Paul Presbyterian Church History

Paul Presbyterian Church - circa 1925

The Paul Presbyterian Church, 2001 Pioneer Avenue, has been standing at the corner of Pioneer and Dunster Street for over ninety years. Now the Providence Reformed Presbyterian Church, the church building and the congregations who have worshiped there have a storied history here in Brookline, snippets of which we can list here.

Since February of 1923, a congregation, gathered together by Mr. J.M. Elliot, met every Sunday afternoon for worship in the old Elizabeth Paul homestead in West Liberty, under the leadership of Reverend Richard L. Biddle. Many prominent Brookline citizens, including Professor Joseph F. Moore, principal of both Brookline and West Liberty Elementary Schools, were members of this gathering.

After five months of planning, on July 15, 1923, the cornerstone was laid for a new church to house the growing congregation. Reverend Biddle, pastor of the Mount Pisgah Presbyterian Church who worked diligently to establish the new church, was named acting-pastor.

On this important day, Rev. Biddle conducted the the ceremony. Many special guests were on hand to assist. Rev. D.P. Herriott of the Beechview Presbyterian Church, opened the exercises with an invocation. Rev. G.W. Kaufman of Central chapel read the Scripture. Dr. W.A. Jones, associate pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, made the main address, followed by short addresses by Rev. U. Franklin Smiley, of the Dormont Presbyterian Church, and Rev. B.F. Farber of the Sixth Presbyterian Church.

J.M. Elliot of the church session read the historical paper, and greetings were brought by neighboring pastors Rev. John J. McIlvaine of the Brookline Boulevard United Presbyterian Church and Rev. Alexander Steel of the Brookline United Methodist Church. The prayer of dedication was offered by Rev. P.W. Snyder, superintendant of missions of the Presbytery of Pittsburgh. The musical program featured Miss Sadie M. Jackson and a male quarter.

Paul Presbyterian Church - December 1923    Paul Presbyterian Church - December 1923
Clippings showing the church at the time of the dedication and the inset is Reverend Richard L. Biddle.

The new church cost $30,000, and by resolution of the Pittsburgh Presbytery, was named for Mrs. Elizabeth Paul, the prominent Brookline landowner who donated the land and $1000 towards the construction of the church. The building committee was composed of Professor Joseph F. Moore, S.E. Lippert and E.O. Rader.

Construction was completed five months later, and the completed church was dedicated in a ceremony conducted by Reverend Biddle on December 9, 1923. The church would be directed and supported by the trustees of the Pittsburgh Presbytery.

The dedicatory services were opened by Rev. P.W. Snyder, superintendent of missions of Pittsburgh Presbytery, who preached at the morning service. The choir of Mt. Pisgah church sang during that service. The afternoon service was signalized by greetings from neighboring churches, and during the evening service, Rev. W.A. Jones, associate pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, preached, along with music from the junior choir of the Paul church.

Paul Presbyterian Church - 1940s    Paul Presbyterian Church - 1940s
A service in the Paul Presbyterian Church in the 1940s.

The new church stood two stories high and covered a ground area of 70X35 feet. The main auditorium, with the gallery, sat 300, and the interior appointments were modern and attractive in every respect. One of the features of the Paul Presbyterian Church were the beautiful stained glass windows, donated by Mrs. Elizabeth Paul. The large one in the front of the building was in memory of her brother John Holmes.

The original church board was composed of Prof. J.F. Moore, president; M.K. Watson, secretary; S.G. Leppert, treasurer; F.M. Critchlow, P.M. McVay, Louis Schacke, J.M. Elliot, A.N. Keisel, E.O. Rader, E.H. Vaux; M.K. Watson was superintendent of the Sunday school; Mrs. C. Leppert, president of the Aid society, and A.N. Keisel, president of the C.E. Society.

Rev William Semple Jr.
Rev. William Semple Jr

The church's second pastor was Rev. William Semple, Jr., who took over the pastorship in 1925, followed by Rev. Archibald J. Stewart in October 1929. Organization services were held on December 17, 1933 in observance of the tenth anniversary of the Paul Mission.

The celebration opened with a historical review by J.F. Moore, followed by an address by Dr. P.W. Snyder, superintendent of missions in the Pittsburgh Presbytery. The church's first pastor, Rev. R.L. Biddle, was also onhand to address the congregation.

On May 12, 1949, the congregation held a dual celebration. They burned the mortage on the church and honored their pastor, Rev. Stewart, on his twentieth anniversary as their minister.

