Free Quaker Meetinghouse, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Free Quaker Meetinghouse at the corner of Fifth and Arch Streets in Philadelphia, in March 1859. Image courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia, Frederick De Bourg Richards Photograph Collection.

The scene in 2019:

Philadelphia was the national capital throughout most of the American Revolution, with the city serving as the meeting place of the Continental Congress. However, it also had a large population of Quakers, whose religious beliefs included a strong emphasis on pacifism. This caused significant tension between the colonial leaders here who favored independence, and the Quakers who opposed fighting the war. Far from simply refusing to serve in the military, many Quakers refused to pay taxes that would fund the military, and some even refused to use the currency issued by the Continental Congress, believing that the currency was also being used to pay for the war.

Even within the Quaker community, though, there was significant dissent regarding the war for independence. Here in Philadelphia, some were ultimately expelled for supporting the Revolution, and in 1781 they formed the Religious Society of Free Quakers. The group collected money to purchase a lot and build a meeting house, and among the contributors were George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. The design and construction of the building was largely done by Samuel Wetherill and Timothy Matlack, who were among the leaders of the Free Quakers. Matlack had been a delegate to the Continental Congress during the Revolution, but he is probably best remembered for his penmanship; he hand-wrote the official engrossed copy of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

The meeting house was completed in 1783, and the occasion was commemorated by a marble tablet under the gable on the Arch Street side of the building, which reads “By general subscription for the Free Quakers, erected in the Year of our Lord, 1783, of the Empire 8.” The last part of the inscription refers to the fact that it was the eight year of the American “empire,” with 1776 as its starting point. At the time, the term empire was a bit of an overstatement for a loosely-affiliated group of 13 states on the east coast, but it ultimately foreshadowed the country’s future expansion across the continent.

Aside from Matlack, several other notable Philadelphians were involved with the Free Quakers, including Betsy Ross, the heroine of the famous but likely apocryphal story about the first American flag. Another likely attendee was Dolley Payne, whose father appears to have joined the Free Quakers after being expelled from the Pine Street Meeting. However, Dolley herself was later expelled from the faith when, in 1794, she married a non-Quaker: future president James Madison.

The Free Quakers steadily dwindled in number during the early 19th century, as the original members either died or moved elsewhere. During this time, though, the building was used for a number of other purposes aside from religious gatherings. From 1788 to 1791, part of the building was the home of John Poor’s Academy for Young Ladies, and from 1791 to 1799 it was occupied by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania. Then, from 1800 to 1836 it housed the Philadelphia Select Academy.

In the meantime, the Free Quakers continued to use the meeting house until the late 1830, and after this it was used purely for secular purposes. The next long-term occupant was the Apprentices’ Library Company, which moved into the building in 1841. The library made some changes to the building, including two additions in the 1850s and 1860s, and the organization remained here until 1897. The first photo was taken during this time, in 1859, and the photo shows signs for the Apprentices’ Library on both sides of the building.

Today, more than 160 years after the first photo was taken, and nearly 240 years after the building opened, the Free Quaker Meeting House still stands here as an important landmark at the corner of Arch and Fifth Streets. All of the other historic buildings nearby were demolished in the mid-20th century in order to create the Independence Mall, but the meeting house survived, likely because of its connection to Revolutionary-era Philadelphia. However, the building was relocated in 1961, in order to accommodate the widening of Fifth Street. It was moved 33 feet west and 8 feet south to its current location, and this project also included removing the 19th century additions and subsequently restoring the building to its 1780s appearance.

Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church, on the east side of Third Street just south of Walnut Street in Philadelphia, in April 1859. Image courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia, Frederick De Bourg Richards Photograph Collection.

