In 1683, William Penn granted five thousand acres of land to Major Jasper Farmer. This area is roughly the boundaries of present-day Whitemarsh Township. Although Major Farmer was not able to settle in Pennsylvania, his son Edward did, and donated one acre of ground for a log church in 1698. This was deliberately burned in 1710 to be replaced by a small but sturdy stone church.
This second church had no pews- worshipers stood during services. For the next one hundred and seven years, it was known simply as “the little Church at White Marsh” and served as a union church of various Christian denominations. The church and graveyard suffered extensive damage following the Battle of Germantown as the Americans fought their way to Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War.
It was decided to build a newer, larger church. The third church was consecrated by Episcopal Bishop White and given the official name of St. Thomas’ Church in 1818. Fifty years of gradually declining membership followed, but the Sheaff family helped the church survive. Ellen Sheaff had a schoolhouse (and Sunday Schoolroom) built in 1853 and her brother John supervised the early stages of construction of the present church.
St. Thomas’ Church was consecrated in 1881 and appears largely the same today. The narthex and balcony additions in 1964 gave a new, three-door entry and additional seating. In 2009, a labyrinth was constructed near the church, giving those who walk there an opportunity for meditation and contemplation.
Only five Rectors served the parish during the twentieth century, providing long-term stability and leadership. St. Thomas’ Church will, with God’s help, will continue to provide spiritual guidance and spread His message of love, joy and peace.
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St. Thomas’ Church Facts
- This is the Fourth church building on the property, the first a log structure built in 1698
- The church is named for the apostle St. Thomas, as well as to honor the Rev. Thomas Clayton, the first clergyman to serve the parish
- There are 12 Revolutionary and 35 Civil War burials in our cemetery
- The oldest existing headstone is that of James Allison, dated October 2, 1727
- Most of the property was purchased from the estate of Calvin Pardee, a Civil War veteran, coal merchant and brother of General Ario Pardee
- There are 20 stained glass windows in the church, produced in England, Germany, and Philadelphia, and one from the Tiffany Studios
- A Casavant organ with 2900 pipes was installed behind the altar during the renovation and expansion project of 1964
- A manually played carillon of 48 cast bronze bells was dedicated in 1974 and is featured in Summer concerts
- The wooden Rood (old English meaning cross) screen arching over the altar was blessed on St. Thomas Day 1896
- Seating capacity is 400 in the nave and 120 in the balcony
Historical programs, church, carillon and cemetery tours are available! Contact the History Committee @ 215-233-3970