Unity Chapel

Life at “Old Unity”

There are no records that can be found to show the exact date on which the Unity Church was formally organized; however, tradition gives the date as July 13, 1782—the day that Hannastown was burned by marauding Indians. On that Saturday, the congregation was meeting formally for the first time to organize as Unity Church, with the official sanction of the mother church in Philadelphia.  On that Saturday, a courier arrived on horseback, after a fast ride over rugged hills from Hannastown, which was six miles due west of Unity. He warned the congregation that Indians were raiding and burning down the county seat. Unfounded stories tell that about twenty men followed the courier back to Hannastown, arriving too late to be of any help. The Seneca raiding party, numbering about one hundred, who were under the command of Chief Guyasuta, were already on their way north with about twenty- five hostages captured at Miller’s Station, located in what is now Hempfield Township, about four miles from Unity Cemetery.

The congregation which gathered at Proctor’s Tent and at the log church came as far as eight miles to worship. They traveled on foot or on horseback, the father and older sons bringing rifles to defend the family from Indians, who continued to threaten the white settlers for twenty or more years after the French and Indian War ended in 1763. The boundaries of Old Unity reached to Greensburg on the west, beyond Crabtree on the north, much of Derry Township and Unity Township on the northeast, and Youngstown and Pleasant Unity on the south. In the log church, each pater familias provided the family pew. Some were half-logs with pin legs; some had no backs, or a rail back; two had closed backs, called “high pews.”

The end of the log church came in 1829. It is said that a young boy, stuffing straw into the church’s pot-bellied stove to warm the building on a frosty morning, let the fire get out of hand and the whole building was destroyed. The following year, the members of Unity Church planned for the building of a new church.

This monument, erected by Charles McLaughlin in 1929 and dedicated in 1930, is believed to mark the location of the original Unity Church.

The flag’s field is red, and the two black letters in script are J. P., standing for John Proctor... In 1973, the county’s bicentennial year, the rattlesnake flag was designated the official flag of Westmoreland County.

This section of an 1857 Atlas of Westmoreland County shows the location of both the Old School (O.S.) and New School (N.S.) Presbyterian Churches, as well as the parsonage and the schoolhouse (S.H.)

The Second Unity Church

Second Unity was larger than the building now standing; it would seat between three and four hundred. The bricks were a cherry red. There were two wide front doors; the doors, windows, shutters, and all woodwork, inside and out, were always painted white. The interior of the building was plain, as the early churches were built at that time. The pews had high backs; a long, wide, straight aisle on each side led from the front door to the rear wall. Two stoves stood in each aisle, and near each stove there was a tall, massive, octagonal, white pillar to support the ceiling. The pulpit, high and narrow and white and formal, stood between the front doors. There was one unique feature that the reader may have already guessed: the congregation sat facing the doors. Woe be to the parishioner who arrived late for service! He had the entire congregation facing him while he made his way to his pew.

Preparatory service was held on Friday and Saturday preceding the Sacrament on Sunday; on the following Monday, another service was invariably held. In the early days members attending preparatory service were given tokens (small pieces resembling coins) entitling them to partake of Communion. The communicants were seated in the middle block of pews; all others were requested to retire to the side pews. Individual cups were then unknown—all drank from the same cup. There was much discussion as to whether fermented or unfermented wine should be used for the Sacrament.

“Jug breaking” was always a happy occasion at Unity. Small jugs were provided each family for the purpose of collecting missionary money. These jugs were kept in the home for a year; then came the day in June when the whole congregation gathered at the church in the morning for a full day of sermons, a picnic, and socializing. The jugs were broken ceremoniously, and the money was counted and given to missions.

It was in the second church—the one built in 1830—that Unity reached the high tide of her existence. The membership was large, and the people were apparently quite prosperous; the carriage or buggy—and all except two or three families owned one—was as much a mark of affluence in the 1860s as the automobile became years later. The people enjoyed life. The country congregation loved to stand around after services to chat and to visit. The young men and girls did just as they do now; the older people talked about the weather and the wheat and politics, about the prices the drovers were paying, and about beaus and bonnets and quilting and the sermon. Yes, the sermon!

Second unity presbyterian church memoriam

Jug Breaking picnic at Old Unity

Communion token

The Third Unity Church

It was during Reverend Gillette’s pastorate (1849-1868) that the town of Latrobe came into existence. In 1857, Unity built a mission church in the town, at 343 Main Street. On March 1, 1869, a separate church—the Latrobe Presbyterian Church—was formed. It had 110 members, chiefly from Unity. As Latrobe continued to grow, Unity’s numbers began to decline. During a congregational meeting on June 6, 1873, the following motions were made and carried:
“…that we consider this church building as unsafe, that we do not attempt to repair it, and that we take measures to build a new church.” “…that the location of the church be moved to a point in the grove near the school house.” “…that the committee to collect funds for repairing the church be constituted a committee to solicit subscriptions for building.” Named to the committee were William T. Smith, Isaac George, Jesse Chambers, Alexander Lightcap, William Larimer, and William Anderson. The result of their efforts was a new red brick church, built in 1874, that still stands, referred to today as “Unity Chapel.”

Unity Presbyterian Church, (Unity Chapel) about 1900