The church in 2019:

St. Paul’s Church was established in 1760 by a group of parishioners from Christ Church, the city’s oldest Anglican church. They separated from Christ Church because of a controversy surrounding William McClenachan, a former Presbyterian minister who was associated with the evangelical beliefs of the Great Awakening. Some of the leaders within the church, along with the bishop of London, had blocked McClenachan from receiving a position at Christ Church, apparently because of concerns about his past affiliations and support among local Presbyterians. His followers responded by leaving and forming St. Paul’s Church, with McClenachan as their minister. They met for the first time at Independence Hall on June 22, 1760, and they soon began work on their own church building, which would be located here on Third Street.

To help fund the construction costs, the church organized a lottery. This was a common way of raising money during this time, both for public and private projects, and the church hoped to raise 3,000 pieces of eight through the lottery. An advertisement for the lottery appeared in the January 29, 1761 issue of Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette, with the following description:

As a new Church, called PAUL’s – CHURCH, has been thought necessary, for the Worship of ALMIGHTY GOD, to be erected in this City, by many well disposed Christians; who have, according to their Abilities, chearfully subscribed, and many of them paid considerable Sums of Money, towards carrying on this pious Work. In Consequence whereof, a very large and commodious Building hath been begun, and carried on to the full Height of the Brick Work: But it being judged that the Expence of completing and finishing this Church, will greatly exceed the Sums subscribed; therefore it is thought expedient to set up a LOTTERY, for the raising 3000 Pieces of Eight, which it is hoped will compleatly finish the said Church; and not doubted but all well Wishers to the true Worship of GOD, will favour and encourage this Undertaking.

A total of 5,000 tickets were to be issued, at four dollars each, and the advertisement promised that “This Scheme is the most favourable one heretofore calculated in this City to the Adventurers, the Blanks and Prizes being considerably less than two to one.” There were many tiers of prizes, ranging from 1,515 tickets that would win 8 pieces of eight each, to a single grand prize of 1,000 pieces of eight.

The church was ultimately completed later in the year, and the first services were held here on December 20, 1761. Reverend McClenachan was still the rector at the time, although he would only remain in the position for a few more years; he retired in 1765 and moved to Maryland, where he died a year later. His departure, however, may have helped to resolve the conflict between St. Paul’s and Christ Church, because in 1773 his successor, William Stringer, was ordained by the bishop of London.

Within a few years, though, Reverend Stringer himself would be a source of controversy within the church. During the American Revolution, Stringer remained loyal to the British crown, despite many parishioners with patriot sympathies. The division culminated in the fall of 1777, after the British army captured Philadelphia. On the next Sunday after the capture, Stringer preached from Ezekiel 20, which speaks of the rebelliousness of Israel, including a verse that was particularly incendiary given the context of the war: “And I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me.” Many of the church members interpreted this scripture selection as a thinly-veiled threat, and this sermon marked the end of Stringer’s tenure as rector; he soon left the church and returned to England.

During the 19th century, St. Paul’s had several rectors who achieved national prominence. Among these was Stephen H. Tyng, who served here from 1829 to 1833. He was a leader in the evangelical wing of the Episcopal Church, and much of his ministry was focused on providing social services and other outreach programs for the poor. During his time here in Philadelphia, he also focused some of his efforts on changing the physical church building. This included altering the interior to make space for Sunday school programs, along with removing elements that were considered old-fashioned by the 1830s, including the colonial-era high back pews. The project was overseen by prominent Philadelphia architect William Strickland, and the building was re-dedicated on New Year’s Day in 1831.

Aside from Reverend Tyng, the other notable 19th century rector here was R. Heber Newton. His father, Richard Newton, had served here from 1840 to 1862, and the younger Reverend Newton became rector in 1866 at the age of 26. He remained here for just three years, though, before leaving to accept the position of rector at All Souls’ Protestant Episcopal Church in New York City. While in New York, he became a leader in the Social Gospel movement. However, he also faced criticism from other Episcopalian clergy, and in 1883 he was charged with heresy for, among other things, supposedly denying essential doctrines such as the inerrancy of the Bible and the divinity of Jesus. He went on to face similar accusations in subsequent years, but retained his position within the church until 1902.

