The earliest record of a Presbyterian Witness to the gospel in the Newtown area comes from a petition brought to the Presbytery of Philadelphia on September 19, 1734 by a group of individuals requesting permission to allow Mr. William Tennent, then the pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Neshaminy, to preach for them once a month. Sometime during the following 10 year period a church building was constructed at the corner of Swamp Road and Green Lane. The first installed pastor was the Reverend Henry Martin, just out of “The College of New Jersey, later known as Princeton University. He was ordained to Christian ministry and began his duties in 1752.
Then in 1769, during the pastorate of the church’s second installed pastor, the stone structure at 76 N. Sycamore Street was built. Later (1782) it was remodeled and in 1987 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. We are thus assured that this building will retain it current exterior form so long as there are adequate resources to maintain it. We continue to hold Sunday worship in this historic building during the summer season, beginning each year in June and continuing until the Sunday before Labor Day.
This old edifice is the second of four Presbyterian Church buildings erected in Newtown. The first, referred to above, along with another built in the 1800’s on the corner of Washington and Chancellor Streets that was later torn down to make way for the present sanctuary in the 1930’s.
In December of 1776, because it was one of the largest buildings in town, General Washington commandeered it and used it as a hospital, a jail and a P.O.W. “camp.” After the Battle of Trenton, several hundred Hessians were held there before they began their long march to Philadelphia where they would be exchanged for American soldiers.
The small building on the south side of the church is the Session House. It was built about 1798, used as a meeting place for the session, and is one of only two such buildings in the county still standing. Because most early session members were farmers and did not get to town except on Sunday, a quiet place was needed to conduct church business.
In back of the church is a cemetery. As you stroll through it, you may be surprised to find eight British flags–marking the graves of men who fought in the French and Indian Wars. There are twenty-eight flags flying over the graves of church members who followed General Washington in the Revolutionary War. In the back, just in front of the wall, is the grave of a man who stood for the Union during the Civil War.
Newtown Presbyterian Church’s history is preserved by the Historic Church Committee. The Historic Church Committee is an ad-hoc committee of the Board of Trustees. Members share a fondness and special interest in our Historic Church on Sycamore Street, and work with other church members to raise funds for the preservation of the historic facilities and surrounding grounds. Fund-raising projects include the Strawberry Festival in June, a fall spaghetti dinner, a chili luncheon and Christmas ornament sale in December, and a take-out soup sale in the winter.