29 March 2006

road trip

road trip

This past weekend I drove out to a conference in Ohio, about a seven hour trip. The journey out there I broke up into two legs and stayed overnight in central Pennsylvania. Since I wasn't in a hurry to get all the way to Ohio in one fell swoop, I made a slight detour through several smaller towns.

In Chambersburg, Franklin County, I visited Falling Springs Presbyterian church, which was founded in 1734. (This year 2006 is, by the way, the 300th anniversary of the founding of the first Presbytery in America, here in Philadelphia.) The present Falling Springs church building dates from 1803.

What makes this interesting to me is that my mother's McWilliams ancestors emigrated from the north of Ireland in the late 1700s and settled, at first, in Chambersburg and this was their parish. After the death of George McWilliams, they relocated to the area of Forks of the Brandywine parish in Chester County where they remained until 1929.

Nevertheless, the Chambersburg church building is old enough that these ancestors would have worshipped there. Moreover, while I couldn't find his headstone among the mouldering older bits of the graveyard, that first ancestor in America is supposed to be buried somewhere out there, along with much of the Chambers family after whom the town is named.

From Chambersburg I drove on to Mercersburg and visited the campus of what is now Mercersburg Academy, but was once Mercersburg Seminary and Marshall College, an organ of the German Reformed Church.

The school was founded in 1836, joining together with an already existing seminary that moved there from the town of York, Pennsylvania. Frederick Augustus Rauch, who came from Switzerland to take up the role, was its first president, serving until 1841.

In 1840 John Williamson Nevin joined the campus in order to teach at the seminary. He also ended up serving as the president of Marshall College from 1841 until 1853 when the college merged with a sister institution in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to form Franklin and Marshall College. The years that Nevin was at seminary also saw the publication of the Mercersburg Review and the most theologically productive phase of his career.

After a somewhat harrowing drive over narrow, twisting mountain roads in the dark, with a light snow falling, I did make it safely to my hotel, having enjoyed a bit of Pennsylvania's Presbyterian and Reformed heritage.