FAITH IN ACTION FOR 250 YEARS

A WALK THROUGH HISTORY

1843 The Guild of Bellringers at St. Peter’s goes on strike for higher pay. They receive $1 a year. This is believed to be the first strike by workers in the United States.

1843 Francis Gurney Smith, the accounting warden, plants chestnut trees along the churchyard walks.

1844 Three chairs crafted from the wood of the original roof are added to the chancel.

1844 The nativist anti-Catholic riots break out in the city, which has seen an influx of famine Irish in the last three years. Accused of trying to bring St. Peter’s into the Roman fold, Dr. Odenheimer writes “The True Catholic, No Romanist: A vindication of the apostolicity and independence of the holy catholic church in England and the United States” in defense of the Episcopal Church and apostolic succession.

1848 A major renovation of St. Peter’s is undertaken. Thomas U. Walter, the architect for both Girard College and the U.S. Capitol dome, designs improvements to the stairs to the gallery. The church is closed “until further notice” during the renovation (July and August). Gallery stairs were only at the east end; they were rebuilt in 1896.

1859 The Dorcas Society is founded to provide work for neighborhood women to make clothes. The area around St. Peter’s had been in decline for several years, although Dr. Odenheimer had been able to more than double the number of communicants to 488 and increase giving. More wealthy families began moving west of Eighth Street and north of Walnut Street.

1860 The Rev. George Leeds becomes seventh rector of St. Peter’s when Bishop Odenheimer is consecrated Bishop of New Jersey, replacing George Washington Doane, who had been consecrated at St. Peter’s Church.

1861 Confederate forces fire on Fort Sumter, S.C., and the Civil War begins. Living in what is called “the most Southern of Northern cities,” many Philadelphians, with family ties and economic dependence on the South, are less than enthusiastic about the struggle.

1861 The centennial of St. Peter’s Church is observed on Wednesday, Sept. 4, with Bishop DeLancey preaching. The church has 488 communicants, exceeding membership of parent Christ Church for the first time, according to Christ Church, Philadelphia (1995).

 


The tower under construction in 1842 to house the gift of bells from Benjamin Chew Wilcocks.

Sept. 7: The cross that is to be on the top of the Steeple of St. Peter's Church was put up yesterday for an experiment, it is to be gilt.... There has been a grand debate in the Vestry as to whether there should be a Cross, or a Vane on the top: Some objected to the Cross because they said it would have the appearance of a Catholic Church, while Mr. Odenheimer [the rector] argued that the Cross was the symbol of Christianity throughout the world and was not that of a particular denomination; and it would seem that he has had it his own way. —Diary of Thomas P. Parry, 1842

An initiative that began not long after the Rev. Dr. William Odenheimer became rector in 1839 was to procure new bells for the church.  At the June 8, 1841, vestry meeting, a committee was formed (Messrs. Joseph Sims, Lawrence Lewis and Francis Gurney Smith) to explore the "expediency & cost” of new bells for the church cupola. By September of 1841 they had prices for a chime of eight bells from Thomas Mears’s Whitechapel Foundry in London (where the Liberty Bell was made) as well as for a single bell. The committee members proposed that the chime could be installed in the existing cupola, but it was determined that purchasing them at that time would be “inexpedient.”

At a special meeting on Dec. 29, it was announced by vestryman Joseph Reed Ingersoll that on Christmas Day his brother-in-law, Benjamin Chew Wilcocks, had offered to donate a chime of six bells to the church. (Two more bells came in 1844.) The vestry was delighted with the gift, but the problem was where to put the massive bells. The idea of a new tower attached to the west end of the building arose, and the architect, William Strickland, and his plan were promptly chosen.

Strickland was selected, his plan for a “turret” was approved on Feb. 10, 1842, work began quickly, and by Aug. 25 the bells had arrived from London. In June, a new proposal was approved for a spire atop the tower; the influence of Francis Gurney Smith is again evident in pushing for a highly visible marker on the city skyline.

The most controversial problem for the vestry came when it was proposed in August to put a ball and cross atop the spire. A vote was taken, and the 12 lay members of the vestry were evenly divided; it was Odenheimer, the rector, who cast the deciding vote in favor of the cross.

In the beginning

The 18th Century

The 19th Century

The 20th Century

The People of St. Peter's

The Choir

Mission and Outreach

Did You Know?

The Next 250

The Hero of Tripoli

The Book