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LPC & Unity Chapel History

History of the Latrobe Presbyterian Church

In 1833, a Presbyterian minister was traveling through Westmoreland County on his way to the "far west" (probably Ohio or Indiana). He was injured when his horse stumbled and fell on his leg. He was cared for by the people of the area who persuaded him to stay. His name was Noah H. Gillette. After serving in a variety of short term pastoral duties in the area he was installed as permanent pastor at the Unity Church on February 13, 1849. God works in mysterious ways!

In 1851, Oliver M. Barnes, an engineer for the Pennsylvania Railroad, purchased the land which is now downtown Latrobe and laid it out in lots. He named it for Benjamin F. Latrobe, an old school friend and fellow railroader who worked for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Benjamin F. Latrobe was the son of Benjamin H. Latrobe, the famous architect and Superintendent of Buildings in Washington, D.C. under Thomas Jefferson.

By 1852 the little village just over the hill from Unity was beginning to grow. In that year, the first train of the Pennsylvania Railroad came through and a fourth-class post office was established. "Father Gillette", as he was called, convinced the people at Unity to establish a mission in the growing town. So, in 1852, the present Latrobe Presbyterian Church began as a mission. Latrobe was incorporated as a borough in 1854. There are no records which indicate where the new mission held its services between 1852 and 1857.

The first church building for the new mission was erected during 1856-1857 on Lot #10, now 343 Main Street (present IOOF Lodge). It was a building similar in appearance to the present Unity Church but somewhat larger. The sanctuary was on the second floor, as was common at that time, with the first floor given over to classrooms and church offices. The basement was used for social functions. We know this because of an article printed in "The Latrobe Advance" dated 4 June 1890 which reported that the Gillette Guild held a strawberry festival in the basement of "that edifice" and made $135.00. They served ice cream, cake strawberries, lemonade, candy and sandwiches. The building sat back from the street about 40 feet and was entered by passing through the gate of an iron fence along the sidewalk. Rev. Gillette was the visiting mission pastor. The congregation grew along with the town.

In 1868, the Rev. Gillette retired from the Unity Church and moved into town. He recommended to the growing congregation that they start their own church. They made application to the Presbytery of Blairsville to do just that. On 13 January 1869, the Presbytery of Blairsville held its meeting in Latrobe where the congregation presented its application to become a separate organization. Because of the illness of the Rev. Gillette, action was postponed until the next meeting. The Rev. Gillette died 21 January 1869. 1 March 1869 - Committee met in Latrobe with members of the proposed church in attendance. Presbytery action was read which authorized the committee to meet, hear and organize a church. The list of Unity Church members dismissed to join the new church was read and numbered 110. All elders had served as elders in other churches; (In those days, elders were elected for life.)

Elders elected:

* David W. McConaughy, M.D.
* James Nicholls
* James Douglas, Esq.
* John Thompson

Trustees elected:

* D.L. Chambers
* Thomas Hughes
* James White
* William Hoke
* William Watt - Treasurer

The Rev. S.M. Davis from Saltsburg Presbytery, was unanimously elected the first pastor. The mission church established in 1852 was growing so rapidly that it found its building too small to accommodate all its members in comfort. In 1890 it was decided to try to build a new church. At this time the trustees were authorized to sell the old property and buy new land for the erection of a church. The membership of the church in 1891 stood at 286. The Trustees on the first building committee were Mathias Saxman, Jr., James Peters, Dr. J.W. Hughes, Dr. J.D. Evans, Armor Mellon and Charles McLaughlin. Although there was no permanent pastor, the cornerstone was laid 27 Sept. 1891 and a dedication service was held 22 May 1892, upon the completion of the building.

It was not until 31 May 1893 that a permanent pastor, The Rev. H.B. Hummell, was in the pulpit. His salary was $1200.00 per year. Mr. Hummell served until 4 November 1901. During this time, in April of 1894, the Presbytery hired its first missionary. His names was William B. Carr and his dual assignment was to establish new churches but primarily he was to work among foreign speaking people to teach them English and Christianity in the name of the church. The Rev. Carr made his home in Latrobe and therefore became a great asset and influence in the life of the Latrobe Presbyterian Church. His presence was responsible for the strong sense of mission which exists in our church to this day. His wife, Sara, was a leader for the women in the missionary work for the church, and in her honor, the Sara Carr Missionary Guild was established and was a leading force in the women's missionary work. Its good works were directed worldwide.

