The Lower Brandywine Presbyterian Church is one of the oldest in America.
Lower Brandywine Presbyterian Church was organized on October 15, 1720, 56 years before the American Revolution and 4 years after the New Castle Presbytery itself was organized. This church has another historical distinction. Annals of the New Castle Presbytery indicated that it was at a meeting of the austere group at Lower Brandywine in April 1828 that hard liquor gave way to tea as a traditional beverage to be offered at the stated meetings. Since then some people have regretted the change!
Lower Brandywine was formed from the Birmingham Meeting of Friends for the benefit of their Presbyterian friends. There were eight members in the first church made of slabbed logs on a triangular piece of ground of 81 perches (1 perch = 30 1/4 sq. yards or about ½ acre) at the foot of Bald Hill. It was located over the Mason and Dixon line in Birmingham Township, Delaware County, Pennsylvania about 3/4 of a mile northeast of the twin bridges over the Brandywine River. The price paid for the land was five shillings (varying in value at the time from 12 ½ to 16 2/3 cents.) A yearly rent of one peppercorn was to be paid by the trustees, ½ if demanded. The seller was Ralph Pyle who reserved the right for himself and his heirs to build and use a pew six feet square in the meeting house and to be buried in the adjoining cemetery. The church remained active until 1773. At that time a split occurred because the members who lived on the west side of the Brandywine wanted to build a new structure on their side. The next year, Jeremiah M. Smith and his wife, Martha, deeded property totaling an acre and 114 perches on the west side of the Brandywine River. In August, 1774, the second church was erected. It was built of black oak trees and accommodated the congregation of about 40 members. The Old Log Church was constructed on a plot enclosed in the present old graveyard near the southwest entrance of today’s building, just inside the stone wall and measured 30 by 35 feet.
After 85 years in the Old Log Church, on faith alone, a new large brick building was begun. The cornerstone was laid on September 1, 1859. This third and last church building was dedicated on November 8, 1860. The 20 members helped in its construction at a cost of $5,000 and it was designed to hold 400 people. During this time the church did not have a pastor. The timbers of the Old Log were used for the horse sheds in the back of the edifice. On March 27, 1869, three acres of land across from the church on Old Kennett Road were purchased from Levi and Ann Walker for $200. In 1874 the manse was built on this property. By 1872 there were 216 members of the church. Two were part of the original 20 who helped build the brick church. The congregation paid off a $600 debt for the church building.
In 1899, property was deeded to the Trustees of Lower Brandywine by William Broomhall and his wife for $150 on a triangular half-acre of ground lying along the Fairville Road. The Fairville Chapel was built, and church and Sunday School services were held there. After a number of years it was no longer used as a place of worship. Therefore, on November 21, 1949, it was deeded to the late Philip DuPont estate for the sum of $2,000. During this time, David Lunger owned the property.
The beautiful stained glass windows on both sides of the sanctuary and rear wall of the chancel were added in the 1890’s. The windows in the rear of the sanctuary were installed in 1970 and those in the narthex were dedicated in 1900.
A pipe organ was installed and the steeple built in 1929. These were the last major additions until the Sunday school, library and kitchen wing were built in 1950-51 at a cost of $50,000. There were over 400 members at this time which proved our forefathers were correct in determining how large a structure was needed. An Allen electronic organ with tower chimes was installed and heard for the first time in December of 1949.
In 1992, extensive renovations were made to the wing, including the addition of an outside doorway to the social hall and an elevator making the church handicapped-accessible. A stairwell was also added. The church assumed a debt of $640,000 to make these changes possible. At that time, there were 350 members.
In 2007, our church building was once again expanded. This Vision 2020 project included additional classrooms, an enhanced teen/tween space, as well as improved offices and spaces for our staff, committees, musicians, and library. All of the additions were designed to preserve the architectural beauty of our church. The cost of this latest renovation was $948,000. Due to the generous gifts of time and talent by our project leaders, this capital improvement was completed under-budget by $75,000. Lower Brandywine has a long and very interesting history. It is a tribute to the faith of our predecessors who were determined that this house of God survive and grow.
Ministers of Lower Brandywine Presbyterian Church 1730 – 2014
Rev. Robert Cathcart November 1730 – 1754
Rev. Joseph Smith April 19, 1769 – August 26, 1772
and October 27, 1774 – April 29, 1778
Rev. William R. Smith January 11, 1780 – October, 1785
Rev. Samuel Henderson November, 1813 – August 1814
Rev. Thomas Love December 1, 1825 – October, 1856
Rev. David W. Moore May 9, 1861 – October 15, 1872
Rev. George E. Jones June 19, 1873 – July 1, 1877
Rev. Robert Graham January 22, 1878 – September 30, 1883
Rev. Thomas R. McDowell May 22, 1884 – April 1, 1889
Rev. James T. Marshall October 13, 1889 – March 25, 1894
Rev. Samuel L. Irvine October 25, 1894 – October, 1903
Rev. John Newton Kugler September, 1905 – November 9, 1908
Rev. Thomas S. Armentrout January 27, 1909 – October, 1927
Rev. Colin C. Weir May, 1928 – February 1, 1933
Rev. Donald C. MacLeod April 16, 1933 – April 27, 1942
Rev. John Oldman, Jr. October 18, 1946 – August 5, 1959
Rev. Richard A. DeMott March 13, 1960 – September 8, 1964
Rev. Robert F. Scott October 10, 1965 – August 31, 1986
Rev. Roy A. Martin, Jr. May 22, 1988 – April 4, 1999
Rev. David E. Lovelace November 12, 2000 – present
History compiled by Elder Joanna L. Kelly