First Presbyterian Church celebrates 170th anniversary

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First Presbyterian Church of Milford, date of photo unknown; Courtesy of “Historical Etchings of Milford and Vicinity” by George Hynson

On Friday, July 10, the First Presbyterian Church of Milford began a weekend celebration of their 170th anniversary. The weekend began with a Zoom presentation featuring Milford historian Dave Kenton and church historian John Huntzinger which provided the history of the church. On Sunday, July 12, the church celebrated with online services as well as a gathering in the church parking lot with music played by the church carillon, an ice cream truck and a presentation by Mayor Archie Campbell, commemorating the church.

“We started planning for this celebration in January,” Reverend Dianne Denning said. “When COVID-19 and the restrictions for gathering hit, we considered postponing the celebration, but the planning committee decided to go ahead and make it the best party we could under the circumstances. We may not have met together for the last four-plus months, but we have continued to be the church, engaging in worship, mission, congregational care, outreach, and now a celebration. We give thanks to God for all we have been given as a community, of faith, now and always.”

It is believed that the original Presbyterian congregation in Milford began in the late 1600s, led by Irish-immigrant and clergyman, Francis Makemie. According to Historical Etchings of Milford and Vicinity by noted Milford historian George Hynson, a chapel stood on the south side of the Mispillion on the old King’s Highway, a chapel that was used by Presbyterians known as Three Runs. The name was selected because it was close to the confluence of three branches that join to make the Mispillion River. It is believed the chapel was built in the middle of the 18th century.

Mayor Archie Campbell reads proclamation at celebration of First Presbyterian Church

The Three Runs meeting house was abandoned around 1815 and a Sunday school established by Miss Hester McColley in her home on what is now Montgomery Street. In 1849, the Presbytery of Wilmington sent the Reverend G. W. Kennedy to Milford with the instructions to organize a congregation. Over a period of years, Rev. Kennedy attempted to raise funds for a new church building and a building committee, which included William Tharp, Peter F. Causey, Henry B. Fiddeman, William V. Coulter, Dr. James P. Lofland and John A. Hazzard, was established.  

On July 4, 1850, the cornerstone of the present church was laid with a membership roll that consisted of seven names. Inside the cornerstone, bricks from the original Three Runs chapel were included. The outstanding feature of the building, however, was its white spire pointing heavenward which is still on the building today. Another signature feature of the church is its carillon, the first of which was dedicated in 1963 to the memory of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel C. Evans, Jr., who were both active in the church and its music programs. Daily, the carillon plays music at noon to fit the season and, on July 4th, it plays a series of patriotic music that can be heard throughout town.

One of the churches outstanding ministers was the Reverend Henry L. Bunstein who served the church for 47 years until his death in 1927. The day of his funeral, merchants closed their stores as a tribute to his contribution to Milford.

The church building was remodeled in 1904 and again in 1954, the last renovation giving the church the look it has today.

Videos of the Friday program presented by Kenton and Huntzinger, the worship service and Mayor Campbell’s commendation may be accessed on the church’s website.

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