By Charles E. Peterson, FAIA
When the tall brick walls of Christ Church rose above the
modest streets of Quaker Philadelphia, it must have been the
architectural sensation of its time. In less than fifty years the town
site had been hacked out of a forest with only scattered clearings by
the early Swedes and the Dutch. But already in 1727 the parish fathers
were emulating the great works of Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas
Hawksmoor in faraway London. Today we have no eyewitness description of
this monumental project under way and only a fragmentary knowledge of
its progress. But what we do have is interesting.
The grant of Pennsylvania to William Penn in 1680 seemed to
guarantee the right for the Bishop of London to send “any Preacher or
Preachers to reside within the Province without any denial or
molestation whatsoever.”2 The Church of England would be
free to establish itself peacefully and grow among the Quakers. That,
however, did not prove to be the case.
The first Anglican to invest heavily in the new colony was Nicholas
More, a “practitioner of physick” in London. More was elected president
of the Free Society of Traders in Pennsylvania.3 Crossing
the Atlantic in his own ship with some sixty “servants” skilled in
useful trades, he set up a waterside headquarters at Little Dock Creek
on the Philadelphia waterfront with a sort of industrial park in
Frankford. Though appointed to high offices by Proprietor Penn, More
quickly ran into opposition from established Philadelphia residents. In
contrast to the myth of “The Peaceable Kingdom” where lions and lambs
were pictured lying down together, an examination of the documents of
the period reveals a brawling frontier town. The feisty More before
long retired to his huge “Mannor of Moreland” and died there, quite
likely of frustration.
In the following decade Colonel Francis Nicholson, governor, in turn, of both Maryland and Virginia4, and admiralty judge Robert Quarry5
gave local Anglicans strong support. By the summer of 1700, a first
church had been completed at a cost of some £600 and already needed
The First Church
A great parchment in the Christ Church records attests to the fact
that the building site, which fronted one hundred feet on Second
Street, was bought in 1695. Only a stone’s throw from the little
courthouse in the middle of High Street, it was land which had first
been granted to Lasse Cock, a pioneer Swedish trader. The first church
was begun in the following year. On January 18, 1698, three Anglican
carpenters certified that the structure was complete.7 However, as late as December, a letter to London reported “the church is unglazed, making it unusable in winter.”8
From the manuscript Journal, which begins in the year 1708,
we can learn something of the original frame structure which had a
shingled roof and was enclosed with the churchyard graves behind a
wooden fence with a padlocked gate. Not unlikely, it was designed by
carpenter John Harrison, a parishioner who soon afterwards built Old
Swede’s south of town and whose name appears frequently in the Christ
Church records.9 By 1709 there was a freestanding (?)
belfry, generally out of repair, housing a “Great Bell and a little
bell” which were rung on “publick Rejoysing days.”
Inside, the church was paved with brick and had a gallery. There
were two additions made: one in 1711, perhaps a transept like Old
Swede’s, for which 37,110 bricks were laid by John Redman, including
1,500 “blew headers” which denotes the then popular Flemish bond
pattern for brick walls. As to windows, it was recorded that there were
two oval casements at each end-east and west.10 For
lighting, a Mrs. Crapp was paid six shillings for two brass
sconces--perhaps the two that are still on the premises. Two
candlesticks assisted at the pulpit.
Separately, there were a parsonage or minister’s house with a stable
and water pump, a schoolhouse, and, after 1719, the distant burying
ground that survives at the corner of Fifth and Arch streets.11
The new church
First Campaign (1727-1732)
The Vestry Minutes, which begin only in the year 1717, soon reveal
the need for a larger church “to Accomodate divers New Settlers and
other well wishers to the Church who are forced either to stay at home
or frequent dissenting Congregations for want of Seats.” A steeple with
a set of bells was envisioned. Thereupon, an additional twenty-foot
strip of land was acquired to the north and a subscription book opened.
Although there is no record of it, the design for a new building must
have been approved by the spring of 1727 when the vestry resolved to
build the first thirty-three feet of a wholly new structure.12
This took the extraordinary form of a monumental addition to the west
end of the small existing church, the latter continuing in use for some
In all of this the Philadelphia physician Dr. John Kearsley was to
play a conspicuous part.13 A pew holder from 1717, vestryman from 1719,
and a member of the building subscription committee from 1721, the
impatient doctor in the spring of 1727 “out of a hearty desire to have
the sd Work begun” agreed to pay the workmen himself until
the subscriptions came in. In less than three weeks the new church was
Construction was begun before all the funds were in hand. A letter of May 4, 1728, to the Bishop of London admitted as much
. . . we are engaged in carrying on a very large Addition to our
church and a Stone Steeple, the expense of which we are not able to
bear without Assistance from abroad. But by your Lordship’s Countenance
& Favor, and the Influence of our Reverend Minister, we chearfully
hope to see this good Work compleated . . .14
A few weeks later it was explained that, unlike the established
Church of England, Pennsylvania public money was not available, “the
government here being in the hands of professed Quakers.”15
In this writer’s opinion, while the written evidence has not been
found, money from London found its way into Dr. Kearsley’s hands.
