The Protestant Episcopal Church of the Saviour
38th Street above Chestnut | Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Built 1855. Destroyed by fire April 16, 1902.
[From West Philadelphia Illustrated: Early History of West Philadelphia and its Environs, its People and its Historical Points, by M. Laffitte Vieira, pp. 55-58. Phila.: Avil Printing Co., 1903]
The Protestant Episcopal Church of the Saviour, Thirty-eighth street above Chestnut, was one of the handsomest churches in West Philadelphia. It was entirely destroyed by fire on the night of April 16, 1902. The church was built in 1855.
The first meeting of members of the Protestant Episcopal Church favorable to the erection of the Church of the Saviour was held at the Rectory of St. Mary's Church, West Philadelphia, on the eleventh day of October, 1850. At a subsequent meeting, held October 15, 1850, at the office of J.L. Goddard, No. 70 Walnut street, Philadelphia, a vestry was organized and the title of the Church of the Good Shepherd was selected, as appropriate for the new enterprise. This title, however, was reconsidered at the next meeting of the Vestry, October 23, 1850, and the name of the Church of the Saviour was substituted.
On the twenty-fifth day of November of the same year, a committee was appointed by the Vestry to purchase a lot of ground in Blockley District, West Philadelphia, corner of Lexington and Huron streets. From the above date until April 12, 1852, but little was done towards the completion of this work. A meeting of the Vestry and congregation, however, was held at this time, when a committee was appointed to build a Sunday School room on the lot at Westminster. The committee discharged their duties and had an appropriate frame Sunday School building erected, which was occupied as a school (with occasional services by the Rev. Dr. Dyer and others) for about twelve months.
During this time, however, it became apparent to the Vestry that the location selected was not adapted to the needs of the new congregation, and as some difficulty had arisen between the conveyancer and other parties interested in the ground on which the building stood, it was deemed advisable to accept an offer made by the conveyancer to purchase the school house for the Presbyterian church.
During the next two years the congregation was without any stated place of worship. Some attended St. Andrew's Church, Mantua; others, St. Mary's, Hamiltonville, and Trinity Church, Maylandville. Finally, on the ninth day of May, 1855, a committee, which had previously been appointed for the purpose, reported that they had made over the property to Mr. Lex, attorney, with the necessary papers, and had received from him $400 in payment.
At a meeting of the Vestry held May 9, 1855, it was proposed to commence holding the services of the church in a new location under the old charter.
On the fifth of October, 1855, the Vestry authorized the purchase of the lot of ground on the southeast corner of Mary and Oak streets (now known as Thirty-eighth and Ludlow streets), and on the sixteenth day of October, 1855, a contract was made with Brown & Embley to erect a church with tower and spire, and complete in every respect (excepting organ and furniture), for the sum of $18,837.
The lot of ground bought of John Colton is 86 feet on Mary street, i.e., Thirty-eighth street, by 135 feet on Oak street, i.e., Ludlow street, and cost $4 per foot.
The congregation held their first services in May, 1855, in the Commissioners' Hall, on Market and Park (now Thirty-seventh) streets, having engaged the Rev. H. W. Woods as rector of the parish. The Holy Communion was administered regularly on the first Sunday afternoon of each month in Trinity Church, Maylandville. The church building burned in April, 1902, was commenced on the fifteenth day of October, 1955, and on the twenty-fourth day of November of the same year, the box which was taken from the original corner-stone was placed in the southwest corner of the foundation wall, without any public religious service, in the presence of Messrs. Charles M. Schott, accounting warden, and Franklin Bacon, vestryman.
The first service was held in the lecture room on November 20, 1856 (Thanksgiving Day), when an appropriate sermon was delivered by the Rev. Mr. Woods, rector, from the text: "He thanked God and took courage."
The church proper was opened for divine services on Sunday morning, April 26, 1857. The sermon was preached by the rector, Rev. Mr. Woods, from the text: "I will enter Thy house in the multitude of Thy mercies."
In consequence of the rapid growth of the congregation it was determined to enlarge the church building, and a resolution to this effect was passed by the Vestry on November 6, 1888.
The contract for the proposed enlargement and improvements was signed by the Building Committee, consisting of the rector, Messrs. H. H. Brown, J. W. Paul, Jr., Winthrop Smith and Edwin Rafsnyder, with Arthur H. Williams & Sons, on April 1, 1889, and ground was broken on the following day, the rector offering an appropriate prayer and digging the first spadeful of earth.
During the time from Easter Monday, April 22, 1889, when the church was abandoned, until the fourth Sunday of September, the congregation worshiped in the building known as the Drawing Room, on Fortieth Street, near Locust.
Services were held in the improved Sunday School room from September 22, until November 17, 1899, when the new church was opened for divine service.
The Baptistry of the burned Church of the Saviour was a gift of the late Mr. and Mrs. A. J. Drexel, a memorial to their three children, Emilie, Mae and Frank. It was unique and beautiful.
All the beautiful work of the past was laid waste, and the church so beloved by its large congregation reduced to ruins. The following is a list of the Clergy and Vestry: Rev. William B. Bodine, D.D., rector; Rev. Cassius M. Roberts, M.A., associate rector; Rev. Julius M. Bierck, organist and choirmaster; deaconess, Miss Frances S. Locke. Vestry, Mr. J. W. Paul, rector's warden; Mr. M. N. Kline, accounting warden; Mr. George W. Montgomery, Mr. George S. Cash, Mr. Thomas M. Newbold, Mr. George P. Kimball, Mr. Charles H. Clarke, Mr. Joseph P. Bains, Mr. James A. Connelly, Mr. Horace H. Lee, Mr. Charles Watson, Dr. Charles Hermon Thomas.
The work of rebuilding the church began in July, 1902, and a magnificent structure will be raised upon the old site to which newly purchased ground on Chestnut street below Thirty-eighth has been added and as well a handsome rectory, the total cost exclusive of memorials being $135,000.
The church erected in 1855 was replaced in 1889 by the edifice so recently burned.
back to Historic West Philadelphia Churches
back to University City Historical Society Homepage