Each week of our birthday year, we will be posting a story from our history in the bulletin. Below are the ones that we have already posted.
May 3rd – William Jennings Bryan, Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson, 3 time candidate for the Presidency, and well known orator, spoke in our Church on March 28, 1922, to a capacity crowd. His subject was “Pending Problems”. Tickets were $1. His lecture was mainly on the subject of world peace, but toward the close of his talk, he got to the thing that was occupying most of his attention at the moment “Darwinism”. He thought this was the biggest menace to the country at that time, and he paid tribute to ministers of the country preaching about Darwinism and asked that layman heed their words. The Allentown Messenger reported that Mr. Bryan was met at the train station by Chas. Spaulding, president of the Men’s club under whose auspices the lecture was given, and was entertained at the home of Miss Emma Gorden ( owner of the Imlay House). Mr. Charles Spaulding, Rev. James Matheson, our pastor, and J. W. Naylor (editor of the Messenger) ate with the distinguished guest, after which the speaker took a brief nap before his talk.
April 26 – At a special joint meeting of the Session and the Board of Trustees held on April 16, 1865, after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, a resolution was drafted expressing the deep sorrow felt by Lincoln’s sudden death. The resolution read:
“Therefore resolved first, That whilst this Congregation in common with all loyal citizens of our republic mourn the loss of so noble and honest a man, such a true patriot and one who appeared so eminently fitted to be at the head of this great nation in these troublous times; we at the same time recognize the overruling hand of Province in all His dealings with us, and bow to His divine will believing that all things shall work together for the good of those who love and serve him, so shall they result to our own beloved country. Secondly: That the Church be draped in mourning for the space of 30 days.”
A.A.Taylor and Charles Meirs took care of the draping, and then it was sold, in November for $35.
April 19 – There has always been a wonderful ecumenical spirit in Allentown, especially between the Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian congregations. They did many things together, from services to church picnics. As the Allentown Messenger read on Nov. 3, 1921, “All good Presbyterians, Episcopalians andCatholics are expected to attend the Baptist supper in the Methodist Church to-night!” The week of Prayer was an event that went on for nearly 100 years, from 1876 until the 1970’s. It was held early in January and there was a service every night of the week in a different church. Watch Night services were also held in the late 1800’s, and early 1900’s, to ring in the New Year. They consisted of games, readings, food, testimonials, talks by the pastors, prayers, and singing. At 12 o’clock the church bells of all the churches rang out. Union services were held every Sunday night in the early 1900’s. There were Union Holy Week services and Good Friday services when church bells rang out and all businesses were closed. Evangelism campaigns that lasted for two weeks were ecumenical affairs. In 1951, cottage prayer meetings were held from 11-11:30 daily, in six homes, in preparation for nine united revival services planned for the following week. Youth groups were also ecumenical, much as Crossroads is to-day, sponsoring sunrise services, concerts and other events. From the 1950’s to the 1970’s, there were union Sunday morning worship services, on a rotating basis during the months of July and August, in the Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian Churches. This gave the pastors some vacation time.
April 12 – Rev. William Schenck served our congregation from 1774-1778, Rev. George Faitout from 1779-1781, and Rev. Joseph Clark 1783-1796. Less is known about their pastorates as the session records are missing, and it was a very unsettling time during and after the Revolution. Papers about Rev. Clark’s pastorate were recovered at a later date. He received a call from New Brunswick in 1796, and was instructed by Presbytery to take it, despite Allentown’s objections. Our next pastor was the Rev. John Cornell who served from 1799-1820. Rev. Cornell was Dutch Reform, and this was his only pastorate. The church parsonage and outbuildings were all repaired and painted, and everything pointed to a successful and fruitful pastorate, but it was otherwise. The Church was plagued with money problems, and one of the trustees, James Henderson Imlay, a man of prominence in the community and a member of Congress, was constantly attacking Rev. Cornell. This caused much dissention in the congregation. After leaving Allentown, in 1820, Rev. & Mrs. Cornell and their large family, moved to Somerville, where he conducted an academy. Our next pastor, the Rev. Henry Perkins had a successful 43 year pastorate.
