Once A Church Of The Brethren

115-117 Mt Airy Avenue Church of the Brethren
Number 115-117 E. Mt Airy Avenue isn’t your everyday Philly twin house. The long, plain sides, the gable end facing the street…  these lines give away the building’s origins as a long-ago house of the Lord.

At present, the owners of 117 are replacing old arched windows with easier, cheaper square ones. This happens a lot — it’s always a shame when it does — but even more so in this case because the structure was built as a church for the United Brethren in Christ. By 1880 the Mount Airy Presbyterian Church bought the building from the Brethren.  Some time later the church was sold again, the great interior space divided both horizontally and vertically by the construction of a second floor and party wall. Windows and doors were walled over, and new ones cut into the walls. Today just the arched top of the center attic window is original to the church.

115-117 Mt Airy Avenue 1880 Church of the Brethren new windows

That the Brethren are the original builders ties back to William Penn’s idealism, his express determination that Philadelphia and Pennsylvania be a “noble experiment” in tolerance.  Belonging to what would have been judged a heretical sect of Christianity in the old country could get you at best harassed, at worst imprisoned or executed.  Not only could established (if outlawed) denominations move here without fear, but new ones could come into being as well.  The United Brethren in Christ was the first of these American denominations, started in Lancaster County in 1767.

It’s fortunate that this building with its storied history still stands and is occupied.  But with each renovation, the Brethren’s Mount Airy church gets a little harder to recognize.


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About the author

Mike Szilagyi was born in the Logan neighborhood of Philadelphia, and raised in both Logan and what was the far edge of suburbia near Valley Forge. He found himself deeply intrigued by both the built landscape and by the natural “lay of the land.” Where things really get interesting is the fluid, intricate, multi-layered interface between the two.

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1 Comment


  1. Rachel Hildebrandt

    This reminds me of a place in Mechanicsville! It’s a super old one room school house turned single family home. It’s surrounded by other single family homes and impossible to distinguish. It’s at 3146 Mechanicsville Road.

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