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Shenango Presbyterian Church & Cemetery - Neshannock Twnp PA

In 1801 a small group of settlers, of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian faith, began organizing themselves in a wilderness area north of New Castle, Pennsylvania, in what later became Neshannock Township in Lawrence County. The initial meetings were held in the barn and residence of Peter Mitchell on modern-day Clover Lane. The church they organized later became known as the Shenango United Presbyterian Church.

In the fall of 1811 the congregation erected a log cabin church on property owned by John Pearson – at the intersection of what became Wilmington Road and Shenango Road. Pearson was a member of the Society of Friends (Quakers) and actually resided near Philadelphia, but owned about 1,000 acres of land in the vicinity of the church. His son George settled on a portion of the property for some time, but eventually took up residence in New Castle. The property was originally part of a land grant to a Revolutionary War soldier, who sold it to John Pearson in the early 1800’s.

John Pearson officially deeded the property over to the congregation in about 1812, with the stipulation that a free-of-charge community burial ground be established beside the church. The burial ground was not exclusively for the congregation. There was no charge for residents of the surrounding community, no matter what religious faith they practiced, to be buried there. The cemetery, today called the Shenango United Presbyterian Church Cemetery, was often referred to as the Coaltown Cemetery or Union Cemetery. The earliest burial appears to be that of Esther Thornton, a 54-year-old woman who died in October 1812.

The first fulltime pastor of the Shenango Church was the Reverend James Galloway, who served the congregation and neighboring regions until his untimely death in May 1818. He was succeeded in his post by James L. Dinwiddie from 1820-1834, John M. Galloway from 1834-1838, and Thomas Mehard from 1841-1845. John Galloway was the son of the church’s first fulltime pastor.

The Shenango congregation initially served all of the lands encompassing modern-day Mercer and Lawrence Counties. Numerous Associate Reformed Presbyterian churches were eventually spun-off from the congregation including First United (later Clen Moore) Presbyterian in New Castle, Deer Creek Presbyterian near New Bedford, and Harbor Presbyterian in Mahoning Township. In 1826 the old log cabin church was relocated to the rear of the property and utilized as a schoolhouse, while a new wooden frame church was erected.

Among the most notable pastors was the Reverend Robert Audley Browne (1821-1902), who served the congregation from 1846-1859 and again in 1885-1890. The distinguished Reverend Browne, a U.S. Army chaplain and Pennsylvania state senator, is known for his stint as President of Westminster College from 1866-1870 and being the longtime pastor of the First United Presbyterian Church in New Castle.

In 1890 the old church was razed and a much larger wooden church was erected at the same location. In 1901 the congregation celebrated its 100th anniversary. In late 1924 the church was closed while a major renovation project was undertaken. Services were held in a nearby schoolhouse until the sanctuary was reopened for services on Sunday, January 11, 1925. Renovations continued for a few weeks and featured the evacuation and completion of a basement, the installation of a new heating system, and the opening of a new kitchen and dining area in the basement. Further improvements were made in the coming years. On Sunday, July 20, 1958, a new education wing, made of red brick, was dedicated during a small ceremony.

During the summer of 1960 the church undertook a determined effort to improve the neglected cemetery. The cemetery, where burials were free of charge until about 1930, was greatly neglected over the years. The leadership of the church attempted to see if it could legally remove all of the individual stones and replace them with a large centrally-located monument. This initiative, to simplify the grounds and allow for easier maintenance, was apparently defeated. The congregation soon began fruitful efforts to beautify and properly maintain the cemetery.

Among the 175 or so remains interred in the cemetery are those of Peter Mitchell, who provided his barn and home for the early meetings of the congregation, Ezekial and Jane Sankey, the grandparents of famous singing evangelist Ira D. Sankey, Thomas Mehard, a former pastor who served the church during the 1840’s, and a handful of descendants of the pioneering Pearson family.

A major renovation project of the church was undertaken in 1972 when the old section of the church was encased in red brick to match the newer education wing. A pastor’s study and other new rooms were built, a spire was added to the roof, and a new main entrance was constructed.

During the weekend of April 21-22, 2001, the proud congregation memorialized its 200th anniversary. The April 20, 2001, edition of the New Castle News reported, “Shenango Presbyterian Church celebrates its bicentennial tomorrow with a trip back to the past. The church will open its doors this weekend to a variety of activities recalling the congregation’s rich history, which began in 1801… A small cemetery behind the church is the final resting place for many of the early members, including Revolutionary War veterans.”

The Shenango Presbyterian Church, which will celebrate 215 years of existence in 2016, is one of the oldest congregations in all of Lawrence County.


The Shenango Presbyterian Church has its origins in 1801 when meetings took place in a nearby barn owned by Peter Mitchell – located on what is now Clover Lane. The congregation is one of the oldest still in service in Lawrence County. Only the Slippery Rock Presbyterian Church (founded 1799), Hopewell Presbyterian Church – now the United Presbyterian Church of New Bedford (founded 1800), and the First Presbyterian Church of New Castle (founded 1801) can make the same claim of being older. (Sep 2013) Full Size


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Comment

  1. This is a lovely old cemetery and a very pretty church. Very nice article, Jeff.

    Judie Stodolak · 02/28/2015 08:00 PM · #

  2. Peter Mitchell was a relative of mine.
    just started ancestry.com.
    would like to know if his grave is still around to see.
    would love to come out here to visit and do some genealogy on the finding the family, great article.

    jill mitchell joffee · 05/15/2015 09:37 AM · #