The Old Newtown Presbyterian Church was entered onto the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. Text, below, was adapted from a copy of the original nomination document submitted to the National Register. Adaptation copyright &cop; 2009, The Gombach Group.
Newtown Presbyterian Church consists of a main church building constructed in 1769 and substantially remodeled in 1842, a sessions house built circa 1800, a graveyard, and stone walls. The church building is a stone 2 1/2 story edifice influenced by the Greek Revival style. The church has good integrity, appearing much as it did after its 1842 renovations. The church is located on a parcel of land which rises above the west edge of Newtown Borough. The church lies across Sycamore Street from the Newtown Historic District.
The church exterior features rubble fieldstone on the north and west elevations and ashlar stone work with water table on the south and east facades. A boxed cornice dating to 1769 frames the roof and continues as a pent eave on the east and west gable ends. Two small interior end chimneys rise above the roof ridge. Evidence in the stone work, substantiated by a circa 1838 painting by Thomas Hicks, shows that much of the remaining church exterior has been greatly changed since 1769.
Newtown Presbyterian Church is significant as one of the best preserved examples of remodelings of the earliest, non-Quaker Protestant churches in Bucks County. Quakers dominated much of the eighteenth century history of Bucks County. However, by the end of the eighteenth century other Protestant denominations, including Presbyterians, Baptists and Methodists, established their first small, and (frequently) simply constructed churches in the county. As these congregations grew larger between 1800 and the Civil War, they often expanded and remodeled their early buildings into more ornate edifices. The Newtown Presbyterian Church is one of the best preserved examples of the architectural evolution of non-Quaker Protestant churches in Bucks County between 1800 and the Civil War. It has one of the few pre-Civil War sessions houses, which were important ancillary church buildings, left in the county.
In 1734 the Presbyterians were the first to organize a congregation in the Newtown vicinity, preceding Newtown Friends meeting by eighty-one years. The congregation was the third oldest Presbyterian Church in Bucks County, following the formation of Neshaminy-Warwick Presbyterian Church in Warwick Township in 1726, and Deep Run Presbyterian Church in Bedminster Township in 1732. Newtown Presbyterian Church drew congregants from the Scotch-Irish population in a broad radius around Bucks County's eighteenth century county seat, Newtown. By 1769 the Newtown congregation had grown sufficiently to warrant replacing their first log church with a stone structure.
The 1769 edifice was constructed by Mathias Hutchinson, master stone mason, to whom is also attributed the Buckingham Friends meeting house and his home, Partridge Hall, in Solebury Township. He erected a 2 1/2 story stone building with the main entrances on the south side. He repeated the floor plan he had used the previous year in erecting the Buckingham Friends meeting house, arranging the pews or benches to focus on the center of a long wall (the case of Newtown Presbyterian Church, on the pulpit at the north wall).
During the first half of the nineteenth century, the Newtown congregation outgrew its stone building. About 1800 they erected a heated 1 1/2 story stone sessions house where session meetings and church school classes were held. In 1842 the congregation substantially remodeled the church building, greatly changing the interior floor plan to accommodate more people. The apse was added to contain a new pulpit on the west end, the main floor was given over entirely to pews, and the earlier balcony on the south side was extended along three walls. The interior was enhanced with Greek Revival features such as the Doric balcony columns and the apse surrounds. The exterior fenestration was also changed greatly to reflect Greek Revival styling, including the entrances which were moved from the south side to the east gable end. The larger and perhaps more prosperous congregation remodeled the church in order to "'make much more room'" and make the building "'comfortable and convenient.'" In changing Hutchinson's floor plan, they also sought to "'render the whole church more convenient to speak in.'"
Between 1800 and the Civil War other early non-Quaker Protestant churches in Bucks County were also remodeling and expanding their church buildings. The Neshaminy-Warwick Presbyterian Church remodeled their church building, originally constructed in 1743, into a Gothic edifice in 1842. Tall, pointed arch windows replaced square colonial windows on their building. The Southampton Baptist Church in Southampton Township was the oldest Baptist congregation in the county, having built their first church in 1731. In 1772 they rebuilt their church, and then considerably enlarged it in 1814 to meet the needs of a growing congregation. The expanded church (listed on the National Register in 1978) has a plain stuccoed exterior. The interior features pews separated by three aisles, and a balcony with Doric columns much like those in the Newtown Presbyterian Church. The second oldest Baptist Church in Bucks County, the New Britain Baptist Church in New Britain Borough, erected their first building in 1744. Rebuilt in 1815, the structure was remodeled and enlarged in 1857 to seat 600 people. The building was enhanced with Greek Revival elements including cornices over wide bands of trim on the front doorways. Similarly, one of the first Methodist congregations in the county, Penns Park Methodist Church in Wrightstown Township, rebuilt their first church in 1856 into their present stone structure (listed on the National Register as part of Penns Park Historic District, 1986).
Of the various churches that were remodeled and enlarged between 1800 and the Civil War, the Newtown Presbyterian Church is one of the best preserved representatives. Several churches have had large, twentieth century wings added to the pre-Civil War buildings. The Neshaminy-Warwick Presbyterian Church, for example, has large modern wings that extend to one side of the earlier Gothic section. The Penns Park Methodist Church also has had post-Civil War frame additions attached to the stone section. None of the other remodeled churches remains completely unaltered. Much like the Newtown Presbyterian Church the Southampton Baptist Church has a Victorian first story porch added to the front facade. Thus the Newtown Presbyterian Church stands as a very good representative of the architectural evolution of Bucks County's earliest non-Quaker Protestant churches.
The Newtown Presbyterian Church also includes another significant building. The sessions house illustrates an important component of church functions. Eighteenth and nineteenth century church complexes in Bucks County often had the main church building, the sessions or vestry house, carriage sheds, and a walled graveyard. The sessions or vestry house was the meeting place for church elders and classes. Very often the sessions house and sheds fell into disrepair and were removed. Only one other sessions house is known to still stand in Bucks County, the 1848 1 1/2 story stone building of the Neshaminy-Warwick Presbyterian Church. The sessions house is currently used by the Hartsville Fire Company.
The cemetery provides evidence as the role of Newtown Presbyterian Church in the Revolutionary War. Unlike their pacifist Quaker neighbors, the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians took an active role in the Revolution. Of the nine cemeteries in Newtown, only the one belonging to the Newtown Presbyterian Church contains graves of Revolutionary War veterans. The participation of the Newtown congregation in the war was not unusual. The original buildings of both the Newtown and Neshaminy-Warwick churches, both altered, provided shelter to soldiers.
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