Unfortunately, “Dr. Kearsley’s Book” recording the business of
construction is missing. But good progress may be assumed from the fact
that on September 7, 1730--with winter coming on--the vestry ordered
that the windows be glazed with “all Expedition.”
Many items concerning building materials and construction do appear
in the Journal for this period, but they are only a small fraction of
what it took to build. No description of the great brick fabric rising
can be found today, though bricklayer Thomas Boude, soon to be
undertaking major work on the State House, appears in several small
items for paving at the church. Daniel Harrison must have done a major
part of the carpentry and joinery; his bill was contested as excessive.
There are items for turning and hauling the interior columns (no names
given). The payment of 2s6d in April of 1728 for a riggers man “at
Raising ye Church” indicated that the roof framing was already up.16 There were expenses for building a gallery and an organ must have been in place by the summer of 1729 when the Journal
shows payments to “the Dutch Organist” and “the Irish Organist” as well
as to an “Organ blower.” But work seems to have continued all through
the 1730’s. William Bradley was glazing the windows in this period and
Gustavius Hesselius, the Swedish artist, was paid in three installments
for painting (1736-37) and Daniel Harrison for “Flooring the Belfrey”
and “Shingling the Steeple.”
The latter was probably a small structure riding the ridge line and
carrying a clock as noted there by traveler Peter Kalm in 1748:
The English established church stands in the northern part of the
town, at some distance from the market, and is the finest of all. It
has a small, insignificant steeple, in which a bell is rung when it is
time to go to church, and at burials. It has likewise a clock which
strikes the hours. This building, which is called Christ Church, was
founded towards the end of the last century, but has lately been
rebuilt and more adorned. It has two ministers who get the greatest
part of their salary from England.17
We have no image of the “insignificant steeple” reported by Kalm. It
is possible that it was removed and stored by architect/builder Robert
Smith who built the present steeple in 1753 and then re-erected on St.
Peter’s Church in 1758-59.18
There are no vestry minutes for the period October 6, 1732, to May 25, 1735.19
But years later, Dr. John Kearsley divided the overall construction
program into three parts. In the shaky hand of old age, he wrote of the
The Expence in Laying the Foundation of the Church and Steeple from
its westernmost Boundaries to the Second Column Eastward, Containing 2
Windows and a Large Door on Each Side with the windows at the End,
Including the Key Stones, imposts, window Stools & Proper Ornaments
with the west Gallery and north & South Galleries Extending from
the Said west Gallery Eastward to the aforsd Second Column wt Proper Seats & Pulpit within that Space made of Stuff and Rough 1/2 priced Boards for Present use . . .20
For several years the church must have presented a most ungainly
sight: the grand, tall new west end done in elaborate brickwork joined
to the little old wooden church still abutting Second Street. But to
the eyes of those lately come from the old country the incongruities of
ancient churches built in installments at different periods and in
different styles this would not have been unusual.
Second Campaign (1735-1740)
In the meantime the original church had fallen into a ruinous state and a fund drive to replace it was started.21
In the spring of 1735 it was agreed to complete the exterior of the new
building as soon as work on the western galleries was paid for and the
scaffolding taken down.22 Among the decorative features then
on hand were the big urns for the eaves balustrade and gables which Dr.
Kearsley had already imported from England.23
A new subscription book traces the fund-raising campaign which began
May 7, 1739, with a pledge of £50 by Governor George Thomas. It noted
that “the Body of the new church on the outside was almost finished”
and that the foundation of a steeple had been laid. Inside, more pews
were much needed.
Most contributions were offered in pounds, doubloons, pistoles, and
johannes. But the offerings in kind were more interesting. Thirteen
subscribers promised to pay “in work,” seven in nails, four each in
lime and boards, two in iron, and one in copper. Carpenters John and
Joseph Thornhill, parishioners, pledged £5 each in work. William
Pyewell promised “to find hair for plaistering ye Church,”
Peter Sonman’s £5 worth of painting and Elizabeth Henmarsh a quantity
of lampblack. The time of payment in some cases was contingent. Several
said they would pay “when seated,” some when the bells arrived. A Mr.
Martin was willing to contribute £5 “when ye Steeple is 60 feet high.”24
Thus it can be seen that the five new bays at the east end,
including the Second Street front, were built in the period 1735-40,
though there is no surge of payments evident in the Journal for
such basic materials as foundation stone, wall brick, or roof timbers.
But it is significant that on July 31, 1740, the Vestry ordered the
pulpit moved to the east end of the church. Dr. Kearsley in his letter
to Dr. Evans (cited above) reported that this second phase of
construction “Rebuilding & carrying on the Body and East End of the
said Church” cost to build £1229.6.9--roughly only one-third more than
had the west end.