The first photo, which was taken in 1855, shows the exterior of the church as it appeared during Newton’s father’s time as rector. It would remain an active parish throughout the rest of the century, but in the later years it experienced a decline. This neighborhood, which had once been a fashionable residential area in the 18th and early 19th century, was no longer as desirable, and many of its affluent parishioners had relocated elsewhere in the city. Attendance in general dropped, as did church revenue, to the point where it could no longer support itself. As a result, in 1901 the church’s leaders requested that it be dissolved, with its property transferred to St. Peter’s Church, which is located just a few blocks south of here.

Despite this closure, the old St. Paul’s building ultimately remained in use by the Episcopal Church. Today, nearly 170 years after the first photo was taken, the building is still standing with few exterior alterations. It is no longer used for religious services, but since 1906 it has been the home of Episcopal Community Services, which offers assistance programs in areas such as food, housing, healthcare, and education. It seems only appropriate that the organization would be housed in this building, since in many ways it fulfills the Social Gospel-related ideals of its former ministers such as Tyng and Newton.

Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (3)

The south side of Independence Hall, seen from Independence Square around 1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

This view is similar to the one in a previous post, but this one shows the scene horizontally from a little further back, revealing more of the surrounding buildings near Independence Hall. As discussed in that post and another one, Independence Hall was the site of some of the country’s most important events in the years during and immediately after the American Revolution.

Independence Hall was completed in 1753 as the meeting place of the Pennsylvania colonial legislature, but at the start of the American Revolution it took on a second role as the de facto national capitol. The Second Continental Congress convened here on May 10, 1775, less than a month after the start of the war. The delegates met in the Assembly Room on the first floor of the building, which is located directly to the right of the tower in this scene. The building is most famous for the fact that the Declaration of Independence was voted on and signed here during the summer of 1776, but the building continued to be used by the Continental Congress throughout the Revolution, aside from two interruptions during British occupations of Philadelphia.

Congress finally left Philadelphia in June 1783, after a mob of about 400 soldiers descended upon the building, demanding payment for their wartime service. The state of Pennsylvania refused to deploy its militia to protect Congress, so the delegates left the city on June 21, and reconvened nine days later at Nassau Hall in Princeton, which became the first of several temporary national capitols over the next two years. Independence Hall would never again serve as the federal capitol building, but it nonetheless played another important role in 1787, when delegates from 12 of the 13 states met here for the Constitutional Convention. The result of this four-month convention was the current United States Constitution, which was signed here on September 17, 1787.

In the meantime, Independence Hall continued to serve as the seat of the state government. The federal government also returned to Philadelphia, although not to Independence Hall. Instead, two newer and smaller buildings were constructed, flanking Independence Hall. On the west side, barely visible on the extreme left side of the photos, is Congress Hall. This was the national capitol building from 1790 until 1800, with the House of Representatives occupying the large chamber on the first floor, and the Senate in a smaller chamber on the upper floor. On the opposite side of Independence Hall, on the extreme right side of the photos, is the Old City Hall. On the exterior, it is essentially identical to Congress Hall, and it was originally built to house the city government. However, during the 1790s it was also occupied by the Supreme Court, which had its courtroom on the ground floor.

The state government ultimately left Philadelphia in 1799 and moved to a more central location in Lancaster. Then, a year later, the federal government moved to Washington D.C., despite the best efforts by Philadelphians to retain the city’s status as the capital. No longer needed for governmental purposes, Independence Hall was threatened by demolition during the early 19th century. By this point the original wooden steeple was already gone, having been removed in 1781 and replaced by a low roof. Then, in 1812 the original wings on either side of Independence Hall were demolished, although the rest of the building was spared a similar fate after the city purchased it from the state in 1816.

It often takes many years before the significance of historic buildings is recognized, and in many cases this comes too late. For Independence Hall, though, it seems that its significance was widely understood by the 1820s. It was around this time that it came to be known as Independence Hall, rather than as the State House, and in 1825 the public square here in the foreground was formally named Independence Square. Three years later, a new steeple was constructed based on the plans of the original one, and it still stands atop the tower today.

