Venue TBD -- Check back in October for new venue location and details!

About June 2018's Venue...

On the corner of 21st and Christian Streets in Philadelphia stands a Victorian. In the 1860s, 21st and Christian was at the southwestern outskirts of the city, but at the close of the Civil War the area experienced a building boom. Local leaders of the Episcopal Church, itself a fast-growing congregation, believed the burgeoning area needed its own parish, and chose this site in the midst of what was then a predominantly working-class neighborhood. The Church of the Holy Apostles was established in 1868, initially within a modest frame building. Later that year, church leaders enlisted the firm of Fraser, Furness, and Hewitt to create plans for a new structure. George Hewitt was the primary architect.

The congregation flourished, but what set the church apart was the exponential growth of its Sunday school programs. From only 37 students at the outset, the school grew to nearly 500 students in a few years. The church required additions to its facilities in 1873, 1893, and 1903, and a new tower was built in 1902. Hewitt designed each of these additions. Member George C. Thomas, a banker and missionary who was instrumental to these expansions, also understood the importance of the surrounding neighborhood, and bought some of the nearby houses so as to improve the community; some of the structures were converted into low-cost housing. By 1920, the neighborhood was equipped with the “latest modern improvements” for its “respectable and home-loving” population. By 1918 church membership topped 10,000, and the building’s multiple spaces were adapted for community activities, such as Scouts, men’s and women’s groups, basketball, and Bible reading.

Despite the church’s growth, attendance declined in the first half of the 20th century as the fabric of the neighborhood changed. In the face of steadily diminishing membership, the Church of the Holy Apostles relocated in 1945, and Shiloh Baptist Church purchased the building. Shiloh had been founded in 1842 for the city’s African American Baptists in south Philadelphia; one of its first pastors, Jeremiah Asher, was a prominent abolitionist during the Civil War, and according to its records, the church assisted travelers on the Underground Railroad. Having moved through a series of buildings in the area before settling at 21st and Christian, Shiloh quickly instilled itself within the community at its new site; it was home to over twenty groups involved in music, missionary and community work, and church beautification. The church had a packed calendar of events, including visits to other churches, fashion shows, recitals, banquets, children’s programs, guest speakers and musical acts, breakfasts, concerts, and parties. It used each room of the massive church complex, hosting basketball games and the Boy Scouts, and providing roller skating parties in the gymnasium.

At its height, Shiloh served a congregation of roughly 3,000. The new congregation was obliged to renovate and restructure the building to meet their needs, but remarkably, many of the original design elements survive: stained-glass windows, original furniture, tiling, polychromatic brickwork (a Furness signature), and multiple pipe organs. It is the only church designed by Fraser, Furness & Hewitt that is still standing. Like many inner-city churches, Shiloh has seen its membership dwindle over the latter half of the 20th century.

 

NOTE: Portions of Shiloh Baptist Church are not wheelchair accessible.