Third Campaign, Completion (beginning 1741)
By the spring of 1741 there was admitted “a necessity for Finishing the Church”25
and in July a committee consisting of Dr. Kearsley, Thomas Leech, and
William Maugridge was appointed to that task. In attempting to line up
mechanics for the final program they reported that the two Thornhills,
the only Church of England carpenters available, “would cheerfully
serve the Church in this particular but that they were not acquainted
with that [sort of] work to engage alone in it, but if any other
Capable workman could be had they would act in Conjunction to the best
of their power.” Carpenter John Nicholas (religious affiliation not
specified) was thereupon admitted to the building team.26
But at this point even the redoubtable Dr. Kearsley’s patience seems to have worn through. He thereupon
delivered in a petition to this Vestry greatly Complaining, that he
had served his congregation ever since the Year 1727, as Trustee and
Overseer in Carrying on & rebuilding this Church & that in the
Compass of full five Years of that time he had Given daily attendance
without any Relaxation from that Service, in Which he had greatly
neglected his private affairs, and undergone Much Fatigue, and had
always been in advance large sums of mony Some part of which he
Conceives, has not been Discharged to this day, for all which he has
not received any Consideration, or the least acknowledgement. But in
Stead thereoff has been frequently loaded with Calumny, and ill treated
by Members of the Congregation, and therefore prays his Vestry, will be
pleased to appoint some persons of known ability to audit & Settle
his Accots that he may for the future be acquitted or Condemned of the Calumny thrown upon him.
Such a committee was then convened and the doctor was cajoled into
resuming his superintendence, reporting that already there were missing
several account books and valuable papers that should be turned in and
lodged in a chest.27
Again, the principal records for this period have been lost but there are substantial entries in the Journal
for carpenter work by John Thornhill, Samuel Reed/Reeves, and John
Nicholas and joinery by Daniel Harrison. The celebrated Thomas Godfrey,28
working as a humble glazier on the old window glass (which was set in
lead) was employed almost continually through those years. By 1743 the
vestry, evidently growing weary with inconvenience and expense, asked
Dr. Kearsley and Thomas Leech as trustees to complete the building “in
the most Decent and least Expensive manner Possible.” They, however,
took care to give credit for “the Uniformity and Beauty of the
Structure” which was “greatly Owing to the Assiduity, Care, panes and
Labour of him the Said Doctor John Kearsley.”
For this last phase £822.14.9 had been spent, a grand total of £3010.10.0.29
We must agree that the building of Christ Church was indeed a
splendid accomplishment. Today, it is often declared to be our finest
Early American church.
But how can the design be accounted for? While Dr. Kearsley’s
enthusiasm and persistence was obviously an essential factor, it had
not been shown that during his lifetime as a busy physician he ever
drew an architectural line. The making of preliminary sketches to study
effects and of final working drawings to communicate design concepts to
the building mechanics who execute them is essential to architectural
practice. In the case of Christ Church--the main body of the fabric,
this is--there are no references to the preparation of drawings, to
their approval or their presence on the job--let alone their authorship.30 Yet the church couldn’t have been built without them. As will be seen, in the case of the tower/steeple, we are more fortunate.
In the surviving papers there are many names of carpenters and
bricklayers. But what is known of their abilities and accomplishments
elsewhere does not account for the successful character of Christ
Church or the virtuosity of its brickwork. No comparable example is
known in American colonial architecture elsewhere.
The English character of the design is evident. Two English
authorities on Stuart and Georgian church architecture-Marcus Whiffen31 and Kerry Downs32--have
been consulted. They write that while the various design motifs at
Philadelphia are familiar to them, the church as a whole is not a copy
of anything known to have been built in England.33
Of the great Anglican churches erected on these shores, Christ
Church is the fourth--following St. Philips (Charleston, begun 1711),
Christ Church (Salem Street, Boston, begun 1723), and Trinity (Newport,
begun 1725). The basic facts concerning the latter three are just as
mysterious as they are in Philadelphia.34 The writer is
forced to conclude that plans for Christ Church were imported (like its
great urns) by Dr. Kearsley and that the mechanics who laid out the
brickwork and executed it were likewise brought over from England for
the job. They must have returned thence, for nothing quite like our
church was done here again.
The design of Christ Church was certainly fixed by 1727 when the
construction of the west end began. The few architectural pattern books
that were available here at the time do not solve our problem. As is
well known, the Library Company of Philadelphia early on imported
architectural books, but I have found in them nothing more than
scattered ornaments that could have been copied for Christ Church.35
Today it is well known (and agreed) that American carpenters
designed almost all of our earliest buildings. But their competence in
such matters could only cope with relatively simple problems and with
plenty of local precedent to steer by. In the case of Christ Church we
have its elaborate brickwork to account for. It had to be painstakingly
laid out on paper before molding and burning by an experienced hand.
An examination of what is known of early Philadelphia brick makers and bricklayers and their works36
hasn’t revealed any other examples which can match Christ Church in the
variety and success of the varied combinations of purpose-molded brick.
Master bricklayer Thomas Boude’s name appears among those doing minor
jobs on Christ Church properties. He was the contractor for the
competent brickwork of the great State House (Independence Hall) built
very soon afterwards. But the character of his craftsmanship is
different.37 The brickwork of Colonial Virginia is in general the finest produced in America but is clearly of yet another character.38
The expedient of importing skilled mechanics for a specific
job was not unknown here. The fact is recorded in the Pennsylvania
Legislature’s Votes of Assembly that in 1738 money was sent to London
to recruit plasterers (or stuccadores) for the State House, though they
never came over.39 The available church papers in London
have been consulted by American historians, but the correspondence and
reports relating to the Philadelphia enterprise seem to have mostly
disappeared from view, possibly as the result of the trans-Atlantic
political controversies that raged throughout the period of
construction. Or, someone may have borrowed the papers from the London
and Philadelphia archives, intending to write a book-and failed to
return them. In the case of the Christ Church tower/steeple we are more
fortunate, as will be shown below.