By the time the first photo was taken around 1905, this scene had undergone further changes. Most significantly, the buildings that had replaced the old wings in 1812 were demolished in 1898, and new wings were constructed as replicas of the originals. Another change would come two years after the photo was taken, when the statue of Commodore John Barry was installed here in Independence Square, as shown in the 2019 photo.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, Independence Hall still looks essentially the same. Both Congress Hall and the Old City Hall have also been preserved, and all three of these buildings are now part of the Independence National Historical Park. However, one notable difference in this scene from the first photo is the row of buildings beyond Independence Hall on the other side of Chestnut Street. All of these buildings, along with two more entire blocks further to the north, were demolished in the mid-20th century in an effort to improve the aesthetics of the area surrounding Independence Hall. However, in an example of historic buildings not being recognized until they are gone, the project included the removal of the remnants of the old President’s House, where George Washington and John Adams had lived during the 1790s. This site, at the corner of Sixth and Market Streets, is now marked by a partial reconstruction of some of the house’s architectural elements.

Congress Hall and Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Congress Hall and Independence Hall, seen from the corner of Chestnut and Sixth Streets in Philadelphia, around 1859. Image courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia, Frederick De Bourg Richards Photograph Collection.

The scene in 2019:

These two photos show the south side of Chestnut Street, between Sixth and Fifth Streets. This block contains three historic 18th century government buildings, each of which played an important role in the early history of the United States. In the center of this scene is Independence Hall, Philadelphia’s most famous historic landmark, which served as the meeting place of the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention. It is flanked on either side by two nearly identical buildings, both of which were occupied by the federal government in the late 18th century. In the foreground, to the west of Independence Hall, is Congress Hall, and to the east is the Old City Hall, which once housed the United States Supreme Court.

Independence Hall was completed in 1753, and it was originally used as the colonial capitol building of Pennsylvania. However, because of Philadelphia’s central location relative to the northern and southern colonies, it took on a second role during the American Revolution. Aside from several short interruptions during British occupations, the Continental Congress met here from 1775 until 1783, and it was during this time that the delegates approved and signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Congress left Philadelphia in 1783, but the building continued to be used by the state government. Then, during the summer of 1787, the Constitutional Convention met here to draft and sign the United States Constitution, which was ratified a year later.

At the time of the convention, New York City was the national capital, but in 1790 the federal government returned to Philadelphia, which would serve as the capital city for ten years while Washington D.C. was being developed. Rather than sharing Independence Hall with the state government, the federal government moved into its own buildings here. Congress Hall, shown in the foreground of these two photos, became the capitol building, with a chamber on the first floor for the House of Representatives, and a smaller one upstairs for the Senate. However, the building is noticeably smaller and more modest than the adjacent Independence Hall, providing an interesting visual contrast between the perceived importance of the state and federal governments during the nation’s early years.

Congress Hall was overshadowed by Independence Hall, both physically and also in terms of its historical significance. Nevertheless, a number of important events occurred here at Congress Hall. George Washington was inaugurated here at the start of his second term, as was John Adams four years later, and the Bill of Rights was formally added to the Constitution here in 1791. It was also here that Congress passed many important bills that would shape the future of the country, including legislation that established the First Bank of the United States, the Post Office, and the Navy.

On the far side of Independence Hall, at the corner of Fifth Street, is the Old City Hall. Its exterior is nearly identical to Congress Hall, and it was completed in 1791. It served as Philadelphia’s city hall until 1854, but it was also occupied by the United States Supreme Court from 1791 until 1800. The court held its sessions on the first floor during this period, with the city council meeting on the second floor. The first case in the history of the court, West v. Barnes, was argued here on August 2, 1791, and the court issued a unanimous decision the following day. Overall, though, the Supreme Court had a relatively minor role in the federal government in these early years, and the court decided few significant cases here in Philadelphia.