In 1901, our church started its own missionary work. Under the guidance of the Carrs, work was done to establish the Loyalhanna Mission. The Rev. Frank Svacha, a student at Western Theological Seminary and a Bohemian by birth, was asked to come to Loyalhanna as a missionary to work under the sponsorship of the Latrobe Church.

Land for the Loyalhanna mission was donated by the Loyalhanna Coal Co. and a building was erected. The mission chapel was dedicated on Sunday afternoon, 14 June, 1903 with the Rev. William B. Carr and the Rev. Ebenezer Flack both taking part. The program was printed both in English and Bohemian. The Rev. Svacha served from 1901 to 1907. Several others followed until 1920. From 1920 to 1952 the mission was under the leadership of Miss Mary Jo Barnett. After 85 years of serving the people of Loyalhanna, the mission closed in 1988. The few remaining members joined the life of the Latrobe church. The memories and the fine people who worshiped God in the little Loyalhanna Mission will be remembered as one of the highlights of the history of the Latrobe Presbyterian Church.

During the tenure of the Rev. Ebenezer Flack, and because of his leadership in the community, the members of the congregation became involved in one of the most important improvements to the town of Latrobe. It was during this time the early work was done that resulted in the chartering and building of the Latrobe Hospital, completed in 1911-1912.

Under the leadership of the Rev. George C. Fisher, D.D. (11 September 1908 to 24 June 1921), the first addition was made to the church. In 1913, an addition was completed to provide more room for church school purposes.

The Rev. Dr. Robert R. Vogelsang served the Latrobe church for 26 years, the longest tenure of any of our ministers. He retired from all church activity 31 August 1982 because of cardiac disability and died December 10, 1982. A number of assistant ministers served under Dr. Vogelsang during his 26 years---Kenneth L. Barley, James T. Hayes, J. Gordon Bechtel, Gregory A. Dana. Reid W. Stewart, PhD served as associate pastor from November 1976 until 31 December 1987.

Gary G. Ziegler, D. Min. served from 1 October 1983 until 1 May 1989. He is remembered as the founding father of the Christian Community Counseling Center which has become a very successful major mission project of the Latrobe church.

The Rev. David B. Batchelder, D. Min. began his service to the Latrobe church on 23 September 1990 until January 12, 2003. He brought youth and enthusiasm to our church and prepared us for service to God in the 21st century. The leadership of Rev. Batchelder is especially evident in the extraordinary success of our children and youth programs. On January 12, 2003, the Youth Group gave him a big "group hug" send off before he and his family departed for Texas to embark on a new journey of his life's mission. He and his family will be deeply missed. The Rev. Dr. Nancy Birdsong served a short time as associate pastor under Dr. Batchelder January 1992 through December 1993. The Rev. Eunice Yang, our Associate Pastor, served from September 2000, through May 2003 providing leadership in pastoral care and worship.

The Rev. Clark R. Kerr began serving as pastor, November 1, 2004. He joins Director of Music and Organist, Michael Long.


This history contains excerpts from "A History of Latrobe Presbyterian Church 1852 to 1994", by Walter S. Hazlett, Jr. Dr. Hazlett practiced Family Medicine in Latrobe from 1953 to 1990 at 501 Weldon Street. He has served as a deacon and, later, several terms as an elder. A historical survey of LPC done by the Rev. Dr. Robert R. Vogelsang in 1969 was used extensively by Dr. Hazlett.

Unity Chapel

On September 4 1766, Reverends Charles Beatty and George Duffield, Presbyterian missionaries, passed through this (pioneer region) and stopped at the cabin of John Proctor on Twelve Mile Run (now Monastery Run). Upon Proctor's farm (in the low lands behind St. Xavier) the early services of Unity congregation were to be held in what was called "Proctor's Tent" which was no more than a raised platform with a roof over it to provide a little shelter for the minister.

On March 1, 1774, (while an alien flag yet floated over our country), sixty acres of land was deeded by Thomas and John Penn, grandsons of William Penn, to the Unity trustees "for the use of the Presbyterian Congregation, in order to erect a Meeting House and for a Burial Ground. Upon this tract a log church was built, perhaps as early as 1776 and certainly by 1790.

