The Historical Warrior Run Church

Warrior Run Church
The Warrior Run-Fort Freeland Heritage Society assumed ownership of the Historic Warrior Run Church and cemetery from  the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Historic Museum Commission in 2018.

Photography for commercial profit is not permitted.



Visitation inside the historic church is conducted only by appointment, with the exception of four worship services throughout the year and during Heritage Days.  The church is open Heritage Days weekend with a Sunday service at 9:30am.  The holiday season begins with the annual Candlelight Service held at 7:00pm on the 2nd Saturday in December.


The Warrior Run Church is available for weddings during warm weather.  Please refer to Church Use Guidelines webpage and for contact information.

History of the Historical Warrior Run Church

The present brick edifice is the third church to bear the name of Warrior Run.  A congregation of Presbyterians met at the mouth of the Warrior Run Creek below Watsontown soon after the area was opened for settlement (1769).  In 1772 a congregation was formed by the Presbytery of Donegal and named the Warrior Run Church.Warrior Run Church (1775)

Three years later (1775), a circuit rider was sent by the Presbytery into the West Branch Valley to conduct worship services, marriages, and baptisms.  At that time, the “rather large” congregation was in the process of building a log church within what is today the Watsontown Park.  There is a stone monument to Reverend Fithian’s visit to Warrior Run located behind the concession stand.

The Revolutionary War started the year after Rev. Fithian’s visit.  The first Warrior Run Church was burned by the Seneca Indians during the “Great Run-Away” of 1778, following the Wyoming Massacre at Forty-Fort.  All of the people fled down river on foot, or in any conveyance available.  Some stopped at Fort Augusta (Sunbury), but most continued to at least Harris’s Ferry (Harrisburg).  Many never returned.

After the crisis had past, many settlers returned to harvest their crops and rebuild their homes.  In 1779, the Battle of Fort Freeland occurred (1/4 mile from the present church site) and the second “Great Run-Away” followed.  This time the settlers did not return until the Revolutionary War was over (1783).

After their return they rebuilt houses, mills and barns.  By 1789, the Warrior Run congregation had completed a second log church that was much larger than the first.  This church sat in the grove of trees in front of the present structure.  A model of the second Warrior Run Church is provided (one inch to the foot scale).

This second church could hold up to 350 people at a worship service.  There was a center aisle and a balcony that ran around the interior on three sides.  The balcony was accessed from two outside staircases.  Up front was a high cathedral style pulpit.  There was not heat in the building and oil lamps and candles provided the only light.  The congregation walked long distances to attend the services.

Families paid a pew rent and chose a specific pew.  The pews had doors and they were often personalized by the families.  Communion was held once a year.  To participate a member had to be adequately prepared to earn a communion token.  The second Warrior Run Church burned for unknown reasons in 1833.

In 1835, the present brick church was completed.  It was built with bricks fired at the Hower-Slote house (site of Fort Freeland).  The building is of the classical Greek Doric design.  This church has two aisles and seats about 240 people.  The pulpit was lower and the ample windows provided more light than the previous church.

From the construction of the 1789 log church and for fifty years thereafter, the Warrior Run congregation had only one minister.  John Bryson was the top student of the first graduating class of Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  He studied several years for the ministry with two Doctors of Divinity, and it was expected that he would find a position in a large urban church.

After graduation he was asked to ride a circuit in the area beyond Montour Ridge, between the West and North branches of the Susquehanna River.  This was to last for a period of six months and then he could return to Carlisle.  Specifically, he was to preach at three churches: the Warrior Run Church, the Chillesquaque Church, and the Mahoning Church.
Warrior Run Church CemeteryEach Sunday, John Bryson mounted his horse and rode between the churches.  His plans to return south however were not to happen.

John Bryson and his wife, Jane Montgomery Bryson, served the two churches for half a century, and taught local youth at a classical school on their farm.  When it came time to retire in 1841, John Bryson tried to have his son-in-law elected as the new pastor of Warrior Run, however the congregation chose another.  The Brysons left Warrior Run Church and founded a Presbyterian church in McEwensville.

A succession of ministers served the Warrior Run congregation into the 1950’s.  By 1964, the membership had dwindled to five people and the Warrior Run Church was dropped from the roles of the Presbytery.  Today it is a national historic site maintained by volunteers of the Warrior Run-Fort Freeland Heritage Society.


Address for the Warrior Run Church is 41 Warrior Lane, Watsontown, PA 17777