A Last Look at Second Baptist Church

April 16, 2014 | by Peter Woodall


Photo: Peter Woodall, 2013

Photo: Peter Woodall, 2013

For decades, the AA Fence Company building on New Market Street in Northern Liberties was something of an architectural mystery. The two-story structure stood mid-block on a dead-end street that bordered Interstate 95, its facade almost entirely covered by a thick mask of stucco. It looked like it was once church, most likely, or perhaps a theater or fraternal lodge.

Harry Kyriakodis was able to clear things up quite a bit when he wrote about the building in the Hidden City Daily last summer, after plans for demolition were first made public. It was built as the Second Baptist Church in 1803, became a synagogue in 1871 and remained a Jewish temple until well into the 20th century. Here’s the building in 1959:

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

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

The AA Fence Co. purchased the building in the early 1960s, and adaptively reused the heck out of it, cutting three garage doors into the facade, and slathering on the aforementioned layer of stucco. Now, like many of the neighborhood’s oddball structures, it will be replaced by condos.

It’s not exactly an even trade, but the demolition of Second Baptist has at least provided a tantalizing glimpse into the building’s history. Underneath the stucco was a large tablet made of sandstone with the name of the building–“Hope Meeting House of the Second Baptist Church”–and the dates when it was built and remodeled.

Photo: Christopher Mote

Photo: Christopher Mote

The tablet seemed like an obvious thing to save–there are two architectural salvage companies within five blocks–but that didn’t happen. The foreman on the job site said that taking down such a heavy piece of stone intact would be too expensive, so the workers let it fall and it broke on impact.

The contractors took down the rest of the facade over the following weeks, revealing the intricate truss-work supporting the roof, and the fluted cast iron pillars in the basement. The windows on both the north and south walls were a reminder that the structure was still free-standing with an adjacent cemetery when it was remodeled in 1860.

Lions of Judah still visible above the altar | Photo: Peter Woodall

Lions of Judah still visible above the altar | Photo: Peter Woodall

Barely visible in the back of the building were traces from when it was used as a synagogue. Above what had once been the altar were a pair of lions–the Lions of Judah in Jewish iconography–flanking a tablet with what is probably the Ten Commandments written in Hebrew characters. There was nothing to indicate when the wall had been painted. Perhaps it was commissioned after Congregation Anshe Emeth purchased the building from the Baptists in 1871, or when Congregation D’rshe Tov moved in 20 years later. This type of wall painting was once common in both Europe and the United States, but apparently very few remain. A similar but far more elaborate painting that also depicts the Lions of Judah, known as the Lost Shul Mural, is being restored in Burlington, Vermont as an example of Jewish folk art.

Photo: Peter Woodall

Photo: Peter Woodall

Photo: Peter Woodall

Photo: Peter Woodall

Photo: Peter Woodall

Photo: Peter Woodall

Photo: Peter Woodall

Photo: Peter Woodall

Interior of the building, 2103 | Photo: Harry Kyriokodis

Interior of the building, 2103 | Photo: Harry Kyriokodis


About the Author

Peter Woodall Peter Woodall is the Project Director of Hidden City Philadelphia. He is a graduate of the UC Berkeley School of Journalism, and a former newspaper reporter with the Biloxi Sun Herald and the Sacramento Bee. He worked as a producer for Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane and wrote a column about neighborhood bars for PhiladelphiaWeekly.com.


  1. Wayne says:

    Very cool history and photos!

  2. nobody says:

    Too expensive? He should be ashamed of himself. That’s a part of Philadelphia history, and he doesn’t salvage it because it’s “too expensive”?

  3. Redrum says:

    Glad to see this mess is finally gone. Even a empty lot would be an improvement over this monstrosity and fire trap. Good riddance, and good day, sir.

    1. nobody says:

      That is some of the most ridiculous, delusional nonsense I have ever heard.

      That building is a part of Philadelphia history. Show it the respect that it deserves.

  4. Judy says:

    Great article on a building that has fascinated me for years. It is such a shame that the stone was not saved, and also that the Lions of Judah will exist only as photographs–though they are wonderful photographs. But I feel very sad that this quirky building with its strange, chequered past is no more.

    Redrum, you are being a crab. Sir.

