William Penn's "New Town" was established in 1684 as the hub of his "New Township", and was the Bucks County seat of government for eighty-eight years. As early as 1766, a parish of the Church of England was founded in Newtown, and by 1768 was reported to have begun building a brick church. However, this first parish effort was discontinued (probably during the War of Independence), and the presence of the Episcopal Church was not felt again in Newtown for over a half century.
In 1832, a group of laity, under the leadership of Dr. Phineas Jenks, made financial commitments and secured the assistance of St. James the Greater Episcopal Church in Bristol, Pennsylvania, to establish the new parish of "Saint Luke's Church in the County of Bucks." A plot of land was purchased and a building started with $1,341 in subscriptions. The plot of land for the church was purchased in 1835. That same year, St. Luke's was consecrated and received into the Diocese with the Right Reverend Henry Onderdonk acting for the Right Reverend William White. The parish was incorporated in 1836. The first rector, the Reverend G. W. Ridgely also officiated at St. Andrew's in Yardley. Other early rectors made visits to Grace Church in Hulmeville, and Trinity Church in Centreville (now Buckingham).
Through the decades, each generation of the faithful have made additions and renovations to church building. The mezzanine was added in 1834. A wooden bell tower was erected in 1876, and replaced by the present brick tower in 1904. The Altar was also given in 1904 by a Boston parish in memory of their rector, who had been a member of the parish. A separate sacristy was added in 1929, and from 1929-1933, the "east" wall or altar wall was restyled. A beautiful copy of Andrea della Robbia's 1485 masterpiece, The Coronation of the Virgin, was installed as a reredos for our centennial celebration in 1932. The ceiling and false beams are of hammered tin.
In 1995, it was necessary to replace the flooring system and the pews. However, by using random-width floor boards and by installing custom-made pews patterned on the original pews from 1832, it was possible to retain the style and "feel" of the original interior. The box pews had doors to keep out drafts in the unheated church. Tin foot warmers filled with hot coals were often brought by the parishioners to ward off the cold. Pews were rented as a means of supporting the parish, and pews varied in rental value according to their location. (Note that some of the brass plaques from the original pew indicating the renters have been retained for historical purposes.) Pew rents were collected yearly and were due on January 1. This practice continued in this parish until 1955.
A pipe organ, the first in Newtown, was installed in 1834. It was built by the Hale Brothers in the house at the southeast corner of South State Street and Centre Avenue, now Thyme Restaurant. The organ was installed for $200 which also included lessons for the organist. That original organ was replaced in 1905; although the facade pipes remain. The present pipe organ was built and installed in 1958, and is still serviced by the builder. In 1995, the organ was renovated by upgrading its circuitry, and adding a MIDI synthesizer.
Located across the green from the church, St. Luke's Parish House was built in 1964. The Parish Hall contains the parish offices, library, food pantry, kitchen, and common room. The church also allows outside community organizations to utilize the Parish House (including the Bucks County Intermediate Unit, Alcoholics Anonymous, and a pipe band.
- 1836 - Reverend G. W. Ridgely (founding rector)
- Starting Year Forthcoming - 2009: Rev. Larry Snyder
- 2009-Present: Fr. Ernest Albert Curtin Jr.
St. Luke's Cemetery
The land for the churchyard was purchased in 1835. Directly outside the Sacristy outer door is a fenced area containing the crypts of the families of the ￼three founders of the parish: Dr. Phineas Jenks, James Worth, and William Paff. Directly south of the sacristy is the crypt of Sir Henry Thornton, a life-long member of St. Luke's, who was in charge of all overseas transportation during World War I, and was knighted by George V of Great Britain. Thornton was later approached by a delegation of Russians to upgrade their rail system; however, he was unable to do so, perhaps due to poor health. The Chambers family crypt, also enclosed by an iron fence, is against the property line.
The Chambers family, who made their fortune in Pennsylvania oil, donated the former Community Center to Newtown (was previously located on State Street in Newtown and is where the District Court offices are located). Another family whose fortune was made in Pennsylvania oil was the Pickering family, who are also buried here.
The Pickering family donated Pickering Field (located at the corner of Chancellor and Jefferson Streets) and Pickering Manor Home to the community. Russell Pickering donated money for the Manor because his wife was very ill and at that time there were no nursing facilities in the area.
The Barnsley family, many of whom are buried here, donated the large rose granite cross in the Garden of Repose in the northeast corner of the churchyard. This Garden was opened in 1990 as a memorial to Violet Gert, and is a repository that can accommodate hundreds of urns of ashes.
Additional information about St. Luke's Cemetery can be found by clicking here.