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Church wraps anniversary

| Thursday, Sept. 11, 2003

Round Hill Presbyterian Church, one of the oldest churches in Southwest Pennsylvania, is wrapping up the celebration of its 225th anniversary.

The church in Elizabeth Township was founded Sept. 5, 1778, a little more than two years after the Declaration of Independence was signed.

"The first services were held on pieces of log on a wooden pulpit," Elizabeth Township Historical Society member Norma Werner said.

Officials of the church, which now has services in a brick structure built in 1884, recently opened a church time capsule from 1961. Member Bob Leggett said the contents included pictures of the living quarters built in 1957 for the pastor and his family and a sketch of the church structure used before the present building.

The items will be on display through September, and then a second capsule will be buried.

"This has been a terrific two weeks of celebration," said his mother, Rosella Leggett, 81, one of the oldest active members of the church. Leggett said her great-grandfather was an elder in the church for 40 years.

In 1900, the Round Hill Presbyterian Church began the annual strawberry festival, a tradition that still continues.

"My mother permitted me to start waiting on tables when I was 11 years old," Rosella Leggett said. "That was quite an honor to be able to do that. You had really grown up when you were able to wait on the tables."

Wayne Billick, 91, the church's oldest member, said he was the youngest member when the church marked its 148th anniversary.

"My parents were married at the age of 19 and had five boys," Billick said. "I guess we were poor. We didn't know we were, but we were."

Billick said the Rev. W.W. McKinney, who was with the church from 1919 to 1928, arranged for the baptism of all five brothers at the same service.

"Reverend McKinney's mother was a trained operatic singer," Billick recalled. "Typical of kids, we didn't appreciate that classical music and she had a song every Sunday. We called it acrobatic singing."

The Rev. Dr. Lowell Meek, pastor at Round Hill, said it is the second-oldest Presbyterian Church in the area, behind only First Presbyterian of Pittsburgh, founded in 1773.

According to church history, the first meeting of what would become Round Hill was in 1765 when Irish minister James Finley visited the area from Nottingham Presbytery near Philadelphia. Scottish and Irish farmers had settled in the area, but they lived far apart and Finley gathered them for prayer meetings and religious services near where Round Hill now stands,

Finley visited the area every two years and decided to move to the area permanently in 1778. He organized both Round Hill and Rehoboth Presbyterian in Rostraver, Westmoreland County, on the same day -- Sept. 5, 1778. Although nine miles apart, the two churches had a joint pastorate for 63 years.

Round Hill had members from Monongahela City, McKeesport and West Newton. Round Hill's first structure was a crude log shelter with no windows or conveniences, located about 300 feet from the current site.

Today the church has 255 active members, with a "good balance ... from young to old," Meek said.

The church's history was brought to life during a dinner theater celebration.

"The play ... was a good experience, not only for those of us who are the older members, but also for the young people who got to see we're not a bunch of stick-in-the-muds," Rosella Leggett said.

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