Folwell has been called “the Thomas Chippendale of America.” His
well-known bomb‚ or “wine glass” pulpit incorporated elements from five
plates of Batty Langley, the prolific English compiler of architectural
books. Other well-known examples of his work still in existence are the
so-called “Rising Sun” mahogany armchair in the Assembly Chamber of
Independence Hall40 and the decorative case of the
Rittenhouse Orrery at the University of Pennsylvania. The vestry soon
after approved Folwell’s submission, and it was finally agreed to
locate the pulpit in front of the communion table.41 By the
following June the Rector reported that it was well executed and
“unusually admired.” In addition, Jesse Roe made a reading desk
(£20.2.10) and both were painted by Timothy Barrett (£18).42
The Malcolm view of the interior (1787) shows the Folwell pulpit in a central position with a canopy or sounding board overhead.43
Fitting Out the Interior
While this study is focussed on architectural matters it may not be
amiss to take some notice of the interior fixtures, especially the
pulpit and the pews. It is a complicated story involving many changes.
Nothing much is known concerning the character of the earlier
pulpits. We know only that when the west end of the church was first
completed that the pulpit was moved west44 and when the east end was ready it was moved back.45
A new (and present) pulpit was made possible by a special bequest,
and on August 14, 1769, it was directed that “Plans or Draughts” be
procured.46 Ten weeks later a
Plan and Elevation of a Pulpit was produced drawn by Mr. John
Folwell for £70 Pounds--It appeared to all present to be a neat
Performance, and that a Pulpit constructed after that form would be a
proper one. The Place where it should stand was then considered; and it
was thought by some that it might be best stand where it does-But
others thought that if it could be placed so as not to incommode the
Two Ayles, one leading across the Church fronting the Communion Table,
and ye other thru the middle of the Church, it would afford more
Conveniences, and a better Light . . .47
Revenues from the rental of pews made their number and layout a matter both of financial and social concern.48
Well before the Revolution, the Anglicans had definitely become “the congregation of wealth, fashion and position.”49 Where the Governor sat50--and where President George Washington sat51--were
naturally details of great popular interest. The original pews--at
Christ Church now gone for a century and a half-were of the old box
type still to be seen in St. Peter’s on Society Hill. Some of the
congregation could view the pulpit head on, others had to face the back
of the church. Pews filled the galleries, too. We have one curious bit
of information: on the completion of the west end of the church, when
the materials were on hand and the mechanics ready to proceed, it was
decided to increase the width of the “long seats” from 2'8" to 2'9" like those in St. Martin’s, London. How anyone in Philadelphia knew about that detail is not explained.
Today the oldest pewing plan is a crude one which dates from 1751 or
earlier. It covers only the east end of the main floor but seems to
show that on that level there were eighty-six pews altogether. Those on
the window walls were rated to seat six persons, the center pews four,
the others eight--with some variation among those front and center, one
of which was intended “for the Conveniency of Funeralls, the Meeting of
the Clergy, &c.”52 The pews were originally upholstered,
some elaborately. The details would comprise a whole history of Early
American fabrics and decoration.
It was the duty of the Vestry to “regulate” and assign the pews
which were numbered and locked, but not everyone was always satisfied
with the Vestry’s decisions in these matters. “Great Disorders” were
reported in 1745 by the Wardens “through some persons pretending a
right to move one seat Nigher the Pulpit.”53 And when one Oswald Peel broke into his own pew he was in consequence ejected from the congregation.54
In point of date, the second surviving pew layout is a pair of
drawings that represents the period before the Folwell pulpit was
located in the center of the chancel.55 A third set, late
eighteenth century and showing the new pulpit in place, is pasted
inside the back cover of a bound manuscript titled “Christ Church
1785-1800.”56 The pews are numbered but only the Rector’s
and the Governor’s pews are identified by name. Another pair of such
plans (tentatively dated c. 1824) shows further modifications.57
None of these is well drawn in the architectural sense, but we have to
be grateful for them in the absence of anything else in the way of
contemporary floor plans.
In 1795 Christ Church was reputed to have “galleries and convenient pews for one thousand people.”58
The tower and the Steeple
The Tower (1750-1753)
In eighteenth-century Philadelphia the distinction was often made between the tower of a building, generally of masonry, and the steeple or spire--a
lighter wood frame construction which topped it. In the case of Christ
Church the distinction is important because they were designed by
different parties at different times.