  5. Mitch Deighan says:

    Throughout all of the Urban Pioneering years and onwards, I’ve hoped this structure (known for years as Ben’s Iron Works) would find someone who’d remove the stucco and then bring it all into the present day with an eye to the future. Very sad at best to hear the big stone was treated with such disrespect. Caught a glimpse into the exposed wooden truss as I was driving down I-95 the other day and even that tiny moment at 55mph was endearing.

  6. Maureen says:

    This article means a lot to me!!!! My 7th great grandmother, Hannah Tomkins Hough
    attended this church, her funeral (1812) was here and she was buried in the adjoining cemetery, which has now been cast to the winds!!! Does anyone know where the church records are, or what happened to the bodies?

    Thank you for the detailed pictures. The tablet shown gives me new “hope” as it notes it was the Hope Meeting House. (a new research clue)

    So sad for both the Jewish families who attended and the Baptists.

  7. Deb says:

    A history of the Second Baptist Church written in 1886 is available at archive.org https://archive.org/details/MN41715ucmf_2.

    Some excerpts:


    This Church was constituted March 5, 1803. The following persons, ten men and ten women, were its first members:


    The First Baptist Church of this city gave these brethren and sisters a public letter, dated February 14, 1803, authorizing them to form a church, in which they stated : “We hereby give our full consent and cordial approbation, that they may be constituted into a separate and independent Baptist Church in the Northern Liberties of Philadelphia.”

    Immediately after their organization, the founders of this church secured a spacious lot on Budd Street, now New Market, above Poplar, and commenced the erection of a meeting house. The membership was small and their means were very limited, but they were persons of intelligence and enterprise, and of great faith in the living Jehovah. The population in the neighborhood of the church was scattered along the banks of the river. The house was built in a rye field, with a rope walk at one side of it. The structure was sixty-six feet long, and forty-six feet wide, a large house for the population of that day, and for a score of men and women to plan and build. It was dedicated on Thursday, December 15th, 1803.

    In 1860, through his [Rev. William Cathcart] agency, extensive alterations and improvements were made upon the meeting-house, at a cost of over $8,000, all of which was pledged and paid without the aid of a fair or a strawberry festival.

    In 1870, the remains of all bodies in the burying-ground in the rear of the meeting-house were removed to a spacious lot in Ivy Hill Cemetery, at an expense of $2,800.

    In 1872, the congregation purchased a lot on Seventh Street, below Girard Avenue; 101 feet on Seventh Street, and 100 feet in depth, for $13,466. Early in 1873 a contract was made for the erection of a new church edifice. On June 11, 1873, ground was broken for this purpose, after appropriate religious services conducted by the pastor, and a large attendance of the members, and on September 9, at 5 P. M., the corner stone of the new church building was laid by Bro. George F. Lee, Chairman of the Building Committee, who put the stone into position and placed a box therein containing a history of the church, names of constituent and present members, a copy of our Articles of Faith, and of the Minutes of Philadelphia Baptist Association, etc. There were brief addresses by the Pastor, William Cathcart, D. D., Benjamin Griffith, D. D., H. L. Wayland, D. D., Rev. A. J. Rowland, and others.

    The meeting-house and lot on New Market Street having been sold to a congregation of Hebrews, for $19,000, the last meeting for worship was held in “Old. Hope” on Lord’s day afternoon, August 17, 1873.

  8. ELLEN NIEMUTH says:

    My ancestor, John Hewson, Jr. was a member of this church and was a local preacher who helped fill he pulpit on occasion. I am looking for other members of his family. Are there member lists? Any church records? Thank you for the information.

  9. Phyllis Miller says:

    I am looking for the Second Baptist Church of Philadelphia and it’s records. My 4th grandfather, WILLIAM VANDIKE, may have been baptized there. He was the son of Richard (Dirk) Vandike and Sarah Janzen. He would have been born circa 1750. Thank you for any help you can give me.

    1. Tim Davies says:

      The Historical Society of Pennsylvania has some of their records. I photocopied some from microfilm of an ancestor of mine. The HSP is at 1300 Locust Street in Philadelphia.If you go there, be sure that it is the 2nd Baptist Church in Northern Liberties.

  10. Liz Grout says:

    My Great Gteat Grandparents Mary and William Pugh were married 11.1.1827 by Rev. Thomas J Kitts. Wondering if there are any records. Thank you

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