Paul Presbyterian Church - 1954    Paul Presbyterian Church - 1954

Paul Presbyterian Church - 1954    Paul Presbyterian Church - 1954
Photos from Rev. Stewart's 25th Anniversary celebration on October 1954.

Special services were held on October 13, 1954 to mark the 25th Anniversary of Rev. Stewart's installation. Former choir members joined with the current choir in a special song service. An anniversary dinner was held the following evening, followed by a get-together of former members. Reverend Stewart served as pastor for another seventeen years, stepping down in 1971.

Boy Scout Troop #206, sponsored by the church was one of the most noted in Pittsburgh. The troop was installed January 31, 1932. Owen Nichols was the original scoutmaster and Professor Moore was chairman of the troop committee. Others who assisted that first year were Rev. Stewart, E.L. Vaux, C.R. Allers and E.O. Rader. For more than thirty years, pastor Rev. Stewart was scoutmaster.

After the resignation of Reverend Stewart in 1971, a temporary pastor, Reverend Guilhermino DaKuna was assigned. In 1974 there was some discussion as to whether the church should partner with the Overbrook Presbyterian Church. Pittsburgh Presbytery records show that there was no pastor assigned in 1978, and the final church pastor was Reverend T.F. McManus, who served from 1994 to 2001.

Paul Presbyterian Church Choir (circa 1945)
The Paul Presbyterian Church Choir (circa 1945).

The Paul Church was, at one time, one of the main churches in Brookline, and remained in service through April of 2001. The church was dissolved and the building was eventually taken over by the Providence Reformed Presbyterian Church. The large stained glass windows in the front of the church are no longer there.

According to the current pastor, the windows were damaged and in need of repair. The cost of repairing them would have been high. It was more reasonable to replace them. Also, with this being a rather conservative Presbyterian denomination, displaying the image of Jesus above God ran contrary to the First Commandment, and replacing them was more in line with their beliefs.

The Paul Church - 2016
The Paul Presbyterian Church in 2016 after the stained glass windows over the doors were replaced.

Reverend Archibald J. Stewart

Reverend Stewart and Family - 1940s
Long-time Paul Presbyterian leader Reverend Stewart, sons John and Frank, and wife Mildred.

Mike O'Toole grew up as a member of the Paul Presbyterian Church. He knew Reverend Stewart, well and shares some of his memories here:

Reverend Stewart was a WWI vet who fought for Canada. He came to the states in 1925. He was heavily involved with the Boy scouts, and we met at the church on Friday nights during the school year. He was a tough man with a BIG heart. He also ruled with a heavy hand, literally sometimes. Anyone who ever went to his scout night has a fond memory of those times.

He also was heavily into gardening, especially Dahlias. He was a member of the Dahlia Society and often entered them in contests. I had an article of him with his dahlias at a contest at Phipps Conservatory. He was well known throughout the United States and Canada for his flowers. He raised all the flowers for the Paul Presbyterian church and another church on the North Side.

Reverend Stewart with his Dahlias.
Reverend Stewart with his prize Dahlias.

Reverend Stewart used to take us to "Camp Moore," located somewhere in Butler county once a year in the early fall. We would take a once a year hiking trek to South Park in the spring, where we would have some groves reserved.

I would go to Reverend Stewarts home early on Friday nights and we would sit and talk for a while before I rode to the church with him. We went in the front and my job was to open up the back where all of the other kids would be waiting to come in to the basement of the church. We had an open session at the beginning of the meeting. Most of us played basketball. But when "Rev" blew his whistle you better stop and freeze ... you could here the basketball bouncing after that whistle blew.

Reverend Stewart and his son John in 1954.
Reverend Stewart and his son John in 1954.

We were instructed to pull out some folding chairs and form a circle. Reverend Stewart would talk to us about a whole host of things. After that we played some different games, mostly in teams, like crab soccer, basketball or a board baseball game with huge darts.

Reverend Stewart was good to a lot of people. He would often give me vegetables or flowers to take home to my Mom. He would give us kids twenty-five cents per praying mantis, and he would put them in his garden for a natural pesticide.

Reverend Stewart died on September 21, 1973. His son Frank is the only one left in the family, and he lives in the Stewart's old home on LaMarido Street.

Click on images for larger photos

* Photos provided by Frank Stewart, Scott Price and Mike O'Toole *

The Paul Church - 2004
The Paul Presbyterian Church in 2004 before the stained glass windows over the doors were replaced.

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