April 5 – Not all of our pastors lived on the parsonage farm (now Winchester Estates). Rev. Cornell, who apparently had means, owned a farm on the Yardville Road. Dr. Perkins, the last preacher to occupy the farm, bought property from the Church and built his own home in 1832. This is the first house past the school on route 539. It is assumed that Rev. McKnight, Dr. Clark, Rev. Schenck and Rev. Faitout did live on the farm. In 1786, a new house and barns were built. The house is still standing. The farmland was generally rented out. The farm was heavily wooded and the church reserved the right to the woodland. Many times during the years, the trustees, when short of money, sold the lumber. In 1853, the timber from 12 to 15 acres was sold at auction for $649.50 to pay for paint and carpet for the Church. As this was 15 years after the Church was built, it is assumed this was the first carpet. Previously, the bare floors were covered with sand. The farm was both a blessing and a liability. The Church tried to sell the farm several times without success, until 1921, when it was sold to Charles Hulick for $25,000.
March 29 – On July 16, 1752, the church purchased a parsonage farm in preparation for the time when they would have a settled pastor. At the time, Rev. McKnight was living in Cranbury and serving both churches. It was not until 1756 that he was able to give his entire time to Allentown, and moved into the parsonage farm. The property contained 150 acres. It is located about one-half mile down 539 on the opposite side of the road from the Church. The house is still standing. It is the first house past Winchester Estates. It was the custom at that time for a church to maintain a parsonage farm for their minister. The minister would make his home on the farm and supplemented his income by farming, thus making him more sympathetic and understanding of the farmer’s problems on Sundays. Actually, in this church, the preachers did little or no farming personally. Mainly, they restricted their activities to overseeing the management of the farm.
March 22 – On February 21, 1749, our church reached a very important milestone in its history. The Presbyterian Churches of Monmouth County: Tennent, Cranbury, Shrewsbury, and Allentown, through the efforts of Governor Jonathan Belcher, were granted a charter by King George II. This gave the church legal status with the right to buy, sell, rent or lease land. One board of trustees functioned for the four churches. Of the nine members appointed, two were from Allentown, Robert Imlay and Tobias Polhemus. The churches operated under this charter until the Revolutionary War. A new charter was granted by the new State of New Jersey on April 22, 1989. The seal of the four churches was an eight pointed star with a burning bush, much like the seal of the Scotch Kirk. This is the oldest known corporate seal of any American Presbyterian Church. The charter allowed the Church to officially own the land that Tobias Polhemus and Robert Imlay had already purchased for the Church.
March 15 – The flowers in the sanctuary today are in memory of George R. Waln. George was born on March 10, 1866 and was a lifetime member of the Church, a member of the Session for 48 years, and Clerk of Session for 46 years. Only illness prevented him from attending Sunday school and worship each week. He was a well-known farmer and resided on his farm on the corner of Crosswicks and Ellisdale Roads. (now the Fusco farm). When he passed away, on August 28, 1943, he left the bulk of his estate to the Church with the Farmers National Bank as the trustee. At that time the estate was worth approximately $209,000 and the Church received the yearly interest. Presently the account is worth over 2 million dollars and we are still receiving the yearly interest. In 2019 that amount was nearly $70.000.
George Waln’s gift drastically changed the financial picture of the Church. The Church had struggled with making ends meet for much of its 223 years. In 1957, a George R. Waln Scholarship fund was established and a number of our youth received an award of $500 per year for the four years they were in college. In 1952, when the organ was completely reconditioned, it was dedicated “to the Glory of God and in Memory of George R. Waln.On January 28, 1963, the Session voted to place flowers in the Church on his birthday and to put a wreath on his grave at Christmas. As part of our 300th. Anniversary celebration we have renewed that tradition in memory of George R. Waln one of The “Pillars of our Church”.
March 8 – What would our forefathers think of changing the clocks? They were completely opposed to day-light savings time that was instituted during the war to save fuel. The farmers, in particular, were opposed to day-light savings time. They claimed that by setting the clock ahead one hour, the fields would be too wet to work. They were so bitter that in May, 1922 many of them signed a petition to boycott Allentown merchants for operating on day-light time. The Church did not go on the new time but the session, skirting the issue, resolved to hold church service at 10:00 AM if the town went on, so called, daylight time. This did not suit a number of our farmer members and they refused to change. Some are said to have gone so far as to attend church at the usual time and sit in the empty church for an hour.
