In Journey to New Hope (2006), the most recent history of New Hope Presbyterian Church, Barbara Murphy, MD, notes that the church begins with the immigration of Scot-Irish families from Ireland to Pennsylvania during the first decades of the eighteenth century. In 1740, Gilbert Strayhorn (Steaughan) and William Craig traveled from Pennsylvania to Haw old fields (Hawfields) for possible resettlement. In the winter of 1741, Strayhorn and Craig led other Scots-Irish families down the “Great Wagon Road” through the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, then along Staunton River through the Blue Ridge Mountains. They crossed the Dan River and followed an ancient Indian trading path to Hillsborough, then on to Hawfields, where they established a farming community and a church.
Lord John Carteret, Earl of Granville, was originally given land south of the Virginia line by King Charles II. The Earl authorized his agents to sell land to settlers and collect taxes. Considerably more land was patented than actually existed, which resulted in property being tied up for years without clear title of ownership. Sometime near 1750, the Strayhorn, Craig, Blackwood, Kirkland, Freeland, Hart, Mitchell, and Johnston families moved to the present New Hope area, where they obtained clear land titles.
The Hawfields Church was established in 1755 and the New Hope families, who held their own services in a log cabin of a church member, returned frequently to what they considered the Mother church. The New Hope Church was officially established in 1756 and the first church building was erected in 1760 as a crude log structure with adjacent cemetery southeast of a spring. In 1775, the second New Hope church building, an octagonal log structure, was built on higher ground southwest of the same spring.
In 1765, Rev. Henry Patillo accepted a call to Hawfields and other local congregations including New Hope. In 1770, Orange Presbytery was founded at Hawfields. Rev. John Debow followed Rev. Patillo and served both New Hope and Hawfields churches from 1775 until his death from smallpox in 1783.
The third church building, built in 1805, was a larger structure to accommodate the growth of the congregation and located southeast of the second church building near a better spring. Ten ministers served New Hope in the third building including, Rev. Joseph Caldwell and Rev. Robert Chapman, the first and second presidents of the University of North Carolina. The third building was destroyed by fire the night of March 9, 1862. The fourth building was erected during the Civil War and was completed in October 1863, despite a severe shortage of materials and labor due to the war. In 1869, a new cemetery was located on higher ground adjacent to the church. A bell tower was added around 1900 and the bell was a gift from Dr. D. I. Craig in 1922.
By the 1950s, the fourth building was decrepit and required considerable repairs. Rev. John Ensign met with Howard Haines, an architect and Duke Professor, who encouraged the whole congregation to build the new church, which is the one we now worship in. The congregation raised the money for materials and provided all the labor for the building, which was completed debt free and dedicated March 1956. Dr. Craig’s bell now hangs in the fifth building. The education wing was completed and dedicated at homecoming on August 24, 2008, without debt after a ten-year capital fund campaign. Markers on the church property and around the parking lot indicate sites of previous sanctuaries and the old session house.
Each year, on the fourth Sunday of August, we have a Homecoming celebration, which includes a display of historical objects and a time for extended families to take photographs. Our membership includes descendants of those original families.