Meadow Presbyterian Church

Founding

Meadow Presbyterian Church was originally established in November 1855 by John A. Neff as a Sabbath school in the "meadows" on League Island Road for the children of Philadelphia dairy farmers.  Evening services were later added so that families could worship together. For about twenty years the congregation met in the "White Hall" schoolhouse. The congregration grew and soon it was evident that they needed a larger building. The school and worship services moved to a new public school that was built in this area.

Jewish man standing and Irish woman seated on a staircase, between Water and Front Streets, north of Market Street, Philadelphia, ca. 1923, Photograph by G. Mark Wilson. Courtesy of the Library Company, Image Collection.

 

After the 1876 Centennial, a second building was purchased by Henry Disston, an elder in the Frankford Church, and transported free of charge by the Pennsylvania Railroad from Fairmount Park to League Island Road. Later, the building moved to a lot donated by the late William Howell at 8th Street and Moyamensing Avenue. The school and worship services continued at this site, and in June 1894, the Meadow Presbyterian Church was established.  The Session Minutes of 1894 note that “For some time there had been a strong desire on the part of many connected with the mission for a church organization.” (Minutes, 1894) Thus, a petition was signed (by 98 persons) in 1894 asking for the organization of this Mission. This congregation grew out of a major mission effort by the Philadelphia Presbytery in attempt to reach out to the Jewish immigrants.(Minutes of the General Assembly, 647) During this time, the Church Register reveals a dominance of Germanic / Jewish surnames and services were delivered in German. Perhaps in reflection of its congregation, in 1895, the name of the church was changed to Mizpah Presbyterian Church.  The word mizpah is Hebrew for "watchtower," and to Jewish people this term commonly means a monumental good deed.(Oxford English Dictionary) In renaming their church it seems that these Jews may have been fulfilling their "mounmental good deed" in becoming Presbyterian.

 

 

 

 

map   mizpah 1895
1895 Hexamer showing 8th Street and Moyamensing Avenue, courtesy of The Free Library of Philadelphia, Map Collection.
 
Meadow Presbyterian Church, image published in William P. White, The Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, 1895, courtesy of PAB.
Click photo to enlarge.
   

In 1898, the church moved across the street to a new location at Eighth and Wolf Streets. By July of 1899, the congregation planned to abandon their existing wood frame building and by mid-July they had embarked upon the construction of a new building. The Session Minutes of July 5, 1899 record the following details of the new construction:

“On July 5th, Wednesday 1899, the cornerstone of the new church edifice, part to be used finally for the Sabbath school was laid...Thus for the services were conducted in the old frame chapel; then the congregation repaired to the floor of the new edifice and resumed the services, at the corner, the pastor having made an address in the chapel embodying the history of the church ...”

A service to dedicate the new building of the Mizpah Presbyterian Church was held on January 21, 1900. See image below from The Public Ledger published on the occassion of this dedication.

 

 

  Mizpah Church
  Mizpah Presbyterian Church, printed in the Public Ledger January 22, 1900. Courtesy of The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Campbell Collection.
   

In 1914, a community center was established to reach out to Jewish immigrants who moved into the area after 1900.  Once again the congregation outgrew the building and needed to relocate to a larger structure; so in 1924 The Presbytery of Philadelphia moved the church to 514 Oregon Avenue. In the early 20th century, Italians emigrated to this area of South Philadelphia and Roman Catholic programs became the dominant activities in the area. Therefore, the Mizpah Church's membership declined and in order to stay viable, they merged with other congregations. The James Evans Memorial Church (est. 1864) and the German Church of Peace (est. 1885) were also experiencing loss of membership, financial hardship, and low church school enrollment. In 1961, these three churches merged to form what was eventually named the South Philadelphia Calvary Church, although they seriously considered calling it "Trinity." All three churches congregated in the existing James Evans Memorial Church's building located at Broad Street and Moyamensing Avenue.(Minutes, 1961)

 

 

sfd

1948

1931 Smith Atlas showing 5th Street and Oregon Avenue, courtesy of The Free Library of Philadelphia, Map Collection. Mizpah Presbyterian Church, image published in pamphlet for the Ordination services of William Fullerton Parks, February 6, 1948. Courtesy of the Presbyterian Historical Society.
Click photo to enlarge.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The consolidated church built another new building at 2611 Broad Street (near Moyamensing Avenue) in 1970. This new structure was financed in part by a grant from the UPCUSA Fifty Million Fund. By 1973, yet another church merged with the South Philadelphia Calvary Church, but in this case, the church was another denomination. St. Paul's Episcopal Church joined with the congregation, and the newly combined church was called Calvary-St. Paul. The church retained ties to both the Presbyterian and Episcopal denominations.

map
1967 Sandborn showing Broad Street and Moyamensing Avenue, courtesy of The Free Library of Philadelphia, Map Collection.
Click photo to enlarge.