There are no records that can be found to show the date on which Unity Church was formally organized, nor do we know precisely where the first church building stood. It was built of logs, a wing being added later to each end of the original building as the congregation grew in numbers. It was said to have stood on "the level place back of the location of the first brick church." Tradition states that it was destroyed by fire during the winter of 1829 and 1830; a boy, after using straw in kindling the fire on Sunday morning, discovered the roof was burning

Early Leaders

Though the Presbyterians had informally worshiped together as far back as 1769, it was not until 1781 when they elected the Reverend James Power to serve as their pastor. The first Elders to be elected were as follows: John Moon, William Waddell, Andrew Allison, and Samuel Coulter. From time to time from 1781 to 1790, Dr. John McMillan and James Finley conducted services.

The first regularly installed minister of Unity Church was Dr. John McPherrin, who served ten years, from 1790 to 1800. Then, in succession, nine ministers served during the following years:

Dr. John McPherrin 1790 - 1800
John Black 1800 - 1802
William Speer 1803 - 1829
Robert Henry 1830 - 1839
Peter Hassinger 1839 - 1844
George Morton 1846 - 1848
Noah H. Gillette 1849 - 1868
Daniel W. Townsend, D.D. 1869 - 1901
William Funk 1902 - 1907
Henry Snyder 1916 - 1920

(The names of these Unity Church ministers are inscribed on a plaque located at Unity Chapel.)

On the 7th of April, 1830, Rev. Robert Henry, a brilliant young minister from the east, was installed as pastor, and the building of a larger church to replace the log church, was undertaken in that year.

At that time a lovely grove of tall hickory trees stood near the center of the burial ground. It seemed the ideal spot for a new church. In 1830 it was built of cherry red brick and was known for miles around for its beauty and splendor. It was a building larger than the present one. Long, wide, straight aisles led from its two large front doors and separated the high back pews. In each aisle was a great stove for the comfort of worshipers in the winter months. Near each stove a massive octagonal pillar rose from the floor to support the ceiling. The pulpit, a high, narrow white structure, stood between the great front doors so that latecomers entered the church facing the congregation.

It was a good and active congregation. By the year 1850 the church reached the high-tide of its existence. During the decade which followed the most glorious days of Old Unity were enjoyed. It is of interest to us to notice that during all this early history the congregation at Unity never had a musical instrument to assist in public worship. Hymns and anthems were sung without accompaniment. Not until 1870 was a reed organ installed.

Present Church Built

In 1874, the congregation at Unity decided to build another new church. A new site was chosen and another red brick church was built to replace the building of 1830 which was then torn down. Perhaps one of the reasons for the new church was the beginning of a decline in the size of the congregation. The new red brick church was smaller and more compact than the old. The community of Latrobe was being settled and a Presbyterian church had been established there in 1869. Old Unity members were moving to the new community. The building which was erected in 1874 is the one still standing which we call Unity Chapel (picture at top of page.)

The congregation at Old Unity continued to dwindle. On October 11, 1920, the few remaining members called a congregational meeting at which it was decided to dissolve their beloved congregation. With the approval of the Presbytery of Blairsville (at that time), under whose jurisdiction the congregation was, they agreed to leave the building in the care of the Unity Cemetery Association, a group of men all of whom were members of the Presbyterian Church in Latrobe. For years thereafter the building went uncared for and unused.

The Restoration of Unity Chapel

The closing of Unity Church as a place of worship was noticed with concern by Mr. William Mellon of Pittsburgh who visited Unity Cemetery on numerous occasions to care for the graves of his family. It was he who first entertained the dream of restoring Old Unity to her former beauty. His dream was further developed by his brother, Mr. Thomas Mellon, II, who began to work toward this end. In 1935, Thomas Mellon brought to Unity three beautiful leaded glass windows which had originally been installed in the East Liberty Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh as a memorial to members of the Mellon family. (These are the windows now in the front behind the pulpit of Unity Chapel.) In the following year Mr. Mellon, through his contractor, Mr. James McVeigh, had the ceiling replaced in the old church. The program went on year by year. In 1937 the floor was renewed and some new pews installed. Later, two new leaded glass windows were installed in the side walls (now located in the front) and more new pews, not resembling the pews of the old church but in its mood, were installed by Mr. Mellon. At this point, however, the whole project of restoration was temporarily halted. No further work was done on the Chapel for several years.

