In the early 1920’s a small group of Hungarian immigrants of the Presbyterian faith in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, began meeting in private homes. Without a church of their own they informally met to essentially keep their religious practices and beliefs intact. These immigrants had previously come to Western Pennsylvania from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which had been dissolved into separate states following the Great War (World War I). Most of them resided in an area that soon became known as Ellport, and the men were primarily employed at the nearby National Tube Mill.
By early 1924 the Reverend Louis Vargo of Beaver Falls was called upon to act as a temporary preacher, and before long the congregation was granted status as a “mission” of the Presbytery of Shenango in Western Pennsylvania. Hungarian-born Reverend Andrew Babinsky (or Babinszky) arrived to take over in April 1924 and was soon granted permission by the Wayne Township School District to hold services and a Sunday school in the new Bend School (Ellport School) on Portersville Road. The services were conducted in the native Hungarian language and the congregation quickly grew in size. Babinsky, a gifted violinist who had previously completed religious training in Hungary, had worked at several churches including at Beaver Falls and Youngstown and was currently attending the Western Theological Seminary near Pittsburgh. Like so many men from his congregation he was also employed at the Tube Mill.
In May 1925 the congregation decided to build its own church and property was soon purchased just beside the Bend School for that purpose. Construction began in early September 1925 and the work was mostly done by the hard-working men of the congregation. The completed church – now with ninety-four active members – was dedicated as the Magyar Presbyterian Church during a ceremony on Sunday, July 18, 1926. During the notable service the Reverend Babinsky was also officially ordained by senior church authorities.
After three years of local service Babinsky departed in June 1927 and moved on to a new post in South River, New Jersey. He served in various churches in the New Jersey-New York area and eventually settled in Buffalo, New York. His son William Babinsky followed in his footsteps and also became a well-respected preacher.
After the departure of Babinsky the Reverend Andor Harsany arrived to take over as the pastor in late July 1927. The Ohio-born Harsany, of Hungarian descent, became well connected in local politics and was elected as the first Burgess of the new Borough of Ellport in April 1929. He defeated Thomas A. Gartley, the reigning Justice of the Peace for Wayne Township, by a vote of 105-80 (with twenty residents not voting). His wife Valma also went on to serve on the Ellport School Board and was well-known in civic circles. Harsany, who also preached for a time at the Hermon Presbyterian Church in Slippery Rock Township, served as pastor until he departed for New York City in October 1934, apparently to pursue a new career outside of the church. Membership in the Ellport church had also declined due to various economic hardships associated with the Great Depression.
Harsany was succeeded by the Reverend Stephen Nagy of Beaver Falls, who I believe may have been serving as a temporary pastor until relieved by the Reverend Andrew Nagy sometime in late 1935. Andrew Nagy along with the Reverend John Kerekes had previously preached some of the first English language sermons ever given at the church in the early 1930’s. Oddly enough Andrew Nagy was succeeded by another Nagy, as the Reverend Francis “Frank” Nagy took over as pastor in October 1938 and served until March 1942.
Under Frank Nagy’s reign the Magyar Presbyterian Church, which had periodic upgrades since its founding, underwent a major exterior and interior renovation and was rededicated during a ceremony on Sunday, December 10, 1939. Among the honored guests was the Reverend Andor Harsany, now preaching in Morgantown, West Virginia, and the Reverend Arthur M. Stevenson of Ellwood City, whose wife Ethel was the longtime superintendent of the Sunday school program at the Magyar Presbyterian Church. Nagy also served as the preacher of the Presbyterian Church in Farrell.
The church continued in service throughout World War II, when its basement served as the headquarters of the Ellport Air Raid Wardens beginning in 1943, and into the post-war era. The church was renamed as the Ellport United Presbyterian Church – likely in the mid-1960’s. The name change was due to part to reflect its service as a mostly non-ethnic vice strictly Hungarian-associated congregation. For many years the basement was used for Sunday school classes, local borough council meetings, festive banquets, and various civic gatherings Some of the pastors over the years included the Reverends Paul Ferenczy, Nicholas Varkonyi, Louis P. Long, Douglas A. Pomeroy, and John B. “Mike” Loudon. Throughout the 1960’s and into the 1970’s the church shared a pastor with the Wurtemburg Presbyterian Church. Sometime in or after 1983, in response to further national mergers, it became known as the Ellport Presbyterian Church. The congregation, currently with a membership of about fifty people and under the tutelage of the Reverend Charlene Kennedy, remains in active service as of early 2017.
The completed building, known as the Magyar Presbyterian Church, was dedicated on Sunday, July 18, 1926. The church was built by members of the congregation, many of whom were laborers employed at the Tube Mill. (Feb 2011)
(Aug 2012) Full Size
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