March 1 – In the early days the only was the Church received any money was through the renting of pews. The first list of pew holders that we have is for 1799. At that time all the pews were rented except for one or two in the gallery kept for the poor. Two pews downstairs and one in each gallery were built in the form of a hollow square and were rented to large families or more affluent members. The yearly rental was $9 for the larger pews and from $3 to $6 per year according to the size and location of the other pews. Those in the gallery were $1. The book shows rentals of 1/8 of a pew, 3/10 of a pew, and 7/8 of a pew indicating they could hold 10 people. The trustees did everything possible to raise money at various times, sometimes they raised the price of the pews, and, when that failed, they lowered the price to no avail. In 1886, they even decided to sue the estate of John Brown for back pew rent. It was paid without suit.
In 1922, the centuries old custom of raising money by pew rent was abandoned, our church being one of the last to do so. The enveloped system had been developed a few years earlier in other places. Contributions were made four times a year on communion Sundays. Later the weekly envelope was developed.
February 23 – On December 15, 1744, Robert Imlay and Tobias Polhemus paid 5 shillings ($1.20) for 1 acre of land here on High St. to build a bigger church. The first church was built in 1756 and stood lengthwise to the road. That church was brick and had a shingled roof. Its dimensions were approximately 30 by 45. It had a sky blue vaulted ceiling with painted cloud effects, typical of the period. High above the congregation stood the enclosed pulpit with its winding steps. Over the pulpit was suspended a sounding board. There were 30 pews with straight high backs, arranged in the form of a hollow square. This building served the congregation until 1837, 81 years, when it was torn down and the present Church was built.
February 16 – Allentown issued a call for the Rev, Charles McKnight to become their pastor in 1744, after being without a pastor for 10 years. After considering the call for several months, he agreed to serve both Cranbury and Allentown. However, he lived in Cranbury and a controversy raged from 1748 to 1756 as to where he should live. In 1756, he moved to the parsonage farm in Allentown, and served only the Allentown Church as it appears Cranbury had gotten in arrears in their payment of Rev. McKnight.
Charles McKnight was the son of a minister of Scotch-Irish descent. His ancestors were driven from Scotland and Ireland for their beliefs. His patriotism was evident from his preaching and became stronger during the Revolutionary War. He was a staunch Patriot, and died a martyr’s death in the cause of freedom, although he had left Allentown in 1766.
February 9 – Rev. Joseph Morgan, the Tennent pastor who helped to organize our first congregation, seems to have been a most colorful individual. Probably of Welsh origin, he was born in New London, Conn., educated at Yale, and ordained as a congregational minister. He came to Freehold in 1709 and served Old Scots (Tennent) and the Dutch Reformed Church. Three quarters of his time was given to the Dutch and one quarter to the Presbyterians. During his entire ministry, he had difficulties with both churches. The Benjamin Franklin papers state he was undisciplined, cantankerous, drank excessively and experimented with astrology, promiscuous dancing, and transgressing in drink. He left Freehold, in 1729, but misfortunes continued to plague him. After hearing George Whitefield preach (the great evangelist from England), he went out proclaiming the Gospel in the Jersey pines and along the Jersey coast.
February 2 – Rev. Joseph Morgan, the Tennent pastor who helped to organize our first congregation, seems to have been a most colorful individual. Probably of Welsh origin, he was born in New London, Conn., educated at Yale, and ordained as a congregational minister. He came to Freehold in 1709 and served Old Scots (Tennent) and the Dutch Reformed Church. Three quarters of his time was given to the Dutch and one quarter to the Presbyterians. During his entire ministry, he had difficulties with both churches. The Benjamin Franklin papers state he was undisciplined, cantankerous, drank excessively and experimented with astrology, promiscuous dancing, and transgressing in drink. He left Freehold, in 1729, but misfortunes continued to plague him. After hearing George Whitefield preach (the great evangelist from England), he went out proclaiming the Gospel in the Jersey pines and along the Jersey coast.
