Obit For A NoLibs House Of Worship

 

NoLibs 2nd Baptist

Photo: Peter Woodall

The former Second Baptist Church, a stucco-swathed curiosity tucked away on a back street facing I-95 in Northern Liberties, is slated for demolition. Developer Pelican Properties is planning to replace the building at 924-28 New Market Street with five townhouses, and has gotten a green light for the project from the Northern Liberties Neighborhood Association and the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

Rendering courtesy KGO Architects

Rendering courtesy KJO Architects

Before an excavator starts tearing into the facade, though, (and good luck getting something demolished post-22nd and Market collapse), a history of this much-abused house of worship is in order. The structure dates back to 1803, a time when the neighborhood of Northern Liberties was an independent town that was part of the larger Township of Northern Liberties.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly passed an act on March 28, 1803, to incorporate Northern Liberties into a political body. That same year, 20 Baptists received permission from the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia to establish the first church in the neighborhood. This church, Second Baptist Church, was dedicated on December 15th, 1803, and was built on the west side of New Market (previously Budd) Street between Poplar and Laurel. This appears to be the same structure that stands on this spot today.

The old Second Baptist/Hebrew Church in 1959, pre-stucco.

New Market Street near Poplar Street was sparsely settled at that time, as this early account from History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884 attests:

“There were then almost no houses of any description to be seen. An open country presented in almost all directions divided into fields of grass or grain with ditches on either side of the great highways. There are those now living in the region who can remember when the whole of Laurel Street from Second to Budd Street was an immense elevated gravel bank.”

The Baptists also purchased land around the church for a burial ground. When the congregation decided to relocate in 1871, some 300 bodies were moved from this graveyard to Ivy Hill Cemetery in Northwest Philadelphia. Soon after this, the land was used for the housing seen today on New Market Street, as well as facing the back of the church on Hancock (formerly Rachel) Street.

Left: 1858-1860 Philadelphia Atlas (Hexamer & Locher); Right: 1910 Philadelphia Atlas (Bromley)

Left: 1858-1860 Philadelphia Atlas (Hexamer & Locher); Right: 1910 Philadelphia Atlas (Bromley)

A replacement home for Second Baptist Church was built at 961–71 North Seventh Street for $93,500. Dedicated on March 18, 1875, this brownstone pile designed by Addison Hutton now houses the Mt. Tabor African Methodist Episcopal Church, one of the principal African Methodist Episcopal churches in Philadelphia.

Photo: Harry Kyriakodis

Photos: Harry Kyriakodis

The 1803 Baptist building on New Market was sold in 1873 to a Jewish group for $19,000. The building gained the moniker “Hebrew Church” as it hosted a progression of Jewish congregations, a sign of the neighborhood’s swelling Jewish population in the late Nineteenth Century. First, Congregation Anshe Emeth refitted it as a synagogue. That group then merged with the Sons of Halberstam; in 1891, Congregation D’rshe Tov took over. The building remained a Jewish temple well into the twentieth century.

In 1965, the AA Fence Co. moved in, and adapted the building to its needs, cutting three crude garage doors into the facade, one of which served as a loading dock. The building narrowly missed being flattened in the early 1970s for Interstate 95, which passes directly across the street, but it looks like it won’t escape this time.

Much of this story was adapted from Northern Liberties: The Story of a Philadelphia River Ward (History Press, 2012).

 

 

About the author

Harry Kyriakodis, author of Philadelphia's Lost Waterfront (2011), Northern Liberties: The Story of a Philadelphia River Ward (2012), and The Benjamin Franklin Parkway (2014), regularly gives walking tours and presentations on unique yet unappreciated parts of the city. A founding/certified member of the Association of Philadelphia Tour Guides, he is a graduate of La Salle University and Temple University School of Law, and was once an officer in the U.S. Army Field Artillery. He has collected what is likely the largest private collection of books about the City of Brotherly Love: over 2700 titles new and old.

Send a message!



3 Comments


  1. 1803? There is something very wrong in this city.

  2. thanks for preserving some of the history here in your article!

Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

Recent Posts
The Gallery: Finally The Destination Ed Bacon Hoped For?

The Gallery: Finally The Destination Ed Bacon Hoped For?

March 23, 2017  |  Vantage

PREIT's transformation of The Gallery into an upscale shopping outlet promises to be the suburban-minded downtown destination that the first mall failed to deliver. Contributor Chris Giuliano takes a look at the redevelopment of East Market and Edmond Bacon's original plan. > more

New Life For An Old Coal Country Outpost In Society Hill

New Life For An Old Coal Country Outpost In Society Hill

March 20, 2017  |  The Shadow Knows

The Shadow takes a stroll down to Society Hill where business is stirring at an old 19th century coal company headquarters after 12 years of vacancy > more

New Exhibition Gives Movement To The Philadelphia School

New Exhibition Gives Movement To The Philadelphia School

March 17, 2017  |  Buzz

Two fans of Modernism re-evaluate architectural history with the exhibition, "What Was the Philadelphia School?" > more

Tracking The Evolution Of Industry At 34th And Grays Ferry

Tracking The Evolution Of Industry At 34th And Grays Ferry

March 16, 2017  |  Vantage

The site of Penn's new riverside research campus has a long, decorated history of industrial enterprise. Contributor Madeline Helmer dives deep into the backstory > more

Emergency Excavation In Old City Reveals Lack Of Oversight

Emergency Excavation In Old City Reveals Lack Of Oversight

March 15, 2017  |  News

The last-minute salvage excavation of First Baptist Church Burial Ground in Old City has the archaeological community up in arms. Is the City or the developer to blame? John Henry Scott reports > more

Ode To Old Philadelphia

Ode To Old Philadelphia

March 10, 2017  |  Buzz

Inspired by photographs from Hidden City's 2016 calendar, aging Philadelphians share their thoughts and memories of the city through poetry. Ann de Forest has the backstory > more