In 1950 Mr. James H. Rogers of Latrobe expressed an interest in and concern for Unity Church. He began correspondence with the Mellon family and others expressing an interest to continue the project of restoration. From his interest and concern new progress began. Others offered to help. General and Mrs. Richard K. Mellon, Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, Mrs. Ailsa Mellon Bruce, Mr. and Mrs. Alan M. Scaife, Mrs. James H. Rogers, Mrs. Nancy K. McFeely, all had a share in making the renovation a possibility. Mr. and Mrs. Marcus W. Saxman provided an electronic organ for the chapel. (A Unity Chapel Fund of Latrobe Presbyterian Church was established to provide funds for the general operation of the Chapel).

In 1953 oversight of the Chapel was transferred from the Cemetery Association to a special committee of the Session of the Latrobe (Presbyterian) Church and later that same year Mr. Robert Schmertz, an architect from Pittsburgh, was asked to make suggestions and drawings for the completion of the renovation. On October 8, 1953 a contract was let to Mr. Paul Smith to begin the work.

On April 1, 1954, the first official service of worship was held in the "new" chapel. The occasion was the funeral service of the late Mrs. Evelyn Chambers Huffman. Three months later, on June 13, the first summer evening vesper service was held in the chapel.

Unity Chapel Restoration Fund

In 1984, the available funds for the maintenance of Unity Chapel (of the Unity Chapel Fund) being stretched to the limit, and renovations and repairs needed, a fund drive was organized (by George M. Lynch and other members of the Session of Latrobe Presbyterian Church appointed Unity Chapel Committee to establish the Unity Chapel Endowment Fund of Latrobe Presbyterian Church.) Responding remarkably were members of the Mellon family, their foundations, and members of the McFeely and Rogers families and their foundation. But, significantly, the restoration funds were contributed to by many, many smaller donations by descendants of members of Unity and concerned members of the Latrobe Presbyterian Church. The contributions were large and small, each contributing equally to the improvement of the church at Unity. (Read a list of projects made possible by the 1984 Unity Chapel Endowment Fund.)

In 2001-02, upon a generous gift from Arnold D. Palmer, given in memory of his wife Winifred W. Palmer, an impressive automatic front gate was built with bricked columns and iron fencing. In addition, a beautiful granite stone overlook was constructed to the west of the Chapel with a flagpole and three bronze interpretive plaques affixed with the history of the cemetery and Chapel, and a map of the grounds.

Past is Present

Since that time the beautiful building, now called simply, Unity Chapel, has had scores of worshipers within its historic walls. They have come for funerals and weddings, they have come to summer evening vesper services and special services of preparation for Holy Communion. Many who have come have taken time after the services to read the items of history recorded on the many plaques about the room. The sense of a very real "communion of the saints" has been their experience. They have shared in the early history of western Pennsylvania and, even more than that, they have shared in the much older and fuller history of the whole church of God of which this building reminds us.


Interestingly, the closing paragraph above was written in 1961, over 40 years ago, by Robert R. Vogelsang, the Minister of LPC from 1956 to 1982. His words are as true now as they were back then. This is truly a testament to the many people (many of whom are unknown or not mentioned in this compilation) who have given so much over the years to make Unity Chapel a very special part of LPC. Today, Unity Chapel is impeccably maintained and is the site for many special worship services and other events throughout the year.


The above excerpts are from "Unity Presbyterian Church and Cemetery 1774-1987", a collection of writings by Reid W. Stewart (1987), Charles H. McLaughlin (1930), Robert R. Vogelsang (1961), and Edward F. Steck (1987), published by the Unity Chapel Committee of Latrobe Presbyterian Church (LPC) and the Unity Cemetery Association in 1987. The second-to-last paragraph, beginning "In 1984", and the Unity Chapel Committee Projects are courtesy of the aforementioned publishers. The next-to-last paragraph beginning "In 2001-02", and wording added to the published text in bold italics within ( ) to clarify certain passages are courtesy of James Okonak, a member of LPC.

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428 Main Street
Latrobe, PA 15650


Phone: 724-537-3631
Fax: 724-537-4434


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