 

In May 1980, a meeting was held during which the Parish Council discussed the ways in which Calvary-St. Paul could meet the needs of the growing Indo-Chinese population in South Philadelphia. It was decided that the facilities of the Calvary-St. Paul building would "be made available for their special needs, and that effort be made to assimilate them into the life of the Church, thereby helping them more quickly to learn the language and customs of their new homeland.” (Parish Council Meeting Minutes, 5/18/1980)

By 1995, it was evident that Calvary-St. Paul Church was experiencing financial hardship: “Due to cash flow our main bills are being paid but our vendors are being paid at two to three month intervals.” (Parish Council Meeting Minutes, 6/18/1995) The church never recovered from these problems and dissolved in 2003. The structure which once housed Calvary-St. Paul Church is now occupied by Criniti's Italian Restaurant. The church doors and posting board bearing the Calvary-St. Paul name are still in place despite the building's new identity.

 

 

 

Photograph of the former Calvary-St. Paul Church, by Jamie Barbaccia, December 11, 2005. Photograph of the former Calvary-St. Paul Church, by Jamie Barbaccia, December 11, 2005.
   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evolution

The Mizpah Presbyterian Church merged with other minority congregations within South Philadelphia, including a German and an Episcopal congregation and moved locations several times.

1855 -- School and evening worship services held at League Island Road

1876 -- School and worship services moved to 8th and Moyamensing Avenue in South Philadelphia

June 1894 -- Meadow Presbyterian Church established 

1895 -- Name changed to the Mizpah Presbyterian Church 

1898 -- Church located at Eight and Wolf Streets 

1924 -- Mizpah Church moved to a larger site at Fifth Street and Oregon Avenue

1961 -- Mizpah Church merged with James Evans Memorial Church and the German Church of Peace to form the South Philadelphia Calvary Church, located at 2611 South Broad Street (near Broad Street and Moyamensing Avenue)

1970 -- new building erected at Broad Street and Moyamensing Avenue

1973 -- St. Paul Episcopal Church merges with South Philadelphia Calvary Church to form the Calvary-St. Paul Church

2003 -- Calvary-St. Paul Church dissolves

2005 -- Italian restaurant, Criniti's, occupies former Calvary-St. Paul Church

 

Urban Context

Meadow Presbyterian Church underwent the most changes of all three churches we examined. Not only did the church change names and locations within South Philadelphia several times, but it merged with three other congregations, including one of an entirely different denomination. The church, whose congregation was originally a group of dairy farmers, over time reached out to and pursued a variety of minority groups moving into South Philadelphia. In the early days, the church grew out of its mission to the Jewish population, but continued embracing other ethnic groups in its ever-changing community.

Resources for research on Meadow Presbyterian Church:

Campbell Collection v.25, p.2.  Newspaper clipping from The Public Ledger dated January 22, 1900 which discusses the Dedication of Mizpah Church. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Hammonds, Kenneth A.  Historical Directory of Presbyterian Churches and Presbyteries of Greater Philadelphia.  Philadelphia: Presbyterian Historical Society, 1993.

Minutes of the General Assembly in The Presbyterian Church U.S.A 1895. Philadelphia: MacCalla & Company Inc., 1895. p. 647.

Minutes, 1894-1961. Mizpah Presbyterian Church. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Historical Society.

Minutes, 1961-1995. Mizpah Presbyterian Church. Philadelphia: Presbytery of Philadelphia.

The Presbyterian. June 23, 1899.

The Presbyterian Journal. July 5, 1899.

Register, 1894-1961. Mizpah Presbyterian Church. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Historical Society.

White, William P.  The Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia.  A Camera and Pen Sketch of Each Presbyterian Church and Institution in the City.  Philadelphia: Allen, Lane & Scott, 1895.

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