Old Church In Port Richmond Parties On

 

The Port Richmond Methodist Episcopal Church at 2619 East Indiana Avenue lives out its latter years as a banquet hall. | Photo: Michael Bixler

Adaptive reuse success stories seldom make headlines, especially when old neighborhood churches are involved. Richmond Hall, a banquet and catering facility at 2619 East Indiana Avenue, has kept the former Port Richmond Methodist Episcopal Church busy for nearly 13 years, eluding the limelight while faithfully reinventing an historic, sacred space. The landmark steeple may be missing from the church today, but the spirit of fellowship remains through wedding celebrations, baby showers, birthday parties, and funeral luncheons.

The Port Richmond Methodist Episcopal Church was a relatively early congregation to establish in Port Richmond. In 1846, the parish split from the Kensington Methodist Church, also known as “Old Brick,” at Richmond and Marlborough Streets. Construction began in 1847 on Port Richmond Methodist’s original church building on Richmond Street near Ann Street, a site now obscured by I-95.

By the late 1880s the congregation had grown significantly. They built a new church three blocks away at the intersection of Indiana and Thompson Streets. The cornerstone of the second Port Richmond Methodist Church was laid on October 20, 1893. The building cost $20,000 to complete and it was designed in a style that was similar to other churches of the day, including a tall steeple, Catherine windows, and arched fenestration.

The ceiling of the old sanctuary still radiates with sacred geometry. | Photo: Michael Bixler

At the time of the church’s move to Thompson Street, some congregants bitterly complained that there would be no Protestant churches left in Port Richmond in 20 year’s time, given the number of Roman Catholic immigrants moving into the river ward. Still, Port Richmond Methodist prospered into the first half of the 20th century.

The church suffered a setback in 1905 when a major fire struck the building. Members of the congregation, aroused at night from their homes by fire bells, helped firemen extinguish the blaze and prevented the church’s destruction. Their efforts included an old fashioned bucket brigade. A defective flue was the source of the fire. In the week before the blaze, Port Richmond Methodist had held a celebration for the retirement of the building’s mortgage.

An undated image of the Port Richmond Methodist Episcopal Church at Indiana and Thompson | Image: Author’s collection

By the 1950s, the congregation had diminished dramatically and the church was falling in disrepair. A letter written by Minister William H. Bailey on February 9, 1959, to the remaining members of Port Richmond Methodist explains the sad state of affairs. 

The purpose of this letter is a sorrowful one. At the Fourth Quarterly Conference on February 1, 1959, the members of the Conference voted unanimously to close the Port Richmond Methodist Church at the close of the Philadelphia Conference on May 17, 1959, and to deed the property to the trustees of the Philadelphia Conference of the Methodist Church. This action was taken after much soul-searching and agony. The bad state of repair of the property and the paucity of attendance over a period of years made the action necessary. The decision to close was it hard one to make.The Philadelphia Conference of the Methodist Church took control of the property following the closure. Records of Port Richmond Methodist are currently held by the Historical Society of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church.

In 2003, John Incollingo purchased the church and adapted it for use as a banquet hall. Crystal chandeliers now hang from the 40-foot cathedral ceiling in the sanctuary. A luncheon room and bridal suite on the first floor, and a wine bar in the basement, allow for all-inclusive wedding services on premise. Catering by Marios, in business since 1975, uses Richmond Hall as their primary catering facility.

Religion still plays a small role in the old church. The Block Church, a nondenominational community with an untraditional approach to worship services, meets in Richmond Hall on Sundays at 10:00AM and 11:30AM. In the aftermath of the May 2015 Amtrak crash, parishioners of The Block assisted first responders throughout the night.

The name “Richmond Hall” is a nod of sorts to the forefather of Port Richmond. William Ball (1686-1740) was a Philadelphia merchant and landowner whose family was related to George Washington. In the 1720s, Ball purchased the Hope Farm on the western bank of the Delaware River in the Township of Northern Liberties of Philadelphia County. (Northern Liberties Township once extended many miles north of Vine Street and encompassed much of what is North Philadelphia today.) Comprised of 676 acres, Hope Farm was situated in Shackamaxon, afterwards known as the districts of Richmond and Kensington.

William, or one of his children, named the Hope Farm estate and its manor house Richmond Hall, after a suburb of London. The estate eventually led to the neighborhood being called Port Richmond after the Reading Railroad bought much of the riverfront property to use for the transportation of coal from upstate Pennsylvania.

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.

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5 Comments


  1. Great work as ever Harry K.

  2. Great story, and superb writing.

  3. A fascinating story. But what happened to the steeple?

    • Try as I might, I could not find out about the steeple. Even aerial maps were not helpful. The most I can say is that it seems to still have been there in 1957…

    • They are notoriously expensive to repair and maintain – often the first thing to go when a church doesn’t have the funds needed. Many a steeple has been removed in this city and others. In the Archdiocese of Brooklyn a number of years back they took down all the towers on all the churches just so as not to have to maintain them.

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