From The Sportsman’s Hall Parish Later Named Saint Vincent 1790-1846, By Omer U. Kline, O.S.B., Published by Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, 15650-1690, U.S.A. © 1990, 1998 by Omer U. Kline. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
The most logical date for the humble beginning of what was to be the great enterprise of Saint Vincent is April 16, 1790. On this date Father Theodore Brouwers, O.F.M. had purchased the 300 acres of land called “Sportsman’s Hall Tract” and thus founded Sportsman’s Hall Parish. The parish was later placed under the patronage of Saint Vincent de Paul and so was called Saint Vincent parish. To add to the significance of this event, Saint Vincent is the first Catholic parish in Pennsylvania west of the Allegheny Mountains continuing to this day; and, as Father Andrew Arnold Lambing, foremost historian on things Catholic in the Pittsburgh area of that day, said of the Sportsman’s Hall Parish: “It is the cradle of Catholicity in Western Pennsylvania.” Father Brouwers was, therefore, not only the first resident pastor of the Sportsman’s Hall Parish, but also the first Catholic priest to establish a permanent residence in western Pennsylvania.
Father Brouwers wasted little time in the autumn of 1789 in making preparations to set out for his new parish; but, before leaving Philadelphia on August 7, 1789 he purchased a tract of land in western Pennsylvania consisting of approximately 170 acres, from Arthur O’Neill of Chester, Pennsylvania – the tract was thus called “O’Neill’s Victory.” This land is located along the eastern bank of the Loyalhanna Creek near the present town of New Alexandria in Derry Township. Through the years it became known at Saint Vincent as the “Seven Mile Farm,” and, in 1970, it was purchased by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania under the right of eminent domain for projected use in the expansion of Keystone State Park.
Father Brouwers arrived at “O’Neill’s Victory” during the middle of the month of November 1789, and became disenchanted with that property as a place for his headquarters. He found that the land was not as fertile as he had expected and that the location was almost twelve miles from the greater number of his scattered flock. In fact, during the winter of 1789-1790, Father Brouwers became conviced that “O’Neill’s Victory” was not a good place to build a church and a priest’s house. Since he found there no suitable place for divine services, he took up living quarters with the Christian Ruffner family, in whose house he said Mass and performed other pastoral services for the Catholics of the area. The Ruffner house was located about three miles from Greensburg (then called Newtown), near the present town of Crabtree (close to historic Hannastown).
While living at the Christian Ruffner house during the winter of 1789-1790, Father Brouwers made himself thoroughly acquainted with his Catholic flock and with his surroundings in general. During this same time, Father Brouwers found in Henry Kuhn a friend and confidant who gave him good advice during this time of adversity. It was Henry Kuhn who was influential in getting Father Brouwers, in the spring of 1790, to abandon his original intention of building a house and a chapel – and so locating the parish center – at “O’Neill’s Victory.” And it was this same Henry Kuhn who at this time acquainted Father Brouwers with a more desirable tract of land that was for sale, and urged him to buy it. This tract of approximately 300 acres in Unity Township, about seven miles east of Greensburg, had been patented on March 12, 1790, by a certain John Hunter; it had been called Sportsman’s Hall early on, a name given it originally by a Harrisburg gentleman, who had used it as a hunting ground. This tract of land along Forbes Road “above Ligonier known by the name of the Fourteen Mile Run” had originally been purchased in 1766, by John Fraser, an Indian trader, who received it in the name of King George III of Great Britain. Father Brouwers visited the Sportsman’s Hall property and found it very much to his liking. Thus it was, on April 16, 1790, that a deed was drawn up and signed at Greensburg whereby the “tract of land called ‘Sportsman’s Hall'” was transferred from Joseph Hunter to “Theodorus Brouwers” for the sum of about $2,000, a large sum for those days but a bargain at something less than $6.00 an acre.
Father Brouwers soon moved to the newly-purchased property. He at once engaged a carpenter to build a house of hewn logs, one and one-half stories high and seventeen feet square, which was known as “Sportsman’s Hall,” called after the name of the tract itself. This building was to serve as a home for the pastor of the parish for nearly forty years, and additions to the building would increase its length to approximately twenty-four feet. Thus this log house became the first residence of a Catholic pastor in western Pennsylvania, and one of the rooms served as the first church. There were several other structures built on the property: a house for Christian Andrews, who together with his wife Maria, attended to the farm; there were also some barns and stables. But Father Brouwers continued to say Mass each Sunday at Christian Ruffner’s house; he traveled the five miles on horseback.
Father Brouwers died on October 29, 1790 and his body was laid to rest in a plot overlooking Sportsman’s Hall – since 1869, his remains have lain at rest under the massive stone cross in Saint Vincent Cemetery.