Headed for the Hall of Fame
— Northeast Philadelphia is rich in history and nowhere is that more evident than in the old houses of worship that are located there.
On Oct. 21, seven Northeast Philadelphia churches and meeting houses that are at least 200 years old will be inducted into the Northeast Philadelphia Hall of Fame. Many of these religious institutions date to the earliest days of Pennsylvania’s history; all but one predate the American Revolution.
Each year, the Hall of Fame honors institutions that have made an impact in the Northeast as well as individuals who have made a difference. This year, the Rev. Leon Sullivan; solar power pioneer Frank Shuman; community leader Ed Kelly and astronaut Chris Ferguson also will be honored.
Following are brief profiles of the houses of worship, each of which stands today as an oasis of history in an otherwise bustling, modern Northeast Philadelphia. Next week, the Northeast Times will profile the people who will be inducted into this year’s Northeast Philadlephia Hall of Fame.
Unity Monthly Meeting Frankford (Quaker), 1682
Unity Monthly Meeting at Waln and Unity Streets in Frankford is one of the oldest worship sites in Philadelphia. Its meeting house, built in 1775, is the oldest surviving Quaker meeting house in the city. Known for many years as Oxford Monthly Meeting and later as Frankford Monthly Meeting, its founders were among the “First Purchasers” of land from William Penn, who came to Philadelphia beginning in 1682. These early Quaker settlers began gathering for worship in members’ homes until Thomas Fairman, a prominent local Quaker and one of Penn’s land surveyors, donated land for a meeting house in 1683. The first meeting house, a log structure, was built on the site in 1684; the current 1775 brick and stone building is still used for worship as well as for a community center. In recent years, the congregation took the name Unity Monthly Meeting to distinguish it from Frankford Friends Meeting on Orthodox Street, a separate Quaker congregation that was established in 1833.
Byberry Monthly Meeting of Friends (Quaker), 1683
The earliest Quaker meetings in Byberry began about 1683 in the homes of local residents. In 1694, Henry English donated an acre of land along what is now Byberry Road for use as a graveyard for local Quakers. A log meeting house was built on this site and Byberry Meeting was officially established soon after. The log structure was replaced by a stone meeting house in 1714, which, in turn, was replaced by the present meeting house in 1808. By the 1820s, Byberry Meeting had some 500 members and had developed into a center of learning and culture. With the establishment of the Byberry Friends School in about 1720, followed by the establishment of Byberry Library Company in 1794 and Byberry Philosophical Society in 1829, meeting members were engaged in education and social issues as well as the study of literature and natural history. Many also were actively engaged in the anti-slavery movement, holding abolitionist meetings in adjacent Byberry Hall.
Pennepack Baptist Church, 1688
Pennepack Baptist Church in Bustleton is the oldest Baptist church in Pennsylvania and seventh oldest in the United States. It was founded in 1688 by a group of Welsh Baptists who settled in the area. They used nearby Pennypack Creek for their baptismal services. They met in members’ homes until they built their first church building in 1707 on what is now Krewstown Road. This building was enlarged in 1774 and then replaced by the present building in 1805. Among the notable pastors at Pennepack Baptist was its first preacher in 1688-1689, Elias Keach, son of a famous English Baptist minister, and Samuel Jones, an early graduate of the University of Pennsylvania who was pastor from 1762 to 1814. The Rev. Jones founded an academy in his home near the church and was instrumental in founding what is now Brown University in Rhode Island. In 1886, the church built and occupied a building about a mile away, but in 2006 it sold this building to another congregation and moved back to its original 1805 building, where it remains today.
Trinity Church Oxford (Episcopal), 1698
Trinity Church Oxford, in Lawndale, is one of the oldest Episcopal churches in America. A marble stone in the wall of the church states that Church of England services were first held on the site in 1698 in a log meeting house originally used by area Quakers. A new brick building was built in 1711, and this structure forms the western end of the current church building. In 1713, Queen Anne of England presented the church with a silver communion chalice, which is still a prize possession of the congregation. In the late 19th century, noted architect Frank Furness designed additions to the church. Trinity Oxford has had a number of distinguished rectors over the years, including Aneas Ross, father-in-law of Betsy Ross; William Smith, first provost of the University of Pennsylvania; and Edward Buchanan, brother of President James Buchanan. After America’s independence, Trinity Oxford played a role in the new Protestant Episcopal Church in America and in establishing the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania in 1784.
Presbyterian Church of Frankford, 1770
Presbyterian Church of Frankford, located at Frankford Avenue and Church Street, was established as a German Reformed Church. A group of German-speaking Protestants, mostly from Switzerland, founded the church. The first church building was completed in 1770 and served as a temporary prison for Hessian soldiers captured in the Battle of Trenton during the Revolutionary War. In the early 1800s, there was a rift in the church over language, with some members wanting the services to continue in German and others wanting to switch to English. The former group left to establish a new congregation, and in 1808 the church officially became a Presbyterian congregation. The 1770 building was rebuilt in 1844 and then again in 1859. The latter, the distinctive “pink church,” is the current building. Members of Presbyterian Church of Frankford have played an important role in Frankford over the years, from managing the Frankford Academy in the early 1800s to helping found Frankford Hospital in the early 1900s.
All Saints Episcopal Church, 1772
All Saints Episcopal Church on Frankford Avenue in Torresdale was established in 1772 as a mission of the area’s first Episcopal Church, Trinity Oxford in Lawndale. Christian Minnick donated the land with the stipulation that the new church would not separate from Trinity Oxford and that Swedish ministers would be allowed to preach there to the area’s Swedish residents. The first All Saints rector in 1772 was the noted William Smith, who was also rector at Trinity Oxford. All Saints closed briefly during the British occupation of Philadelphia in 1777-1778, but reopened soon afterward and has remained active ever since. By 1835, it had grown large enough to become independent of Trinity Oxford. The original 1772 building was enlarged in 1812 and then replaced by the current building in 1855.
Campbell African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1807
According to church tradition, a prayer group of some 28 members of Frankford’s African-American community began meeting in 1807 in the home of Sarah Congo, located on what is now Plum Street in the heart of Frankford’s black community. This group would form the nucleus of what would become Campbell AME Church. Later, the group acquired a building a few blocks away on what is now Kinsey Street and began holding services there. The current building contains cornerstones noting that it was rebuilt in 1818 and 1870. The 1870 building is still in use and has an inscription that refers to the church as “2nd AME,” indicating that it was the second African Methodist Episcopal church established after “Mother Bethel,” the nation’s first AME Church, which was founded by Richard Allen in the late 1700s. In the 1860s Second Bethel was renamed “Campbell” in honor of Jabez Pitt Campbell, a mid-19th century AME bishop. As the first, and for many years only, institution in Frankford that was run and supported entirely by African Americans, Campbell AME has played an important role in the religious, social, and civic life of the area’s black community for over two centuries.
If you go…
The Northeast Philadelphia 2012 Hall of Fame induction ceremony will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 21, at Holy Family University, Northeast Philadelphia campus.
For tickets and more information, contact Jack McCarthy at 215 824-1636 or email@example.com.
Tickets cost $25.