A History of Mary Williamson and the All Saint’s Church in Fallsington, Pennsylvania
by Julie Powers
All Saint’s Episcopal Church was built in 1876, by Mary Ann Williamson, a devout Episcopalian and philanthropist. The church was built in the Gothic Revival style that was popular during the Victorian Era. To accommodate a growing congregation, an addition was built in 1961. The original alter is still in use today and are surrounded by plaques dedicated to members of Miss Williamson’s family.
Mary Williamson, born on February 24, 1826, lived on Pine Street in Philadelphia, and spent her summers in Fallsington. During her trips, she often brought orphaned girls with her to spend time in the “country” and enjoy leisure activities, fellowship, and worship. She provided a chance for the girls to have a respite from their difficult lives, while providing mentorship and guidance. These girls became the Fallsington chapter of the Girls’ Friendly Society. This society, founded in 1875, by Mary E. Townsend was the first organization for women in the church of England. The Girls’ Friendly Society’s mission was simple – “Bear ye another’s burdens, and fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). A house was built for these girls in 1850 by Miss Williamson called “Hillside.” It still stands today (now used as apartments) on Hillside Lane, right off of Tyburn road. Since there was no Episcopal church nearby during her visits, Mary Williamson built All Saint’s, so that the girls and families in Fallsington could have a place to worship and a parish community of which to belong.
Miss Williamson’s family is direct descendants of Dunck Williams, one of the earliest settlers of Bucks County. Dunck operated a ferry to New Jersey in the late 1600’s. Her father, Peter, was a cousin of Isaiah Vansant Williamson, a Quaker who was born and raised in Fallsington. He later became one of the wealthiest men in Philadelphia during this time. Isaiah was apprenticed at the Gillingham Store where he learned the dry goods trade. He started his own dry goods business, and after his retirement (at age 34!), he made many investments and his fortune was estimated at over $20,000,000. While he was known for his penchant for hard work and frugality, he was also known as a man of great generosity. He donated to various causes and institutions, and in 1888, built the Williamson Free School for Mechanical Trades near Media, Pennsylvania. This school, which still exists today, provides a free education for boys in need. Isaiah lived with Miss Williamson’s family in Philadelphia for a time. He helped with her charitable endeavors including the construction of “Hillside,” All Saint’s Church, and acquiring what is now the Moon-Williamson House. In addition, in 1875, he presented the Fallsington Library with an endowment of $5,000.
His biography, written by John Wanamaker, includes a description of the impression Mary and her father made on him: “….That certain great-souled people of whom he sought counsel, did exert a positive influence on him….and that he appreciated their spirit and rose to the occasion is manifest….The charities of Peter Williamson and his daughter Mary made such an impression, it was directed that $10,000 be left to Mary in carrying on her charitable work.”*
Miss Williamson owned many buildings in Fallsington, but always chose to live in the most modest. She passed away in Fallsington on January 13, 1901 and is buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia. All Saint’s Episcopal Church still carries on the work started by Mary Williamson, sharing Christ’s love, light and generosity in the community she held so dear.
*The Life of Isaiah V. Williamson, written by John Wanamaker, published 1928 by J.B. Lippincott and Company.