I wonder how many in our community remember the peripatetic history of this congregation?
Founded in 1727, we rented space first, but purchased (more or less) the property we currently occupy at 4th and Race in 1747. Back then, it was on the edge of town! That same year, we built an octagonal, wood structure, our first church building. There is a painting of it on the west wall of the lower narthex. It was that same year that the Coetus (Synod) of the German Reformed Churches in American was founded in our building.
In 1772, we build a larger, brick building right along Race Street. It was taken over by the British Army during the Revolution and used as an infirmary for wounded soldiers. It was also always too loud: Race Street had been renamed — it was originally Sassafras Street — because it was the site of the horse races.
In 1837, we tore down the first brick building, and used some of the materials to build our current building. Set back off the street, with the narthex to provide some sound insulation, it also was the latest design innovation, with two floors to provide both a sanctuary above and also program space on the first floor.
But there were also two other properties and buildings! In 1882, we moved from this corner to 10th and Wallace and built a church building that stands today, home to St. Paul’s Baptist Church, the congregation we sold the building to. We sold because we were moving again, headed out to 50th and Locust where we built our fifth church building in 1916. We stayed there until 1967 when the restoration of the Old City historic district brought us back to 4th and Race. We sold the building at 50th and Locust to Monumental Baptist Church.
It’s Monumental that is affording us an opportunity to peak back in our own history. They are having an Anniversary Gala Worship Service this Sunday afternoon, Dec. 4 at 3 p.m. If you want to go and see what we looked like outwardly — at least the architectural structure — in an earlier incarnation, please plan to join us. We will be leaving Old First shortly after 2 p.m. Guaranteed, Monumental’s Anniversary worship will also be worth it, even if you aren’t so interested in that part of our history… just to experience and enjoy another important side of our Christian tradition, the style of Black church worship as found in an African American Baptist Church in West Philly.
If you need more information, please speak with Jackie W. or me.