Spirit of Holme

Letter from the Northeast

Autistic Endeavors Learning Center was unable to come up with enough cash to complete the planned July purchase of the historic Lower Dublin Academy in Holmesburg. Situated at Academy and Willits Roads (Academy Road takes its name from the building), the Lower Dublin Academy is one of the most historic buildings in the Northeast. A fire gutted the structure in 2006, leaving it a burned-out, endangered hulk. Autistic Endeavors has plans to renovate the building and, appropriately enough, use it for the original purpose for which it was constructed in 1798: education.

Now, with acquisition delayed, the non-profit school turns to two fundraising events in October.

Lower Dublin Academy

The Lower Dublin Academy traces its history to money designated for the education of local youth in the 1695 will of Holmesburg resident Thomas Holme (1625-1695), Pennsylvania’s first Surveyor General and the man who laid out the City of Philadelphia. The area at that time was part of Lower Dublin Township in the County of Philadelphia. Holme’s bequest was not actually carried out until 1723, when his estate in Lower Dublin was divided following the death of his daughter. An acre and a half of the estate was set aside at that time for construction of a log schoolhouse. By the late eighteenth century the schoolhouse had become deteriorated and the Trustees of the Lower Dublin Academy were incorporated in 1794 to manage the school and administer its funds. They built the present Academy building on the site in 1798. Among the school’s early alumni were naval war hero Stephen Decatur (1779-1820) and educator and clergyman Thomas Hill (1818-1891), President of Harvard University from 1862 to 1868.

Lower Dublin Academy, photo by Fred Moore

In the mid nineteenth century the Academy building was leased to the Controllers of the Public Schools of the First School District of Pennsylvania and renamed the Thomas Holme School. In 1901 it was sold to the City of Philadelphia and served as a city public school until it was closed in 1925. After that, the building was a private residence for a time and then became vacant. It was being renovated for law offices when the fire, which was determined to be arson, struck in 2006.

The fate of the Academy has been a major concern ever since. In 2008 local historian Bruce Conner formed the Friends of Lower Dublin Academy to work toward preserving the building. Through Bruce’s efforts the Academy was placed on Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia’s 2009 Endangered Properties List and various strategies were being explored for preserving it. Now those efforts may be unnecessary. Autistic Endeavors’ Founder and President/CEO David Butkiewicz has indicated that he is committed to preserving the building and celebrating its history.

Although they no longer have any connection to the building, the Trustees of the Lower Dublin Academy still exist as a charitable organization, awarding grants for local educational purposes. The Friends of Lower Dublin Academy, a separate organization, is focused primarily on preserving the building. Sadly, its founder Bruce Conner died in March of this year as a result of injuries sustained in an auto accident and will not be around to see what happens to the building he worked so hard to preserve.

About the author

Jack McCarthy is a certified archivist and longtime Philadelphia area archival/historical consultant. He is currently directing a project for the Historical Society of Pennsylvania focusing on the archival collections of the region’s many small historical institutions. He recently concluded work as consulting archivist and researcher for Going Black: The Legacy of Philly Soul Radio, an audio documentary on the history of Philadelphia Black radio, and served as consulting archivist for the Philadelphia Orchestra's 2012-2013 Leopold Stokowski centennial celebration. Jack has a master’s degree in music history from West Chester University and is particularly interested in the history of Philadelphia music. He is also involved in Northeast Philadelphia history. He is co-founder of the Northeast Philadelphia History Network, founding director of the Northeast Philadelphia Hall of Fame, and president of Friends of Northeast Philadelphia History.

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5 Comments


  1. Excellent coverage by Jack McCarthy.

    Lower Dublin Acadmey is indeed an historic hidden treasure, the awareness of which only recently surfaced (in the last five years) as a result of the Northeast Philadelphia History Network’s efforts to find and preserve the history of the Northeast. For most of the 20th century LDA’s importance to the 19th century was ignored and forgotten. A lesson too often learned. Our obsession with moving forward as quickly as possible leaves the past rapidly vanishing in the rear view mirror. We need to slow down.

    Fred Moore
    nephillyhistory.com

  2. as a resident of the Northeast ,i’d like to thank you for the work you do Fred

  3. Joseph J. Menkevich

    AGENDA
    COMMITTEE ON HISTORIC DESIGNATION
    PHILADELPHIA HISTORICAL COMMISSION
    14 SEPTEMBER 2016, 9:30 A.M.
    1515 ARCH STREET, ROOM 18-029
    EMILY COOPERMAN, CHAIR

    http://www.phila.gov/historical/Documents/3322-Willits-Rd-final.pdf

    ADDRESS: 3322 WILLITS RD
    Name of Resource: Lower Dublin Academy
    Proposed Action: Designation
    Property Owner: Richard and Linda Gutman
    Nominator: Joseph Menkevich
    Staff Contact: Kim Broadbent, kim.broadbent@phila.gov, 215-686-7660

  4. September 2016 update to this 2011 article:

    Autistic Endeavors Learning Center was never able to purchase the Lower Dublin Academy building and is no longer involved with it. The building is still owned by the lawyers who were renovating it when it was struck by fire in 2006. It remains very much as described in the 2011 article: a burned-out deteriorating hulk whose fate is uncertain.

    Local historian Joe Menkevich has nominated the building for historic designation by the Philadelphia Historical Commission. As outlined in his comment above, a hearing before the Commission’s Committee on Historic Designation is scheduled for 9/14/16.

    Friends of Lower Dublin Academy no longer exists, having re-formed in 2014 as Friends of Northeast Philadelphia with a broader mission of preserving and presenting the history of all of Northeast Philadelphia.

    Jack McCarthy

  5. Joseph J. Menkevich

    On 14th September 2016, the proposal to nominate the Lower Dublin Academy was approved by the Historical Committee of the PHC.

    There will be a hearing in October for final approval by the Philadelphia Historical Commission.

    J.M.

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