A SHORT HISTORY OF THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH AT CIRCLEVILLE, OHIO
1822 – 2016
The Circleville, Ohio Presbyterian organized into a church in 1822, and called their first pastor, William Burton, on September 13 of that year. The cornerstone of the first church edifice (called the Meeting House) was laid in 1826 and the building was finished two years later. It was on the site of the present structure and was the first church building in Circleville.
In 1835, Mr. Burton resigned and was soon replaced by Franklin Putman. During Mr. Putnam’s pastorate an upheaval in the national church caused the organization to split into Old School and New School factions. In Circleville the New School faction was dominant and, in 1838, an Old School group withdrew and formed a separate congregation. The First and Central churches remained separate until 1882.
In 1844, Dr. James E. Rowland became pastor of First Church and remained until his death in November of 1854. Toward the end of his pastorate he led an effort to build a new church building on the old site. The building was not quite finished when Dr. Rowland died in November of 1854. The congregation sat on make-shift benches while the Rev. Dr. Henry L. Hitchcock preached the funeral sermon. Dr. Rowland was the first buried in front of the church and a short time later, under the tower.
In 1899, when the present edifice was built, his coffin was re-buried under the present tower where it remains.
During the last years of the separation of the congregation, Central Church was served by the Rev. William MacMillan and First Church by the Rev. Samuel H. McMullin. Non-Presbyterians confused them and they often got one another’s mail.
The two churches reunited in 1882 under Dr. James P. Stratton and flourished. In 1899, a new edifice was designed by Charles A. Stribling, a local boy who has made good. The construction was carried on under the leadership of the Rev. F. L. Bullard, who was pastor from 1897 to 1902.
The early 20th century was a period of revival but the First World War caused many to desert religion as not pertinent to their lives. At the same time, many mainline religions, including Presbyterianism, were divided by the controversy between the fundamentalists and the modernists. All churches, including the Circleville Church, suffered from this controversy.
In 1937, an energetic young pastor, Robert Kelsey, was called, who began to re-build the program for youth. As the Presbyterian Church reorganized and enlivened its programs, this appeal to the youth continued under the pastorates of Carl Kennedy (1934-46) and Donald Mitchel (1947-61).
A watershed occurred in 1959 with the uniting of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. with the United Presbyterians. The former emphasis on youth began eroding and a decline set in which continued in the local church for a generation. In spite of efforts by the Rev. Henry Walters (1961-77) to encourage Christian Education, the congregation aged and the membership remained more or less static.
At the beginning of the 1980’s, the Northern and Southern Presbyterians united. This has caused some problems, as the Southern Church was always more conservative.
The situation between 1977 and 2008 had good moments under pastors Ed Clydesdale and Bill Campbell and great efforts were made to appeal to young families. Much good was accomplished in these years but, in fact, the overall membership has increased little since the 1940’s. Nevertheless, the church has continued and often flourished through good times and bad times.
By W. W. Higgins
A special thanks to Wallace W. Higgins for providing this history.