Fairton, New Jersey
The Fairfield Presbyterian Church in Fairton, New Jersey is one of the most historic Presbyterian churches in the United States. Although not the first Presbyterian congregation in America, it predates the American Revolution and is the oldest Presbyterian church in use in the United States, ranking it among the other important early Reformed churches in the New World. Although no longer associated with the Presbyterian Church USA, it is still part of the Presbyterian Church of America and is honored as an historic church building by both groups.
Throughout the 17th and early 18th centuries, most of the earliest settler groups were religiously Calvinist, including the Puritans from England, the Hugenots from France and the Dutch Reformed Christians from Holland. The last major Calvinist, or Reformed, Christian group to arrive in the American colonies were those followers of John Knox from Scotland. These largely settled in Southern Pennsylvania and New Jersey alongside Lutherans and other displaced Protestants from Central Europe.
The Presbyterian Church was formally established in the colonies in 1706 when the Presbytery of Philadelphia was founded. A few years later, Philadelphia was the site of the first Synod which established the beginnings of a national structure for the church. Philadelphia was also the base from which Scottish settlers began spreading Presbyterianism into Appalachia in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Fairfield congregation dates back to 1680, was one of the first Presbyterian congregations to be established in the US, and was represented at both the founding of the Presbytery and the Synod of Philadelphia. Fairfield Presbyterian Church was active against the British during the American Revolution, and its pastor at the time, William Hollingshead, served prominently as an army chaplain.
After the war, Hollingshead oversaw the construction of the famous Old Stone Church, which served as the congregation’s main church during the 19th century. The Fairfield congregation weathered numerous schisms in the Presbyterian church over the years. It ultimately wound up as part of the Presbyterian Church in America. Nevertheless it retains historical importance among all Presbyterian denominations as the oldest surviving Presbyterian church in the United States.
The Fairfield Presbyterian Church consists of several buildings, including the historic Old Stone Church constructed by Hollingshead in 1780. This building, still standing, served as the main church for seven decades. Constructed of brick and fitted stones, the small but scenic building is surrounded by the original church yard. The small interior places emphasis on the towering pulpit. The Old Stone Church is arguably the best surviving church built during the American Revolution.
In 1850, a new church was constructed, the Fairton Meeting House. One of the oldest and largest such meeting houses still standing, it has served the congregation since its construction. A larger, woodframe building, the meeting house looks essentially as it did at the time of its construction with minor changes, including the addition of a covered porch over the main entrance.
The Fairfield Presbyterian Church buildings are spread out around Fairton, approximately forty miles south of Philadelphia. The Meeting House is located in the center of town, while the Old Stone Church and cemetery are located a little over a mile south of town. As of this writing no visitor information was available. Web: www.fairfieldpca.org (official website).
Many of the most historic Presbyterian sites in America can be found in New Jersey. Most notably is the Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton. Its cemetery boasts some of the most famous Presbyterian burials anywhere.