Hope for a steeple on Christ Church went back at least to 171759--well before the present edifice was begun--and it appears that the foundations were laid as early as 1727.60
When the body of the church was complete the vestry was reminded
“that it is the zealous inclination of very many inhabitants of this
City to Contribute Handsome Sums of Money towards building a tower or
Steeple for Holding a ring of Bells.”61 Two years later the
church wardens were directed “to consult with Skillful Artichets [sic]
and Workmen and endeavor to get a plan or Draft thereof” together with
an estimate.62 By June of 1746 a plan drawn by a “Mr. Harrison” was adopted and a committee delegated to show it to the Governor.63
But nothing came of it and as late as October 28, 1750, Richard Peters
of Philadelphia advised the Proprietor in England that the view of the
city the latter requested was hardly worth painting “for want of
steeples” on the skyline.64
But the tower/stairhall/steeple of the State House was already six months into construction65
and a Philadelphia artist--John Heap--finally accepted the challenge,
undertook a view as seen from the Jersey shore of the Delaware River
and completed it by September of 1752.
It was May 11 of the next year before a copy was made and shipped off to England,66
and it seems likely that Peters had been waiting for the new design for
Christ Church steeple. In any case the Second Street construction had
started just two weeks earlier as signalled by a cash payment of
scaffolding spars and poles to carry the carpenters and their work high
up into the sky. And so the design as executed could and did appear on
the new engraving, the printing of which was begun in June of 1754.
The engraving, though crudely drawn in detail, corresponds well
enough with the building as it stands today, although it shows clock
faces in the circular windows which today are blank.67
Remarkably, the new engraving showed three steeples. The form
of that one of the State House, started earlier, could have been
ascertained from the architect’s drawings. The steeple of the new
Second Presbyterian Church (which also appears) was not to be erected
for some years. Naturally the publishers were trying to make sure that
their new engraving wouldn’t be quickly out of date.
In the race to put up Philadelphia’s first steeple, Christ Church
began its subscription list three weeks before construction started at
the State House,68 but not until a year later were the managers of the building program asked to proceed.69
From here on we are fortunate to have more or less connected and
comprehensive building records. In the form of a little paperbound
manuscript, neatly copied out in a professional hand, The Steeple Account--for
that is how its labelled on the cover--begins on May 10, 1751, with an
entry in favor of William Pyewell for “Bords and Halling” (£9.14.3).70
The second records rum bought for boat crews bringing in stone. Those
“flattmen” were to consume a lot of the stuff; such treats were
customary here in the eighteenth century. Lime and sand for mortar and
poles for scaffolding were assembled at the site in quantity. Thomas
Childs was in charge of the stone quarry (location not given-perhaps on
Crum Creek which supplied much of early Philadelphia). It is not
generally realized that the foundation of the tower and a large part of
the walls above grade are of stone hidden under a veneer of brick.71
John Grant and John Armstrong cut the stone on the site; it was laid up
by Thomas Ward, stonemason. John Coats, the well-known brickmaker of
Northern Liberties, got £140.19.1 for his product.
John Palmer, bricklayer, was first paid on July 17, 1751, and
continued through until May 29, 1752, when Isaac Roberts got 4s8½d “for
Measuring ye wall” to value Palmer’s work.72 Then it was discovered that there wasn’t enough money on hand to pay the tradesmen.73
In this crisis it was decided to hold a lottery and Benjamin Franklin,
reliable champion of civic progress, was enlisted as a committeeman.74 The lottery did not bring in the whole sum needed so a “Supplement” was mounted with emphasis on acquiring a set of bells.75 By the end of 1753 a set had been ordered from London.76
The design of the brick tower of Christ Church is of
considerable interest as related to that of St. James (Piccadilly), of
Christ Church (Boston), and of Holy Trinity (Newport). In the 1720’s
there were no English “pattern books” offering church designs and few
prints to send across the Atlantic. Remarkably enough, though, there
was an engraving of Wren’s church of St. James, which delineates an
elevation and two floor plans. It could have--and probably
did--influence the American builders. A separate copperplate engraved
by Henry Hulsbergh from drawings made by Anthony Griffen, shows a
certain arrangement of four superimposed masonry openings in the tower
on the entrance side.77 This same distinctive layout appears on all of the three American buildings.
For the building of the brick tower itself, John Thornhill had done the necessary woodwork.78
But he was soon to be joined by another carpenter, a notable figure
whose career was to bridge the gap to the profession of architect.
The Steeple and Robert Smith (1753)
The new star was a young Scottish carpenter only recently arrived in
Philadelphia. Though little known today, he was to create an
outstanding architectural practice extending from Pennsylvania to
Virginia and Rhode Island. He not only built, but he drew plans for
others to build in places he never saw. Participating fully in the
responsibilities of both carpenter and architect--and directing the
work of other trades--he was what historians today call a
“carpenter-architect.” He was also something of the professional who
today we know as “engineer.”
Robert Smith--for that was his name--was born in Dalkeith Parish
near Edinburgh on January 14, 1722, the son of John Smith, a baker.79
How he got to America is not known, but he had appeared in Philadelphia
by February 19, 1749, when carpenter Gunning Bedford and he were asked
for construction proposals for the new Second Presbyterian Church
projected at Third and Arch streets.80 In that period Smith
also worked on the remodelling of the Bush Hill mansion north of the
city for James Hamilton, recently become Governor of Pennsylvania. It
was a substantial project, disbursements to Smith running until July 1,
1751, when he was paid “in full.”81
A year later Smith was at work on Christ Church steeple. He was
possibly introduced there by bricklayer John Palmer; they had worked
together at Bush Hill and at the Presbyterian Church. By the time the
steeple was under construction, Smith was well on his way to success.
