By Jack Mariano
Countless times I have driven past the old building that was known as the Keystone Lodge #569 of Parkesburg, but I never set one foot inside, and as I drove my mother past the structure this past Sunday, she said that although she was raised a block away, she had never been inside, either. My mother was born in 1920 and the Masonic group acquired the building in 1925, so neither of us would really know the building as anything else.
And so, the “chapel” that sits along the street bearing the same name was the subject of the first tour of the 2013-14 season for the Parkesburg History Group.
Our friend Gerry Treadway began with an update on a few of the tasks that the group has be doing over the summer, organizing hundreds of newspapers in the Parkesburg Library. He also updated attendees on the projects and ideas being formulated for the coming year.
Dale Groff took center stage (or pew) and described the history of the church turned Masonic Hall, how the edifice evolved throughout the years.
The Upper Octorara Presbyterian Church was founded in 1720 and on May 8, 1871. Church members built a memorial chapel in Parkesburg after the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church asked local churches throughout the U.S. to establish a memorial to celebrate the reunion of the two branches of the Presbyterian Church. In 1872, heirs of John G. Parke conveyed ground for the new chapel, adjacent to the Charles C. Owens property to the Upper Octorara Church.
Revivals were very popular in both locations inside and outside of town. Many folks in the area felt that services should be held during the winter months “in town” at the chapel and, in April, the congregation would meet at the location on Route 10. The first vote held on May 4, 1903 and the result was an 82 to 81 vote to move the services into town during January, February and March. The rural members insisted on keeping their services at the out of town location.
During first Sunday services in 1904 and 1905, on both occasions, members attended the morning services in Parkesburg and no one attended the 2 pm services at Upper Octorara.
In December of 1905, a resolution was offered to establish an Presbyterian Church in Parkesburg and to secure names of persons interested in joining the new church. The chronological history documents prepared and distributed by Groff reveals that on February 8, 1906, 151 people were dismissed by the Upper Octorara Presbyterian Church and 161 people were received into the new congregation located on Chapel Avenue and was named “First Presbyterian Church of Parkesburg.” Charles C. Owens, Dr. J. R. Maxwell and Samuel H. Jackson were elected elders.
In 1910, the Upper Octorara Presbyterian Church conveyed the property located on Chapel Avenue to the First Presbyterian Church for $100. There were about 266 members at that time and the borough’s population stood at 2,522 residents.
In January 1923, a contribution drive was held and the proceeds went toward a new church that was selected to be build at the corner of Main and Wright Streets. The cornerstone for this church was laid on September 14, 1924 and the old building was sold to the Keystone Lodge Free and Accepted Masons #569 on November 29, 1995 for $2550.00
The Masons occupied this structure until they merged with the Coatesville order and the edifice once again became a church again when the Common Clay Christian Fellowship purchased it. Unfortunately, during the period owned by the Masons, little restoration work was done to the structure. The interior walls were painted a light blue and there was no stained glass, according to one of the attendees, Mr. “Hab” Butler who, along with his wife, enjoyed the evening.
A few of the Common Clay members, such as Bill Wilde and Jamie Hery, worked tirelessly on the interior of the structure and brought the hall with its ornate trim. According to active church member Jim Gillespie, many people from the community have donated time and finances to revitalize the worship center. On the first floor, groups as far away as Philadelphia upgraded the facility into a modern food serving center donated kitchen cabinets and appliances.
Again the church has reinvented itself and is called the Parkesburg Community Church under the guidance of leader Travis Patterson. Sunday service attendance brings about thirty to fifty people and according to the Gillespie, about sixty people consider this building their church.
The next tour will be conducted at the First Presbyterian Church at Main and Wright Streets.
Jack Mariano is a contributing writer.