America was founded on the passionate religious freedom principles of rugged individualists. Stonybank is a living, breathing, tenacious embodiment of these beliefs.
In 1810, a rebellious teenager named Israel Pyle, decided to abandon his Quaker roots and attend Methodist Camp meetings, much to the disapproval of his parents. They promptly confined him to his room to prevent this continued association, but his youthful determination propelled him to climb out the bedroom window to follow his faith’s new direction. I guess he won over his parents, because in 1812, he convinced his cousin, Abraham Sharpless, to give him, along with his fellow believers David Broomall, John Mills, Adley McGill and Peter Jones, a deed to a small part of the Sharpless estate for the purpose of erecting a church. Prior to this date, the group had been meeting at an old stone school house on Forge Road and also, at individual homes. Abraham Sharpless did deed the land to this group of Trustees and the original Stonybank Church was built that same year. The old deed of 1812 is on site to this day. Israel Pyle’s name is memorialized in a semi—circular, stained-glass window over the front door of the church, way up high, just beneath the eave. And beneath that is a carved stone which shows the dates that the original church was built in 1812, and rebuilt in 1870. Israel Pyle passed away in 1862. The church grounds were augmented with two more parcels of land. In 1931, Mr. Sharpless donated ground to be used as a cemetery for “strangers without distinction or color”. A third parcel of ground was purchased by the Trustees of Stonybank in 1855 for more burial space.
Stonybank marched on, and in 1870, work was begun to rebuild the old stone church, and the cornerstone was laid. The rebuilt church was completed and dedicated in 1871, and the pew you are sitting in now graces the same space it did all those years ago. The only changes made to this rebuilt church prior to 1950 were three: 1) replacement of the coal stoves with oil burners, 2) the replacement of the oil lamps in the ceiling with electrical lamps, and 3) the replacement of the pot belly stove with oil hot air furnace. In 1912, Stonybank celebrated its 100th Anniversary of the original church. At that time, extensive repairs were done to the building, and the memorial windows you see here, were installed. I came across an interesting account of the church members of that time as retold by an 86-year-old woman named Phoebe Ann Pyle. The then-pastor actually wrote a poem for her using the letters of her name to start each verse.
In 1931, Stonybank had lost most of its congregants, and was down to only 4 members one of whom was the great nephew of Israel Pyle. His name was Louis Pyle. Sadly and reluctantly, the little church closed its doors that year and stood empty for the following 5 years, falling into disrepair. Then, in 1936, a pragmatic businessman named James Maconachy purchased the old farmhouse which was built in 1868 and which sits on the hill above Stonybank. Fearing that the Stonybank property could be sold and converted into a gas station, he decided to purchase the building and the three pieces of ground that comprised it. He then quickly restored the church and grounds and Stonybank re-opened her doors. A woman named Ethel Kraus, who worked for Mr. Maconachy, fell in love with the little church and she proceeded to organize several members of her Yeadon Presbyterian Church, to recruit for and organize the new church and start a Sunday School. Mr. Maconachy himself would stand outside while restorations were in process and recruit passers by to join Stonybank. He was probably the only man in the county to own a church and a cemetery.
So, in September of 1936, Stonybank re-opened and in 1944, it became organized as an independent community church, having its first pastor. Prior preachers had been arranged through the Church Circuits. Mr. Maconachy passed away in 1954. His wife, Ruth, who had always been actively involved with Stonybank, continued in his stead. In 1964, she donated the church and all three pieces of ground to the Trustees of Stonybank. She donated an additional two acres of her ground to the Stonybank Trustees in 1965 before she passed away in 1975. You will see memorial plaques for both James and Ruth Maconachy above the doors in the front of the church.
The most current addition to Stonybank is the Church Education Building that connects to the church and provides space for a large fellowship hall, full kitchen, and rooms for child education and nursery. This addition was completed and dedicated on 5/17/1970, which was also the 100th Anniversary of the rebuilt church.
As you see, Stonybank celebrates numerous anniversaries: 1810 as the birth of fellowship; 1812 as the completion of the first church building; 1870 as the completion of the rebuilt church; and 1970 as the addition of the Church Education Building.
As you approach the doors of Stonybank, you pass by the cemetery with its ancient headstones. It is significant as it holds the bodies of Revolutionary and Civil War soldiers. In 1967, the Eagle Scouts completed a project for Stonybank which memorialized all the persons buried in these graves.
Two last notes of interest. One is that Stonybank formed a Women’s Guild in 1939 that existed through 1974 and performed many community events and fundraisers. And secondly, a complete set of bells was donated to Stonybank somewhere along the line, and Stonybank had a performing bell choir. I don’t know all the details of this piece of history but thought there may be a bell-choir-wanna-be sitting out there who could ring these bells back to us today.
I think you can see that God has kept this little church in His heart all these years, and has sent messengers and led faithful congregants to keep it afloat. One last interesting example of His providence is this. The new owners of the Maconachy house up on the hill have very generously donated their time and skills over the past year to complete several maintenance jobs which were sorely needed, and for which Stonybank did not have the funds. Coincidence? I don’t think so. I’d also say that it is no coincidence you are here in that ancient pew today. May God always keep you and this little church shining for His glory.
Compiled by Jean Loggia