Both the state and federal governments left Philadelphia at the end of the 18th century, with the state capital moving to Lancaster in 1799 and the national capital to Washington a year later. Independence Hall faced threats of demolition in the early 19th century, and the building’s original wings were razed and replaced with new buildings, which are partially visible in the first photo. However, the main part of Independence Hall was ultimately preserved, and by the time the first photo was taken in the late 1850s it had become a major symbol of the American Revolution.

In the meantime, City Hall was occupied by the municipal government until 1854, and for many years Congress Hall served as the county courthouse. Both of these buildings were restored around the turn of the 20th century, and Congress Hall was rededicated in 1913 by President Woodrow Wilson. Around this same time, the 1812 wings of Independence Hall were replaced by replicas of the original wings. Since then, this scene has not changed very much in its appearance, and all three buildings are now part of the Independence National Historical Park, which was established in 1948.

Interior of The Cliffs, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The living room inside The Cliffs in Philadelphia, in March 1932. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The scene in 2019:

The previous post shows the exterior view of The Cliffs, before and after it was destroyed by a fire in 1986, and these two photos here show the interior of the now-gutted building. As explained in more detail in that post, The Cliffs was built in 1753 as the summer home of merchant Joshua Fisher. At the time, the present-day site of Fairmount Park was still sparsely settled, and several miles distant from the city center, making it an ideal place for Philadelphia’s wealthy families to escape to during the summer months. The Cliffs was one of many such homes built here during this time, although it was comparatively modest, with only two rooms on each floor and a simple design with minimal ornamentation on the interior and exterior.

The first floor of The Cliffs had a hall-and-parlor layout, which was typical for homes of this period. The hall, shown here in the first photo, was the largest room in the house, and it was where guests would be greeted, as both the front and back doors opened into it. It occupied slightly more than half of the space on the first floor, and it was located on the north side of the house. The adjoining room, the parlor, occupied the south side of the first floor. Like the hall, it had a fireplace, and it also had stairs connecting it to the kitchen in the basement and to the bedrooms on the second floor. By the time the first photo was taken in the 1930s, the hall and parlor had taken on more modern roles, as the living room and dining room, respectively.

The Cliffs was owned by the Fisher family for more than a century, although during part of the American Revolution it was rented to Benjamin Franklin’s daughter, Sarah “Sally” Franklin Bache. She was part of a women’s sewing group that would occasionally meet in the house—perhaps even here in this room—to sew clothes and bandages for Continental soldiers. Her time here may have coincided with the two years that Joshua Fisher’s son Samuel was imprisoned by colonial authorities because of suspected Loyalist beliefs.

Joshua Fisher died in 1783, the same year that the war ended, and after the war Samuel carried on the family business. He and his family continued to spend summers here at The Cliffs, including his daughter Deborah Fisher Wharton, who achieved prominence as a Quaker minister. She was active in the abolitionist movement, in addition to advocating for Native American rights and women’s suffrage. One of her children was Joseph Wharton, a wealthy 19th century industrialist and philanthropist who spent some of his childhood here at The Cliffs. He was one of the founders of Bethlehem Steel, and in 1881 he donated $100,000 to establish a school of business at the University of Pennsylvania, which became known as the Wharton School in his honor.

Starting in the mid-1800s, the city of Philadelphia began purchasing the old estates here along the Schuylkill River, in order to protect the drinking water supply from the encroaching development of the growing city. The city purchased The Cliffs in 1868, and it became part of Fairmount Park, which would eventually grow to encompass over two thousand acres on both sides of the river. The historic homes were generally preserved, and some, including The Cliffs, became housing for park employees.

The house was still occupied by park employees when the first photo was taken in 1932, and it remained in use until 1970. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places two years later, and photos from the nomination form show the house boarded up and tagged with graffiti. It would remain vacant for the next 14 years, before eventually being destroyed by an arsonist on February 22, 1986. The fire destroyed the entire house, leaving only the exterior masonry walls and chimneys still standing.

