A small tract of land was given to a few people in Marple Township during the summer of 1834 for the purpose of establishing a Presbyterian church. These people had been attending the Middletown Presbyterian Church near Lima, Delaware County. Traveling conditions, both deep snows and bad roads, made it difficult to journey such a distance.
The new church was built on one corner of the property, and a one-room school stood on the corner where the cemetery is located now. It was in August of 1834 that the cornerstone was laid, and the building was dedicated in May of 1835 (the vestibule was not added until 1868).
The structure was of stone, and it was 40 feet by 40 feet in size. The stone for the building was supplied by a man named Howell Jones who hauled it up the long hill from his farm near Darby Creek. It had two doors, each opening into an aisle. The building was heated by two round coal stoves and lighted by kerosene lamps arranged in the shape of a wheel suspended from the center of the ceiling. The church was furnished with box pews, each having a door at the end. These were rented to the members for $15.00 a year. This money was used to pay the minister. His salary for the first year was $150.00, the rent from ten pews. The small sum of $1,834.73, a dollar for each year since the birth of Christ, was the cost of the church in money. However, most of the labor and lumber and all of the stone were donated by the congregation and friends in the community.
The congregation was organized on September 27, 1835, with only ten members from six different families. One elder was elected to lead the people and secure ministers from Philadelphia who were willing to travel on horseback to this small mission church. If a member of the church did something wrong, he had to appear before the session. If they thought his sin was important or great, his name and act of misbehavior were read to the congregation at a church service.
This church made its first contribution to the mission boards of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. in 1858. Thus, some of the money which Marple Church received was given to help other churches and missions. A Sunday school was organized this same year, but it was held only between April and November because of the bad weather and poor roads. It was in 1885 that the Sunday school started to operate on the twelve-month a year plan.
The church also had a vault dug in which the coffins were placed during the winter season until such time the ground could be dug for the graves.
About the time of the Civil War the minister was Dr. Beriah Hotchkin. Under his leadership the church adopted many new ideas as national evens took place. The minister helped secure a postal route from Philadelphia to Newtown Square. He was interested in the education of the newly freed slaves so he was elected a trustee of Lincoln University, a Presbyterian school and seminary for black ministers. During Dr. Hotchkin’s ministry this church united with other churches – the Newtown Square Baptist, Middletown Presbyterian, and a Lutheran church in Lower Merion – to hold prayer services for a week.
In 1860 some more ground was bought, and a manse and a stable for the minister’s horse were built for the sum of $2,000. This stable was replaced by the garage in 1918. In the meantime the one-roomed school had burned, and the present old school was a seminary. The teachers were the minister’s daughters.
About 1862 the Ladies’ Mite Society was formed. These women raised money for the upkeep of the church. They also presented to the church a melodian or small organ. A hymnal prepared by the denomination was used here as soon as it was printed in 1860. Because very few people could sing these hymns a man from West Chester was hired to conduct a school or class in singing at the church once a week. The Ladies’ Missionary Society was organized in 1870. Money for the missions became an important part of the church from that time to the present.
There were many interesting events in the history of the church following the year 1882. It was at this time the church was repaired and painted, a communion table, a new pulpit and pulpit chairs were purchased. The first Christian Endeavor, now Westminster Fellowship, was formed in 1891. In 1901 church envelopes were used so the minister now had a regular salary without having to wait for pew rentals. Electric lights were installed in 1908, and evening services were first held that same year. In 1915 more room was needed for the Sabbath School so the room where the Intermediate and Seniors now meet was built for $6,000. Still more room was needed, and the old school on the corner was bought in 1923, when the Marple Grade School on West Chester Pike was built. It was in the summer of 1923 that the first Vacation Bible School was held. Over the years the vestibule was added to the church, and the basement under the Sunday school room was plastered so that the Junior Department might have a place in which to meet. As the church membership grew and the need for better music arose, different organs were bought until the present one was installed in 1946.
In 1934 the centennial celebration of the founding of Marple Church was held. Services were held nightly for one week, the highlight of the week being a pageant presented by the young people of the church.
One of the most remarkable members of this church was the legendary physician, Dr. John G. Thomas. He was a veteran of the Civil War, who joined Marple Presbyterian Church in 1871. By the time of his death in 1939, he had been a member for 67 years (61 of which he was clerk of session). In the midst of an active practice, he somehow found time to be the superintendent of the Sunday School for 50 years, and the treasurer of the church for 48 years.
How appropriate it was, when the church expanded its facilities in 1942, that the new wing was called “The Dr. John G. Thomas Memorial Building”. It still serves, as a chapel above, and a choir room below.
On April 27, 1952, ground was broken for what would be the new sanctuary. By September of 1953 the new church was ready for occupancy. And in 1960, to provide space for its expanding Sunday School and youth programs, the Christian Education wing was built and dedicated.