He was making drawings for Nassau Hall at Princeton to which village he
soon moved to supervise construction.
Robert Smith’s importance to American colonial architecture prompts
the writer to relate here some of the recent findings about his
background and career.82 It seems likely that he joined with
William Adam, the prominent Scottish architect, while he was working on
the Duchess of Buccleuch’s great country place at Dalkeith in 1740-42.
The work there included a great stone stable and a two-arch bridge over
the South Esk, along with other dependencies of the Duke’s “Palace.” We
can hypothesize that young Smith was picked up as a local carpenter of
promise and taken along with the Adam organization to Edinburgh.
Evidence of that association was to appear shortly in Smith’s American
buildings which repeat Adam designs for cupolas long before they were
William Adam (1689-1748) is described as “the leading Scottish architect of his day.”83
He was a contractor and builder as well and the father of four sons:
John, Robert, James, and William-the middle two of whom became very
celebrated in London. Robert Smith may well have stayed with the group
until William Adam’s death in 1748. Early the next year Smith was in
James Hamilton of Philadelphia visited Britain about that time and
perhaps recruited Smith while there. It was a troubled period in
Scotland, and many were emigrating to the New World. In any case,
Hamilton was a man of wealth and influence and a patron of the arts,
having helped sponsor young Jacob Duché84 (perhaps Philadelphia’s first architectural critic), and Pennsylvania-born painter Benjamin West in Rome.85
As related above, Hamilton was in 1749 remodelling Bush Hill recently
inherited from his father. Though still new, it was extensively worked
over, Smith probably giving it some fashionable touches new to
Philadelphia. Hamilton early on got young Smith, whom he referred to as
“my carpenter,” into the local St. Andrew’s Society, of which he was
President. He also gave substantial donations to the construction of
buildings on which Smith worked: the Second Presbyterian Church
(6/6/1750), Christ Church steeple (12/4/1751), and the Philadelphia
Work at Christ Church picked up again in the spring of 1753 when
poles and spars were bought to erect the steeple or spire. A large
order for cedar lumber went to Job Lippincott, and George Fudge
recapped the brickwork on which the frame would be seated. Progress was
fast. The basic frame, undoubtedly prefabricated on the ground, was up
by July 11 when a cash distribution of 15 shillings was made to the
carpenters. On September 5 “the Coppersmith Boys” got a pourboire of
7s6d, and on October 2 there were two big payments for a collation “at
raising” indicating a really outstanding celebration (£17.2.2½)! There
was yet another by October 30 for “raising the Spindle” (£3.18.3½).
Rigger John Coburn as steeplejack would have been the hero on that
occasion. The last of eighteen payments was made to Robert Smith on
December 19, 1754; his total coming to the large amount of £396.4.6. It
is today his greatest monument.
Other major participants at the steeple were John Rouse, paid
£130.2.0 for ironwork, and Samuel Harding, the eminent wood-carver who
got £12 for the decorative consoles whose human faces night and day
still stare from the steeple in all four directions. As a finale, ten
payments went to William Leech for £59.18.1 worth of painting.87
Although somewhat outside the scope of this study, it may not be
amiss to include here a few notes on the famous bells. The date 1754
was cast on each of the eight. The invoice and bill of lading (together
with “particular directions for hanging them”) was dated August 16,
1754. They came over on the ship Myrtilla, Captain Budden.88
On January 7, 1755, the Pennsylvania Gazette published a financial summary of the steeple project which included the following:
The Pennsylvania Gazette for April 24, 1755, reported that the
musical peal was cast by Lester and Pack, who are at present the
most noted and ingenious artists of that kind in England. They were
hung by Nicholas Nicholson, a native of Yorkshire, in a manner the most
convenient and entirely new. And when a clock for the chimes is added,
which he seems very desirous of, they will be the compleatest sett in
A loose page, unaddressed and undated, still in the archives provides an estimate and an interesting opinion about the tenor
bell. For models ranging from 2800 down to 1600 pounds at 14d per
pound-and including “8 new Wheels Stocks Roles Ropes Clappers Brasses
and fitting” the cost would diminish from £885.2.8 to £512.6.8. Lest
anyone consider this was a simple matter the document includes an
I have found out to oblige you the only Man in all England for
casting and Wtting up Church Bells in the Compleatest Manner Wtt for
hanging and he has given me an Estimate to send you which is as above
being that Church Bells are out of my way upon acc. of Largness and
tuning. The Bell Founder will not undertake ye Job without
the mony is Lodged in some Merchants Hands in London as he shall
approve of to be paid for before the Goods are ship’d for they are
nobodys Money but the person who Orders them and one hundred Guineas
before he Begins them you must not take it Ill Because it’s their way
by every body who employs them and I’ll be bound for his well executing
the same in a Workmanlike Manner. . . .
A news item in the Pennsylvania Gazette for April 24, 1755,
reported that the new bells had just been rung in honor of the
governors Delancy of New York, Shirley of Massachusetts, and Denny of
Pennsylvania on their return from a congress in Alexandria.
