Church History

Rapid population growth in 18th century Philadelphia led to overcrowding in churches clustered around the city’s commercial center, High Street (now Market Street), and surrounding residential neighborhoods. To “ease” the problem for the city’s Presbyterians, the Proprietors of Pennsylvania, Thomas and Richard Penn, sons of William, granted a land parcel at the then remote corner of 4th and Pine Streets to seven congregants of the First Presbyterian Church. This parcel of land would be the place to establish a new burial ground and to build a new church, the Third Presbyterian Church. Designed by Robert Smith and built between 1766 and 1768, the church was a masterpiece of simple but elegant colonial architecture, based on Smith’s design for the neighboring St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. Unlike St. Peters, however, the Presbyterians at Old Pine began a series of revisions to the church building which lasted well into the 20th century.

 

By 1837 the interior was redesigned to raise the roof to allow the sanctuary to be moved to  a new second floor location. The entrance to the new sanctuary was provided by twin exterior staircases from Pine Street to a new second level porch and “front” door. The colonial windows were replaced by double story windows at the sanctuary level, and the entire exterior was stuccoed. Also by this time, a cast iron fence mounted on marble bases was built along Pine Street. This composition was finalized under the brilliant hand of noted architect, John Fraser, in 1857. Fraser designed a stone belt course at the second floor level to better define the sanctuary level, and then designed the magnificent Corinthian octastyle portico, pilasters on side walls and a new plan for the sanctuary. While the alterations to the exterior of the building ceased at this point, the interior underwent further redesign in 1867 and again in 1952.

 

As the building was evolving over time, so was the congregation. Third Church merged with the Holland-Scots Church in 1953, and again with the Eastburn Mariners’ Bethel Church in 1958. Old Pine’s corporate name became Third, Scots and Mariners’ Church, but the name Old Pine has survived since its founding.

 

Old Pine  Street Church is the only Presbyterian church in Philadelphia resting on its colonial foundation. Remarkably, much of Old Pine’s colonial architecture can be observed today with a little effort, including the original roof with its wood shingles, the roof trusses designed by Robert Smith and the roundel window within the original pedimented frontispiece.