A rare view of the rear of the church taken
between 1873 and 1918
The first permanent settlers of what is now the Mt. Lebanon area were predominantly English, Scotch and Scots-Irish–and a great majority of them were Presbyterian. Finding themselves in a wilderness surrounded by hostile Indians and wild animals, these early settlers banded together to form a congregation.
Mt. Lebanon Evangelical Presbyterian Church (MLEPC) traces its roots back to November 1802 when the Rev. Joseph Riddell preached here. He was followed by the Rev. Joseph Kerr on June 13, 1803. According to church tradition, those first public worships were held in an orchard on the farm of David and Doreas (or Dorcas) Kennedy, across from what is now Scott Road. Sermons were not held weekly during the first year of the church-in fact, they had only three or four days of preaching in 1803 as ministers were scarce and were forced to “make rounds” to a number of churches over a wide area to cover spiritual demand. Before being installed here, Kerr was known to travel to Harmon’s Creek, W.Va.; Connoquenessing, Butler County; Conneaut, Crawford County; Slippery Rock, Butler County; and Hannastown, Westmoreland County in the span of two months to preach to different congregations. During the weeks when there was no minister in town, the closest church to the Mt. Lebanon area were St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Scott Township (established 1767) and Bethel presbyterian on Bethel Church Road (established 1776)-both arduous journeys in a wagon or on horseback.
On Oct. 17, 1804, Kerr was officially installed as the pastor of the newly-formed Associate Reformed Congregation of Saw Mill Run at a Presbytery meeting in the home of Nathaniel Plummer (located on what is now West Liberty Avenue across from Pioneer Avenue). Sermons were then held in a grove on the Plummer farm, where a tent was erected for the minister; the congregation sat on logs and benches in the open air. These, of course, were not ideal worship conditions, and church trustees began seeking a suitable piece of property on which to build a church.
The first land acquired by the congregation consisted of 11/4 acres given on May 5, 1805, by Andrew and Margaret McFarlane to church trustees David Kennedy, Nathaniel Plummer, Robert Hays, David Carnahan and John Henry. This was a portion of land McFarlane had purchased from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on Nov. 29, 1788. On June 3, 1805, Alexander and Elizabeth Long and James and Margaret Long sold portions of their land, which adjoined the above mentioned property, to church trustees. This land included what is now the rear and lower portions of the cemetery. The next year, 1806, a 35-by-50-foot log church was built for the congregation in what is now the lower section of the cemetery. According to church records, by 1810 the congregation consisted of 85 families/146 members; in 1816 that number had risen to 138 families/275 members.
When the congregation grew too large for the log church, a $3,600, 65-by-55-foot brick church was built on a 3-plus acre plot of land purchased from John McFarlane for $150 in 1837. This piece of land, fronting Washington Road, is where the current church now stands. The log church, which was used as Mt. Lebanon’s first schoolhouse (eight grades were taught in its one room), was purchased in 1838 by Joseph M. Long for $155. It is not known when it was razed, but in a 1937 Pittsburgh Press article, 80-year-old Edward Abbott (born 1856) remembered attending the log schoolhouse. By the time Edward was 13 a new schoolhouse had been built near the church on Scott Road behind the church (in what is now Mt. Lebanon Cemetery).
In May 1858, the United Presbyterian Church of North America was founded and the Associate Reformed Congregation of Saw Mill Ryn subsequently changed its name to St. Clair United Presbyterian. When a freak windstorm destroyed the brick church in 1871, the congregation quickly began erecting a new $25,000 brick church in its place. The building was dedicated on the Fourth of July, 1873.
On May 4, 1919, the congregation decided to change its name yet again-104 members voted to keep the old name; 247 voted for the church to take on the name Mt. Lebanon United Presbyterian. Reasons for the name change vary, but the new name may have been prompted by the fact that the church by then was located in Mt. Lebanon (the township was formed in 1912). Whatever the reason, the church officially took the name Mt. Lebanon United Presbyterian on May 9, 1919. Ten years later the present stone Decorated Gothic “Twin Towers” was built.
In October 2004, the congregation celebrated its bicentennial. In 1912, they joined the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) in and change their name to Mt Lebanon Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
The Rev. Joseph Clokey
While not buried in St. Clair Cemetery, the Rev. Joseph Clokey left an indelible mark on Mt. Lebanon. Clokey, who served as MLEPC’s fourth minister from 1848 until 1855 (he then become pastor of the United Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Ohio), brought back two Cedar of Lebanon trees from a trip he made to the Holy Land and planted them in his yard near what is now Bower Hill Road/Clokey Avenue.
The origin of those trees is supposedly the reason the name “Mount Lebanon” was chosen for the post office when, in 1855, it was established in a general store on the corner of Washington and Bower Hill roads. The area became so identified with the name that it was retained when a new township was formed from Scott Township in 1912.
While both trees were cut down in the 1940s, three gavels were made from the tree’s wood and given to the MLEP Church’s Ladies Sunday School Class, the municipality and the Women’s Club of Mt. Lebanon. The whereabouts of the latter gavel are unknown.