The Steeple Rescued (1771)
The proud new steeple was in trouble almost immediately. On November
22, 1756, a special committee was appointed “to examine that part of
the Steeple which is like to be injured by the Weather & to call in
what Tradesmen who they thought proper and agree with them on the best
Terms for having it speedily repaired.”89 Six years later it was ordered that the steeple “be immediately repaired and painted.”90
But nothing was done and by the spring of 1771 the situation had become
alarming. Robert Smith was called back and inspected the problem on May
7. He found the wood sills on top of the brick tower decayed and the
shingle walls leaking. He asked that some of the brickwork be removed
for a closer inspection.91 The vestry pressed him for his attendance at the site, and he reluctantly consented to undertake the work on July 1 or sooner.92
A week later members of the vestry climbed the scaffold with the
architect and were appalled at what they saw. “The Ends of the great
Timbers [were] so rotten as to be a mere Powder, and the other Parts
likewise very much decayed.”93
To signal the start of the repair program on July 3, a large order
of lumber was delivered by Arthur Donaldson. For the first time in the
surviving records of the church there is a clutch of detailed vouchers,
starting with blacksmith Samuel Wheeler’s large bill for furnishing
spikes, nails, screws, and the repair of tools. Thomas Cuthbert
furnished poles and spars for scaffold and hoisting. Wetherill &
Cresson more lumber. Joshua Humphreys oak scantling. John Inglis a
double block and rope. On August 1 Robert Smith wrote that he “shud
be pleased to see some of the Vestry now and then at the Steeple to see
how we go on. I have a very difficult piece of Business. I think it is
more so than any I Ever had before.” How many climbed the dizzy heights
to look is not recorded.
Eden Haydock provided 320¼ lbs. of sheet lead and Arthur Donaldson
supplied shingles already dressed. By October 14 it was all over but
the painting which was done by Barrett & Fling.94 Robert Smith then reported the steeple “as strong as it Ever was.”95
It says a great deal for Smith’s reputation with his contemporaries
that he was called back to correct the errors made in the original
construction of the steeple. The truth of the matter was that
Philadelphia had had no experience with steeples and did not very well
understand their construction. Both those of the State House and the
Presbyterian Church were soon to fail structurally and to be taken down.
We have little direct information on Smith as a person. No portrait
of him is known, not even a description of his appearance. But he was
highly thought of in Philadelphia, and, once launched on his career, he
seems to have got most of the best work in the city. As a designer his
repertoire was limited; his routine cupola, for instance, was repeated
everywhere. His architectural contemporary in New England-Peter
Harrison (1716-1775)96 was more innovative but couldn’t begin to match Smith’s long list of completed works.
Two other immigrant architects came on a little later: Charles Pierre L’Enfant (1754-1825)97 from France and Benjamin Henry Latrobe (1764-1820)98
from England. Neither L’Enfant nor Latrobe succeeded professionally in
Philadelphia. Robert Smith, on the other hand, was well received and
highly employed. He was to make himself a useful place in the
Carpenters’ Company’s affairs and to design their Hall. A few years
after his death there was an exhibition of his drawings (along with
those of his son-in-law William Williams), perhaps the first show of
the kind in America.
In 1805, Owen Biddle, another member of the Company, in publishing his Young Carpenters’ Assistant; or, A System of Architecture Adapted to the Style of Building in the United States
included a carefully engraved plate (No. XLIV) and a tribute to Robert
Smith and Christ Church steeple. “For the justness of its proportions,
simplicity and symmetry of its parts is allowed by good judges to be
equal if not superior in beauty to any Steeple of the spire kind,
either in Europe or America.”99 It remains for us to find the precedent on the other side of the Atlantic.
The upper stories of the steeple can be found in William Adam’s rare collection of plates titled Vitruvius Scoticus
in the design for George Gordon’s Hospital at Aberdeen. The hospital
was built in 1730-32 but without its planned steeple. The engraving of
the plates, a collection of Scottish designs mostly by Adam himself,
had begun about 1727, but the book itself wasn’t published until 1812
by Adam’s grandson William.100
Incidentally, the architectural “eyebrows” with Samuel Harding’s
carved consoles over the clock panel are similar to the ones on St.