More than 30 years after the fire, the present-day photo is a haunting contrast to the first photo. The house was never rebuilt, and the ruins remain here, partially hidden by trees and weeds in a remote section of Fairmount Park. The interior and exterior walls are now covered in graffiti, with empty cans of spray paint littering the basement. Here on the north wall of what used to be the largest room in the house, the empty windows and damaged chimney give the north wall of the house an almost skull-like appearance, providing only a hint of what the house once looked like.

The Cliffs, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Cliffs in Fairmount Park, in March 1931. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The scene in 2019:

As discussed in the previous post, the present-day site of Fairmount Park was once a fashionable place for affluent Philadelphia residents to have country estates. These homes stood atop the banks overlooking the Schuylkill River, and they served as summer residences, enabling their owners to escape the heat, crowds, and disease of central Philadelphia. Most of these homes were built in the 18th or early 19th centuries, and many are still standing today, having been incorporated into Fairmount Park. However, this house, known as The Cliffs, is one of the exceptions, surviving only as a masonry shell after being gutted by a fire in 1986.

The Cliffs was built in 1753 by Joshua Fisher, a wealthy Philadelphia merchant. Perhaps because of his Quaker beliefs, the house was fairly modest, especially when compared its much larger, more elaborate neighbors. Its walls were made of rubble masonry, with very little exterior ornamentation. The interior was similarly plain, and featured just two rooms on each floor. On the first floor, the front door opened into the hall, the largest room in the house. It occupied slightly more than half of the first floor, and it was located on the right side of the house from this perspective. On the other side of the house was the parlor, which had a staircase connecting it to the kitchen in the basement and the bedrooms on the second floor.

The Revolutionary War was a difficult time for the Fisher family, as the war hurt their shipping business while also challenging their nonviolent Quaker beliefs. Joshua Fisher’s son Samuel was imprisoned for two years during the war because of suspected Loyalists beliefs, and for part of this time The Cliffs was rented to Sarah “Sally” Franklin Bache, the daughter of Benjamin Franklin. While here, she was involved in a sewing group consisting of other local women who made clothes and bandages for soldiers in the Continental Army.

After the war, Samuel Fisher continued to use The Cliffs as a summer residence. His father died in 1783, but Samuel carried on the family mercantile business, which thrived in the late 18th century. He remained a bachelor for much of his life, but he ultimately married in 1793 at the age of 48, to 29-year-old Hannah Rodman of Newport, Rhode Island. They had three children who survived infancy, and probably the most notable was Deborah Fisher, who became a Quaker minister and civil rights activist, supporting causes such as abolitionism, women’s suffrage, and Native American rights. She married William Wharton, and among their children was Joseph Wharton, who was born in 1826. As a child he spent time here at The Cliffs, and he subsequently went on to become a successful industrialist. He was one of the founders of Bethlehem Steel, and he was also the founder and namesake of the Wharton School, the business school at the University of Pennsylvania.

In the meantime, the Cliffs was owned by the Fisher family until 1868, when the property was purchased by the city and incorporated into Fairmount Park. By this point, Philadelphia had grown considerably since the 18th century, and this area along the Schuylkill River was no longer as remote as it had once been. No longer as desirable of a location for summer retreats, the riverbanks instead attracted the attention of the city, which wanted to protect its public water supply. This had the side effect of creating a large, scenic urban park, and by the late 19th century the city had acquired many historic homes here.

For the next century, The Cliffs served as a residence for park employees. The first photo was taken during this time, in 1931, showing the east side of the house. Just beyond the house is the river, and in the distance is the west side of Fairmount Park, including the Letitia Street House, which is barely visible to the left of the tree on the left side of the scene. Although not as grand as many of the other historic homes in Fairmount Park, it was nonetheless a good example of Georgian architecture, and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, two years after it was vacated by the city.

The house sat empty for many years, and it suffered from vandalism. It was ultimately destroyed by arson on February 22, 1986, leaving only the empty stone shell still standing. It was never rebuilt, and the ruins are still standing here today. Now overgrown with weeds and trees and covered in graffiti, the house bears little resemblance to its appearance in the first photo. As such, it provides a significant contrast to the other historic homes in Fairmount Park, which have been much better preserved over the years.