January 26 – By 1720, Allentown had its first organized congregation and a meeting house was built on what is now Lakeview Drive. Little is known about this first building, It stood at the north end of the old cemetery and was reached through a lane that now lies between 29 and 33 South Main Street. It was small, rectangular in shape, and probably had no carpet, or glass in the windows. It was unheated and candles were used. It was probably unpainted. It is not known if it was wood or brick. This meeting house served as a place of worship for 80 years for 3 denominations. After 1730, it was shared with the Episcopalians and it was used for a time by the early Methodists. During the Revolution, it was occupied by the British, possibly as a stable, and in 1805 it was torn down.
January 19 – In the late 1690’s and early 1700’s, some of the Presbyterians from Old Scots (Old Tennent), followed the Indian trail to Allen’s Town. This was the Old Burlington Path Road from Middletown to the Delaware River. Among those coming to Upper Freehold were Patrick Imlay, a member and trustee of Old Scots, and children of the Henry and Francis prisoners. Here they settled next to the Quakers, such as Nathan Allen who had come from Philadelphia and started a grist mill. They were coldly received by the Quakers, who had also come for religious freedom, but had very different beliefs than the Presbyterians.
January 12 – Our Presbyterian forefathers were persecuted in Scotland and sent to this country as slaves aboard the Henry and Francis. When they landed on the Jersey shore in December 1685, Mr. John Johnson, then in charge of the ship, tried to talk them into working for him for 4 years to pay for their passage. When they refused, he took them to court. When it was known that they were banished from Scotland against their will, forced on board ship, and had not entered into any agreement for passage, the Colonial Grand Jury set them free. Some walked to New England, some stayed in Jersey, and some returned home then William of Orange came into power in 1688. Those still in Monmouth County in 1692, organized and built the first log cabin meeting house near Free Hill. Ironically, both Mr. Johnson and some of the slaves were founders of this church called Old Scots (now Old Tennent).
January 5 – Our history begins in Scotland when Charles II (1660-1688) began a policy of persecuting all those who would not worship in the Church of England. A group of Scotch Presbyterians were imprisoned in Dunottar Castle. In Sept. 1685, after being given a chance to repent they were marched 66 miles to Leith, Scotland and banished in slavery to America. To mark them as slaves, the men had an ear cut off, while the women were branded. Another Presbyterian, George Scott, Laird of Pitlochy, also fined and persecuted had sold his estates, and hired a ship called the Henry and Francis to take him, his family, and others to America. The slaves were given to him to sell for their passage. During the 15 week voyage (Sept. 5th- Dec. 15, 1685) 70 persons died including George Scott. John Johnson, Scott’s son in-law, was now in charge. Strong winds blew the Henry and Francis to the Jersey shore, where they landed on Dec. 15th.
December 22 – From the Trustee Minutes of April 29,1895: Motion made that the pew cushions be cleaned and that the Sexton be instructed to turn them after each Sunday Evening Service. (At that time there were both morning and evening services each week.)
From the Trustee Minutes of Nov. 11, 1895: The Sexton has cleaned the cushions and left them in better order. Should we have Pat turn the new cushions each week?
December 15 – There was a complete redecoration of the sanctuary in 1943. The work was done during the winter months while worship was being held in the Chapel. This was due to the fuel shortage during World War II. At the time, the pews were painted brown, the wainscoting under the windows and in the vestibule were a yellowish brown with grain effect, and the pew cushions were brown and badly worn. The committee visited several colonial churches to get suggestions and ideas. The result was, the pews and woodwork were painted ivory, the walls a blueish-gray, copied from the Princeton Chapel, and the cushions and carpet changed to red. The transformation was striking, going from the dark interior to the light color. Congratulatory letters poured in expressing “how wonderful our Grand Old Church looks.” (Congratulations to all those who worked on the recent redecorating of the sanctuary. The harmony of the blue walls, cushions, and carpet is peaceful and pleasing and maintains the colonial character of our “Grand Old Church.”