History of Abington Presbyterian Church
Founded in 1714, sixty-two years before the
signing of the Declaration of Independence, Abington Presbyterian
Church is the third oldest Presbyterian church in Montgomery
County. Benjamin Franklin was still a child and George Washington,
Thomas Jefferson and John Adams had not yet been born when seventy
hearty pioneers banded together in a primitive settlement to unite
in the worship of God.
For their leader and pastor they selected one of their number,
Rev. Malachi Jones, then 63 years of age. It was in his home on the
east side of York Road that 70 people adopted and signed these
words of Covenant
"In the Township of Abington, year
1714, we whose names are underwritten have engaged ourselves to be
Ye Lord's, and do hereby engage ourselves to Ye Lord and to one
another to unite in a Church-State according to rule God gave in
His word to direct His church in all the duty required toward God,
ourselves and toward all men. The Lord please to aid and direct
This small congregation held its services in the home of Malachi
Jones until 1719 when Mr. Jones sold to the trustees one half acre
of his farm "to build a House for the Publick Worship of God And
also a place for Burying the Dead." Work on the church building
began at once. It is believed that this first church was built of
logs because of the desire to build quickly. We do know the church
was located in the center of the Burying Ground - the Abington
Cemetery that we know today.
Malachi Jones served the church for 15 years and it was well
established by the time of his death in 1729.
When the Rev. Richard Treat was installed as the second
pastor in 1731, the ordination sermon preached by the
fiery Welsh preacher, David Evans, was published by Benjamin
Franklin. The ministry of Richard Treat was to last 47 years, the
longest pastorate in the history of Abington Presbyterian
These were eventful years not only for Abington Church, but also
for the emerging nation. This was the chaotic period of the French
and Indian War and the American Revolution, both of which took
their toll on the country and on Abington's people.
In 1756, when the Church was struggling for survival, 100 acres
of land on the west side of York Road was donated to the church.
This was used as a church farm, rental fees from which helped
support the church for the next hundred years.
On this newly acquired land was built the first manse which was
to serve Abington pastors until its sale with the church farm in
1856. Although there have been several renovations, the original
manse still stands. It is the large stone house at the corner of
York and Orchard Roads.
During the days when Philadelphia was occupied by the
British, the American Army marched through Abington
several times and part of the Army was stationed here. British
soldiers camped in Philadelphia made frequent raids into the
country. On at least one such occasion, the British marched up York
Road toward Abington only to be repulsed by American soldiers
entrenched behind the wall of Abington Cemetery.
In 1785, two years before the Constitution of the United States
was adopted, the Church procured a Charter from the new State of
Pennsylvania, incorporating "the Presbyterian congregation in
Abington Township in the County of Montgomery." This charter is one
of the oldest documents of its kind in the State of
By the time the war hostilities ended, the devastation of the
Revolution and the widespread poverty and distress had so depleted
both the membership and revenue of the church that it was
New life was breathed into the church, however, under the
dynamic leadership of Rev. William Tennent accompanied by the
national surge of reconstruction after the war. It was time for a
new church, this time on the west side of York Road. The old
building in the cemetery was dismantled and nothing of it exists
This new church, built in 1793, was to stand for forty years
until the now thriving congregation required an even larger
building. When the church was rebuilt in 1833, the unbelievably low
cost of $1,893.36 indicates that it was built with the stones of
the older 1793 church. It was "a very homely old church solidly
built but devoid of architectural beauty." Services began in the
morning and lasted until 2 pm.
In 1856 most of the church farm was sold form $19,000. With
$4,500 of this money the Church purchased 13 acres along
Susquehanna Road, including Isaiah Hubb's house on the corner. A
manse was built between the Church and the Corner House, near where
the church parking lot is today.
When Abington's fifth pastor died in 1862, he was buried near
the pastors who had preceded him. So it was that the first five
pastors who served this church for a total of 148 years, all died
in its service and are buried side by side in Abington Church
During the years of the Civil War, pastors in
the North found it difficult to hold their congregations together
because many families had sympathies with the South. It is to the
credit of both the pastors and the Church that not one family was
lost during this time. In fact, many members continued to join.
Near the end of the Civil War, the Philadelphia merchant, John
Wanamaker, purchased a home in Jenkintown and became active in the
spiritual life of the community. It was he who brought to Abington
some of its more distinguished visitors, among them evangelist
Dwight L. Moody and U.S. President Benjamin Harrison.
The closing years of the nineteenth century brought many changes
to the old village of Abington. New streets, houses and schools
were built, and a trolley route ran from Philadelphia to Willow
Grove. Surrounded by this growth, Abington Church met the need for
more space by expanding the Sunday School rooms, adding a kitchen
and installing a new pipe organ. Then disaster struck.
At 3 o'clock in the morning of October 6, 1895,
a motorman making a night run on the York Road trolley into
Philadelphia saw the red glow of fire. Seeing the new Sunday School
addition in flames, he awakened the pastor. Despite the heroic
efforts of Rev. Henderson and Capt. Nicholas Baggs, who lived in
the house on the corner, the flames finally reached the steeple.
This well-known landmark crashed to the ground.
Within a year the church was rebuilt and John Wanamaker donated
a new bell for the steeple. The bell hangs there to this day.
In contrast to the years of growth, the dawn of
the Twentieth Century saw Abington Presbyterian Church in a period
of inactivity and decline. The newly installed pastor rekindled
enthusiasm, however, by launching the congregation into elaborate
plans to celebrate the 200th Anniversary in 1914. As his
contribution, Capt. Nicholas Baggs, a Civil War Veteran whose
family lived in the Corner House for nearly 75 years, spent a
decade unearthing, recording and publishing an historical record of
From this time forward, membership grew necessitating additions
and alterations to the church buildings. In 1925 the Parish House
was built. The Church was remodeled and enlarged; the chapel was
added in 1939. In 1957 the Christian Education Building was added,
and in 1959 the Sanctuary was enlarged to its present
Abington Church is the mother church of ten
Presbyterian churches in the area. Among them are Grace Church in
Jenkintown, Carmel Church in Glenside, and Huntingdon Valley
But Abington Presbyterian Church has not only grown physically.
Its programs and ministries, both in the Church and in the greater
Abington area, make "Old Abington Church" as much a force in the
community today as it was in its early years.
The Church has been through difficult periods
causing some people to despair. Yet God has faithfully and
repeatedly granted the church a rebirth. The Phoenix adorning the
transom over the main entrance to the sanctuary symbolizes God's
faithfulness to Christ's church in general and to Abington
Presbyterian Church in particular. The Phoenix was a mythical bird
of great beauty that lived in the Arabian wilderness. Periodically
throughout its long life, it burned itself on a funeral pyre and
rose from its own ashes, restored to all the freshness of youth to
enter another cycle of life.
We do not believe in myths, but the story of the Phoenix serves
as a reminder. Its resurrection symbolizes our faith in Christ's
resurrection victory over death, which He guarantees for all who
believe in, trust in and rely on Him as their Savior and Lord. His
resurrection also encourages the church, His people, to be faithful
to Him in the community we serve to His glory.