Lower Brandywine is one of the oldest Presbyterian Churches in Delaware
On October 15, 1720 a group of Presbyterian settlers purchased 81 perches of land (about 1/2 acre) on the east side of Brandywine Creek in Birmingham Township (today Chadds Ford Township), Delaware County, Pennsylvania upon which to build a church and bury their dead at a cost of “one peppercorn yearly, if demanded.” The church or meeting house was built of slabbed logs on this triangular piece of ground just north of the Delaware line.
When the Presbyterian Synod was assembled in Philadelphia, “some people” in and about Birmingham Township, Chester County, now Chadds Ford Township, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, asked the Synod to supply a preacher to the people upon the Brandywine. A minister was so instructed, a tract of land was purchased October 17, 1720, and a deed was executed – the beginning of Lower Brandywine!
In measurement, the 1720 church property was triangular in shape, and its dimensions started at a white oak tree and counted off 9 perches by 9 perches by 9 perches back to the white oak. One square perch equals 30¼ square yards.
The church was made of slabbed logs on the easterly side of the Brandywine Creek below Pyles Ford, what is now known as Pyles Twin Bridges (only one bridge), in the bend of the road just north of the Delaware State line on Route 100. It was about ¾ mile inland from Brandywine Creek and stood near the foot of what was formerly called Bald Hill.
This first church became dilapidated and too small for the growing congregation, so on August 22, 1774 trustees of the congregation purchased another triangular piece of land comprising an acre and 114 perches on the west side of Brandywine Creek in New Castle County for “five shillings currency.” This is the location of our present church, but the first church on this site was built of black oak tree trunks and became known as the “Old Log” church. Some tombstones from the meeting house burying ground were brought to this location, but the bodies remained behind in Birmingham Township (today Chadds Ford Township).
During the Revolutionary War, the British army disembarked at Elk Ferry on the Chesapeake Bay on August 25, 1777. George Washington was stationed with his troops in Stanton, Delaware, about 6 miles below Wilmington. On September 3, a skirmish at Cooch’s Bridge, between the British and Continental Army outposts and within 4 miles of Washington’s encampment, occurred. Now aware of the close proximity of the British, General George Washington had to quickly move his troops. Rev. Thomas Read, pastor at Drawyers Creek in Delaware, was familiar with the geographical features of the area so was called upon to draw a map of the whole adjacent country. By this means, Washington was able to make a safe retreat by crossing the Brandywine Creek at Pyle’s Ford to reach Chadds Ford. Soon after the battle, Rev. Read became our stated supply pastor (1778-1779).
In 1859, the congregation decided to replace the Old Log church. The new brick church, the core of our present building, was built across a driveway from the Old Log. Its cornerstone was laid on September 1, 1859 and a sealed tin box was placed inside the brickwork at the southeast corner of the sanctuary. The box contains religious and secular newspapers, some written documents, American coins and a list of those who had helped to finance the $5,000 building fund. The new church was dedicated on November 8, 1860, when the congregation was just 40 members. The Old Log church was taken down in October 1861, and its timbers were reused for horse sheds behind the new church; these sheds were in use until 1929.
In 1890 a vestibule was added, which allowed several extra rows of pews to be installed. The stained glass windows on either side of the sanctuary were installed about the same time. The stained glass windows at the rear were installed in the 1970’s. The vestibule was altered in 1929 by having a cellar dug out below where a kitchen and toilet were added. Raising the vestibule ceiling and adding a steeple to the church allowed an organ room to be created above the sanctuary. In 1950-1, a two-story brick addition on the north and west sides of the original church building added classrooms, a chancel, a choir room, and a small library. The existing cellar was enlarged to accommodate a modern kitchen, bathrooms and a pastor’s study in the basement.
Further renovations and additions in 1992 and 2008 added more office, classroom, choir and music space for our active congregation and made the church more accessible with the addition of an elevator and handicap accessible restroom. The kitchen and restrooms have since been updated, and a new roof was installed in 2019.
In preparation for Lower Brandywine’s 300th Anniversary, the stained glass windows in the sanctuary were professionally repaired and renewed. We trust in God that the light from these windows and from the congregation of the Lower Brandywine Presbyterian Church will continue to shine brightly as a Beacon in the Brandywine Valley for another 300 years.