A look into the past of St. Peter’s in the Great Valley

Oldest known photo of St. Peter's

The oldest known photograph of St. Peter’s Church in the Great Valley

An albumen print taken by Henry T. Coates, Sr., taken between 1860 and 1870, shows in great detail the several significant architectural changes made to the original St. Peter’s Church in 1856. A fifteen foot, two-story Vestry and Sunday School addition was built upon the east end of the 1744 structure, significantly altering its symmetry. The large Chancel window, providing an east view overlooking the Valley, was plastered over. A red tin roof replaced the wooden shakes. And the original, gray fieldstone exterior walls were covered with a pebble-dashed and whitewashed mortar. The photograph is courtesy of the Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society, which received it from the Coates family in 1958.

1860-1870 interior view

“Interior View of St. Peter’s Church, E. Whiteland Twp”, 1860-70

This albumen print is a companion photo to the exterior piece shown above, taken by Henry T. Coates, Sr. between 1860 and 1870. Jonathon Wayne’s high “wineglass” pulpit, complete with sounding board and clerk’s desk, which for 80 years had presided in the center of the sanctuary’s north wall, had been replaced in 1830 by a wide pulpit dominating the church’s east end, shown here. As already stated, the large Colonial Chancel window, which provided a panoramic view east up the Valley, had been plastered over. The large arched side windows were “squared-off” in 1856 to reflect the then-popular Greek Revival style, and matching the square window heads of the addition. The windows were then hung with green, interior slat blinds. It is also recorded that the interior walls and vaulted ceiling, pebble-dashed and whitewashed in 1830, were repainted in 1856 to a “dark, dull grey.” One will also note one of two centrally placed radiating coal stoves, and the connecting ductwork to a center chimney. The print was donated to the Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society by Misses Bertha and Anna M. Coates on November 22, 1958.

Oct. 27, 1894, exterior

October 27, 1894

This print, taken by Gilbert Cope on October 27, 1894, shows the north and west sides of the church. The small window shown separating the two squared-off north windows was formerly a door allowing entrance from the sanctuary to a small Sacristy built in Colonial times, and used by clergy for the storage of vestments and other worship objects. The Sacristy was demolished in the 1850s. Today’s egress road was the original Church Road, built in the 1730s. It flanked the old churchyard and continued north to Yellow Springs Road and on to Phoenixville. In 1918 St. Peter’s vestry agreed to a collective request by the Warner Company and the Knickerbocker Lime Company to close the road at the carriage entryway [shown above] so that limestone quarrying could be substantially expanded. This decision, for which the vestry received a modest value of the companies’ bonds, effectively made the church, and its churchyard, an island surrounded by stone quarries.

Another exterior view, Oct. 27, 1894

October 27, 1894

A companion photo taken by Gilbert Cope on October 27, 1894 is provided courtesy of the Chester County Historical Society, West Chester, PA. This perspective shows the church’s south wall, dominated by double doors of the formal entryway into the sanctuary. The two children in the photo, shown sitting in the churchyard on either side of the entryway, are the photographer’s son and daughter, Joseph and Ellen Cope.

Distant exterior view, 1900

A Distant View of St. Peter’s Church, 1900

This photo, taken by Charlotte West Bishop Brinton around 1900, looks northeast with the carriage road (now called Saint Peter’s Road) in the foreground, the south churchyard and church beyond, and North Valley Mountain [600′ above sea level] in the background. This photograph portrays how agricultural use of the land surrounding the parish created a very exposed and treeless environment atop Saint Peter’s Hill [350′ above sea level], very different from the current impression.

NW side, 1901

Northwest side of St. Peter’s Church, 1901

Taken shortly after the “improvements” of 1899-1901, this photo shows the new “Parish House” which juts at a right-angle north from the 1856 Vestry and Sunday School addition. A new brick chimney for the interior coal stoves replaced the small central flue. The small north “sacristy window” has been altered to an oval shape with diamond shaped panes. The Colonial semi-circular windows, “squared-off” in 1856, were once again restored. However, each window was capped with external brown stucco voussoirs, described as “like eyebrows topping the window openings”.

Exterior from SE, 1904

Church from southeast, 1904

This photograph, taken in 1904 by A. J. Greenwood, shows the south and east sides of the church and new Parish House addition, designed by a newly-minted local architect named Brognard Okie. The brick chimney on the north wall of the Parish House marked the location of a large fireplace, which was destroyed in 1952 when the second half of the current “Parish Hall” was constructed. The large window openings on each of the north and south sides of the sanctuary had originally been fitted with a series of small panes of greenish window glass. This rough, hand-blown Wistar glass, produced before the Revolution in Alloway, New Jersey [today considered priceless], was removed and discarded in 1899, to be replaced with four large utilitarian panes per window.

N mounting block looking W, 1910

North Mounting Block Looking West, 1910

This is one of two mounting blocks upon the grounds of St. Peter’s”, used by parishioners for dismounting from carriages or horseback. This block is still located just north of today’s Common Room. This image shows the open pastures and farm land immediately west of the carriage road, since obliterated by the earthworks and quarrying of the Warner and Kickerbocker limestone companies.

Sanctuary 1944

Sanctuary Interior After 1944 Restoration

This photograph, taken as part of a collection to document the historic restoration of St. Peter’s Church in the Great Valley between 1940 to 1944 by now-nationally famous architect Brognard Okie, and the well-known Harrisburg restoration contractor, Harold A. Hipple, shows an interior that would have been somewhat recognizable to Colonial parishioners. Some within the parish had called for a true restoration to the original look of the 1760s Colonial period. Many architectural compromises were made, as seen by the corner positioning of a wine-glass pulpit reproduction [originally centered on the north wall, next to the door to the attached Sacristy], and the lack of a view through the reproduction Chancel window [although there were those who demanded that the 1856 Vestry and Sunday School addition be torn down]. The sunlight streaming through the forward north window is no longer possible since the addition in 1988 of the Common Room. Electricity and plumbing would not arrive to the parish until 1947.

Mounting block, 1955

Southwest side showing South Mounting Block, 1955

This image, by an unknown photographer, shows the south mounting block adjacent to the west gate. This was the main entrance to the church from Church Road during the Colonial period.

Historical comments by Roger D. Thorne.