Tonoloway Celebrates 175 Years In Brick Church Building
The Friends of Tonoloway Primitive Baptist Church, whose mission is to restore and preserve the church building as a place of worship and an historic site, will observe the building’s 175th anniversary at its annual fall service this Sunday at 2 p.m. Rev. Roger Truax, Friends of Tonoloway board member and minister at Pleasant Ridge Church of the Brethren, will officiate.
First organized in the mid-18th century, Tonoloway is Fulton County’s oldest church and the 10th oldest Baptist church in the United States. Construction of the present-day church building began in 1829 and was completed with the plastering of the interior and installation of wooden pews in 1836.
Tonoloway’s first church, erected in 1752, was an 18- by-22-foot log structure that stood in what is now the cemetery. It was said to have been burned by the Indians who repeatedly raided the settlements on Tonoloway Creek from the time of the French and Indian War through the Revolutionary War. A second log church was built on the same site where the Baptists continued to worship for at least another 75 years.
Tonoloway’s written record of its business meetings (described by the early church as “the Proceedings and conclusions of the Church of Jesus Christ called for convenience Tonoloway located in Bedford County, Pennsylvania – on the Eastern slope of the Tonoloway Mountain”) show that in November 1828, arrangements were made to build a new 40-by- 60-foot brick church.
In April 1835, a committee was appointed to sell the old log church, which was sold one year later, according to the church minutes, in April 1836, for $55.
By 1835, 70 members belonged to Tonoloway. Activity and attendance at the church remained robust for the next 100 years, but by the mid-20th century, as the congregation grew smaller, the church fell into disuse and disrepair.
Organized in 1979, the Friends of Tonoloway set about raising money to restore the brick church. Restoration, led by Friends president emeritus Daniel E. Winter of McConnellsburg, son of Orpha Snyder Winter, one of Tonoloway’s last members, began in earnest in the 1990s and revealed walls constructed of multiple thicknesses of hand-formed bricks, and roof rafters and floor joists of adz-worked half-round logs.
The more-than-$100,000 restoration also uncovered the signatures of Union troops hospitalized at Tonoloway during Stonewall Jackson’s bombardment of nearby Hancock, Md., in 1862. The signatures have been preserved and documented in a Friends publication, “Tonoloway, If Its Walls Could Talk,” written by Friends president John Mentzer.
With its exterior paint removed, interior plaster painted white, pews repaired and painted white (some of which are believed to be 18th century), and its new pulpit a replica of Tonoloway’s mid-19th century pulpit, today’s church building looks much like it did 175 years ago. And although regular services at Tonoloway have long since ceased, people still worship at the old church house twice annually, in May at the cemetery association’s memorial service and again in the fall when the Friends hold a service the first Sunday in October.
The Friends’ service this Sunday also includes a cappella selections by the Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute Choir, a display of Tonoloway photos and memorabilia, and refreshments in the churchyard following the service.
Tonoloway Primitive Baptist Church is located on Thompson Road (state Route 655) two miles north of Hancock, Md.