees of the Toms Creek Church, two hundred dollars in full for the purchase of a lot of ground in Shields Edition to Emmitsburg, for the erection of the above named church thereon.  (Signed) Margaret Knox, Mary Knox

The church was then duly taken down and rebuilt in Emmitsburg on the property described in the copy of the receipt above, and that is where the church stands today.

Rev. Simonton again tells us that: "In April 1867, the Session of Toms Creek applied to the Presbytery for a change of ecclesiastical name. In response to this application the designation of `Emmitsburg' was substituted for the well-known but less euphonious title, `Toms Creek"'.

In 1869 the church was remodeled. The details of the remodeling are missing but just eight years later the entire church building was razed to make way for a completely new structure. The aforementioned notebook tells us:

"In April 1877 the Congregation concluded to tear down the church which was built in 1839 and erect a new one. During the building of it, through the courtesy of the Lutherans, we held services in their church for nine months. At the end of this period the lecture room of our new building was ready for use. It was occupied for the first time on Sunday morning June 5, 1879. The main edifice was completed in August and dedicated on the 28th day of September.

Excerpts from minutes of Session February 28, 1880:

"The Emmitsburg Church edifice being deemed insecure, the congregation resolved, early in the spring of 1878 to erect a new house of worship. The old house accordingly was removed in April of that year and preparations were at once made to rebuild." . . . . "It was occupied for the first time on Sabbath morning, January 5; 1879."

At the completion of this new building a very complete and detailed report of the Building Committee was made by Dr. Robert Annan who was chairman of that committee. The church is fortunate to have among its records this report, and because it typifies the strong faith of the Presbyterians of that day, and also because it has such unusual and elegant style, I feel that the readers of this account should have the privilege of knowing its contents.

"When it was determined to take down the old church-a decision hastened by the unsafe condition of the walls, and build a new one, it was thought possible by using the old material with five thousand dollars ($5,000) to erect a suitable building, the amount wanted was then announced, it is certainly highly creditable and a source of worthy pride to recall how very promptly the amount named, within a fraction, was subscribed.

But now, even with the old material, on hand, and the money subscribed, we confess we were greatly exercised as to the proper way to get our ideas into tangible form, we were all fully persuaded and united in the opinion that we wanted a church building in which we would have art audience room, an infant classroom, a Sabbath school room and a library room.: There was no discussion as to that arrangement, but did we want the one above, below, in the rear or in the front or vice versa. You all remember how much and how long we talked it over, giving some of our friends reason to doubt, our earnestness and determination to build. The result of all this discussion was the conviction that unless we employed an architect we would certainly and signally fail in the successful discharge of the duty imposed upon us and, could not render the satisfaction we desired, and you had the right to expect and require.

With a full knowledge of your noble generosities of the past, we felt assured of your sympathy and appreciation of our position-fully convinced that you would sustain us in doing that which was right and necessary-and would, in the end, insure to the highest and best interests of this congregation. We have as you have heard by the report, and confirmed, by a single glance at this plain, comfortable, substantial and beautiful structure, exceeded the limit fixed by the congregational meeting, although practicing as we believed, the most rigid economy. We have been greatly encouraged by the encomiums and expressions of approbation and delight, which we have heard from ladies and gentlemen of education, of refined and cultivated tastes, and certainly have not heard unmoved the exclamations beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, as it fell from the lips of those who never enjoyed the opportunity of cultivating the aesthetical.

It is a matter of surprise then, if our hearts swell with emotions of meritorious pride and profound gratitude and our souls are exalted and filled with joy and gladness and thankfulness, to God? But in the midst of this legitimate and laudable rejoicing, the. shadow of a great sorrow rests heavily upon some hearts, obscuring and saddening somewhat, the brightness and gladness, prevailing all around, and chilling the cheerfulness and happiness, which, were it otherwise, should abound and animate alike all breasts. The memorial windows have not been included in the above statement.

We are indebted to the large hearted liberality of Andrew Annan M.D. for the magnificent window, which occupies so large a space in front of the church, and dedicated to the memory of Rev. R. L. Grier, a worthy tribute, to him, whom, we all delighted to honor, and whose name is still cherished, and held in sweet and loving remembrance. The other memorial windows, are the gifts of those, who desire, to preserve in all its purity, loveliness, and sacredness, the memory of near and dear ones, who no longer worship with us in this place-but have joined the congregation of the redeemed, above, and worship the Most High, in that Temple not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

The committee takes the liberty, of urging the congregation to devise some way, to secure the speedy liquidation of our indebtedness, with a proper effort, and realization 'of individual obligation, we are of the opinion, there will, or can be 'no doubt, of accomplishing this greatly to be desired result. Let each one subscribe liberally and we will enjoy the delightful privilege-and great pleasure of dedicating our church free of debt-a consummation most ardently and devoutly desired and prayed for, as the crowning act of a grand and noble enterprise and a pronounced acknowledgment of our appreciation of so handsome and attractive a place in which, we may worship the only living and true God.

The undersigned do not feel content nor justified in closing this report, without, giving expression to our gratitude and indebtedness, to Mr. I. L. Annan of the building committee, for the personal attention and indefatigable labors which he so kindly and perseveringly devoted to this entire work, from the taking down of the old to the final completion of the new; church." Sept. 1, 1879

It is but simple justice, and affords us much pleasure, to record the fact, that the cut stone (granite) which, were prepared by parties in Gettysburg, were delivered free of charge, by the following gentlemen: William P. Gardner, Wm. R. White, Fleming White (a member of Marsh Creek Church), Rod Hunter, John A. Horner, John Agnew, John & Breckinridge, Allison & William Morrison. Mr. Hunter hauled two or three loads and Mr. Agnew two loads. Mr. Absalom Smith of Bridgeport hauled slate from Taneytown farm.

This Church was Gothic in Architecture with steeple of splendid height. Greatly admired for its beauty, this church stood until August 28. 1902. During a thunder storm it was struck and burned leaving the blackened walls only to tell of its former beauty. Sixty-five hundred dollars insurance enabled the congregation to rebuild again. This building was not completed until May 1904. Rev. David H. Riddle was pastor at this time. With two-hundred years mixed with joy and sorrow, success and failure, this building stands as the present day Church of the Presbyterians.

On January 1950 a redecorating job was completed and a rededication service was conducted by Rev. Charles S. Owen who was then pastor of the church.


In order that the people of a church may grow together socially as well as spiritually several organizations have been formed at various times throughout the life of the church. Some have lasted up to this time, others have ceased to function.

Of the early organizations which endeavored to serve the members was a Library which was established in June of the year 1840. The official title according to the Secretary's notes which have been preserved was "The Library of Tom's Creek Church." According to the by-laws the librarian was to be at the library once every two weeks to help people check out books. Only the members of the Library society were eligible to borrow from it. The first librarian was Miss Jane Annan.

Some of this libraries books will doubtless prove interesting to the readers of this history. Hodges History of Presbyterian Church Vol. 1; Scripture Geology; Life of Knox; Force of Truth by Scott; Mother at Home; Child at Home; and many others along the same lines. Although there is no mention of the discontinuance of the library, the latest entry in the note-book, was for May 1859. It is certain that at the present time there is not a library connected with the church, and the whereabouts of the books is unknown.

On December of 1882 a group from the church met to form the "Emmitsburg Presbyterian Church Mite Society." The first meeting was held at the home of Mrs. C. Annan and the purposes of the society were twofold; First, as a social group for all members of the church, and secondly, to do good as the members chose to see fit.

The procedure for the meeting as it was established is followed at the present time. A short devotional service, with an offering is followed by a short business meeting, and finally the social hour with entertainment and refreshments. The pastor of the church has always presided at the meetings, and the members of the society serve as the other officers.

Following is a slate of the officers when the Society was originated. These officers were elected February 12, 1885. President, Rev. Wm. Simonton;, Vice President, Mrs. George Beam; Vice President, Mrs. James Helman Secretary and Treasurer, M. Alice Simonton; Collector of Mites, J. Stewart Annan.

Much good throughout . the years . has been done by this group. The very first act of charity was the help sent to Rev. John P. Williamson, Greenwood, Charles Mix County, Dakota Territory who was named by Mr. Lyon as a suitable and worthy missionary laboring among Dakota Indians.

The Mite Society has always extended a helping hand in all phases of Church life. There 'have always been flowers or fruit sent to the sick members. The Society has helped with the many, many projects to improve the physical aspect of the church. Some of the latest projects that have received the financial assistance of the Mite Society are: Aiding in the cost of building a basement under the church, helping to purchase screens for the windows of the church, and the buy ing of hymn books and hymn book racks.

On January 12, 1960 the Society held its nine hundred thirty-ninth meeting.

The cemetery of the Emmitsburg Presbyterian Church is at the site of the original building, even though that building is long since gone. Many of the families buried there are still represented in the church of today. Also, Samuel Emmit, the man after whom the town was named, is buried there.

There is an endowment of $11,091 for the perpetual upkeep of the cemetery. Because of this endowment, free burial is made possible for the members of the church. Non-members however, may be buried there for a fee. I find these statements from the re-copied notebook previously mentioned. "Those dying from any other Presbyterian Congregation who have relatives buried in Toms Creek grave yard, have the privilege to be buried without compensation being made." Also, "That a piece of ground on the South Side of the Grave Yard be enclosed for the burial of the Black of the Congregation."

Except. fur a few years in the middle 1940's there has always keen a Sunday School connected with the Church with classes for the children, and an Adult-Bible class. In recent times we find familiar names who have served in the capacity of Superintendent of the Sunday School: Mr. David Martin, and Mr. J. L. Nester. Mr. Wilson Franklin is the Superintendent at this time.

In connection with the Sunday School, Rev. Hendricks has this spring established a Youth Club for the children of twelve years of age and older. This group meets weekly and has been met with enthusiasm by the participating young people.

During its long history the Emmitsburg Presbyterian Church has at times been associated with sister churches. It had its first association with Piney Creek, and then later with Taneytown. At various times there have been first one separation and then another, with later rejoinings. At the present time however, only the Taneytown Presbyterian church is associated with the Emmitsburg Church and shares its Pastor.

Most recently come to the church is Pastor William Hendricks from the Mountville United Presbyterian Church, Portersville, Pennsylvania. He was installed as Pastor in Emmitsburg in August of 1959.

As we go into the two-hundredth anniversary of this church, which is the third oldest in the Presbytery of Baltimore, we find that many pastors have served it well. The name which stands out in everyone's mind, although there are none left to remember him, is Robert Smith Grier who accepted the call to both Tom's Creek and Piney Creek Churches in April 1814. Each church promised him a salary of $300 a year.

He remained the pastor of this church until his death on December 29, 1865 at the age of 76. The influence of a man who has preached to, guided, and loved a congregation for fifty-two years cannot be measured, and it is small wonder that Rev. Grier's name still holds a place of prominence

The Emmitsburg Presbyterian Church, though small in number, is rich in tradition and hope. It is a community where families live, and have lived to pass onto their children, generation upon generation, the rich heritage of family tradition and pride in the same church, and it looks ahead to another milestone in its service to the community.

Read about other churches in Emmitsburg

Do you have any information to add to our history of the Presbyterian Church?  
If so, send it to us at history@emmitsburg.net