Cuthbert’s Church, Edinburgh.101
THE WAR AND AFTER, 1775-1835
Jacob Duché’s Sash Windows
The window panes of Christ Church were originally set in lead cames
in an old-fashioned English way, but through the years the upkeep was a
major expense. The frequent bills of Edward Bradley, the glazier, began
in 1728102 and Thomas Godfrey’s and others in 1736.103
Finally, Anthony De Normandie offered to “repair the Glass & new
lead the Windows for £12 and to maintain them in repair for 5 shillings
a year,” which was agreed to.104
But the old problem continued and by 1773 persons who had seats near
certain windows complained that they could not attend church if they
weren’t immediately repaired.105 The old leaded windows were
thereupon replaced with the vertical-sliding sash types with painted
wooden muntins still to be seen. Young Jacob Duché himself made the
drawings for them.106
The Church Rides Out the War
On June 9, 1777, the “Electric Rod and Conductor” were struck by lightning and made useless.107
It seems in retrospect like an evil portent. War was coming closer to
Philadelphia with the British Army and Navy already on the way to seize
On September 15 the Rector was alarmed to learn that several persons
had got into the steeple and were preparing to take down the bells. It
turned out that Charles Thomson, Secretary to the Continental Congress,
had issued orders to the Commissary of Military Stores. Colonel Flower
was to employ Mr. Worrell, Mr. Allison, and Mr. Evans “or such other
workmen as he may think proper to employ & take down the Bells of
all the publick buildings in the City and Convey them to a place of
Safety.”108 Against some resistance, the eight Christ Church
bells were hauled up to Bethlehem (along with two from St. Peters)
where they were to remain for a year. When the British occupation was
over, the bells were brought back and hung again at public expense.109
After Independence and the establishment of Bishop White, the
weather vane was changed. The new one bore a miter with the following
inscription: “The Right Reverend William White, D.D., consecrated
Bishop of the Episcopal Church of Pennsylvania, February 4, 1787. The
miter is four feet in circumference at the bottom and has thirteen
holes in it, indicative of the number of the original states.”110
The plain painting which has characterized the interior finish in
recent years is quite likely a modern taste, probably originating in
the austerities of the Greek Revival under the hand of Thomas U. Walter
in the 1830’s.
An engraving, our first interior view and probably done about 1787,
portrays elaborate decoration on the chancel walls and ceiling and a
striking guilloche painted on the reveals of the main arches. A
documentary reference to this sort of thing in the church is a loose
manuscript bill from house painter William Fling in 1797 to cover
“Ornamenting the Pillars, Arches & The Work Over the Comunion [sic]
Table And Sham paneling the front of the Gallery . . . £13/2/6.” That
the American taste in church work embraced all kinds of fancy effects,
including graining and marbleizing, is shown on a contemporary bill for
decorating Christ Church, Salem Street, Boston. There the statement of
John Gibbs, the painter, to the wardens for interior work included “ye Cherubims heads & fustoons & Drawing pannells under ye Arches Both Sides.”111
All of this was a substitute for three-dimensional work on carved wood
or molded plaster characteristic of the great London churches. The
Boston ironwork, presumably the chandelier rods, was painted in
“Prussian blew” and picked out in vermilion. Twenty-one books of gold
leaf were also used.112
In respect to such decoration it may be significant that the Swedish
artist Gustavus Hesselius painted the Philadelphia church. We know from
an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette for December,
1740, that he was capable of such work as “Coats of Arms drawn on
Coaches, Chaises, &c. or any other kind of Ornaments, Landskips,
Shew-boards, Ship and House Painting, Gilding of all Sorts, Writing in
Gold or Colour.” Hesselius’ contemporary work in the State House was on
a larger scale.113
A generation later it was reported that the roof was leaking and that the church wanted “white-washing and new Painting.”114
The vestry decided to take advantage of the scaffolding erected for the
white-washers to have the woodwork redone. Anthony De Normandie turned
in an estimate of £65 for work to include gilding in the chancel and “ye Paintings on the Arch [vault? which] would like wise want to be mended & cleaned.”115
That De Normandie was capable of elaborate decoration can be seen in
the records of his work at the stylish mansion of General John
Cadwallader on South Second Street. There his work included painting in
unusual colors (green and yellow), mahogany graining, gold leaf and
Enclosing the Churchyard
The grand new edifice called for something better than the old
wooden fence, and by the spring of 1756 Committeeman George Okill had a
brick wall under way with the intent of incorporating an iron palisade
or clairvoyee along the Second Street front.117 Early on,
presumably urged by property owners on Church Alley in the rear, there
was a demand for a passage across the south edge of the graveyard. This
shortcut was later encouraged by the offer of £100 by Hugh Roberts and
Attwood Shute. It was agreed that the new “Common and Public alley or
foot way” should be six and a half feet wide.118 The work of
enclosure was completed by bricklayer George Fudge, only after Okill’s
death, though not without a dispute over its cost.119
In a sense this walling marked the first completion of the Church.
In the years following the planning and building of St. Peter’s Church
(begun 1758); St. Paul’s, Third Street (begun 1760); and St. John’s,
Northern Liberties (begun 1764) must have taxed the energy and purse of
After the war the enclosures come in for further work and on March 26, 1793, a subscription list was opened with the preamble:
Whereas the ruinous condition of the Gates & Wall inclosing
Christ Church must strike the notice of every Member of said Church,
and excite a wish to have the same put into a decent situation; which
has by no means escaped the attention of the Rector, Church Wardens
& Vestry, who have been lead to examine into a state of the Church
Funds, but to their no small regret, find them altogether inadequate to
carry into effect that desirable & necessary Repair. . . .120
The eminent financier Robert Morris led off the subscribers with a
contribution of twenty dollars, followed by his business partner,
Thomas Willing, (ten dollars) and a list of generous citizens. Work was
evidently soon under way when John Robbin in June of 1794 submitted a
substantial bill for work done along the south side of the churchyard
and at Church Alley.121
But the notable new feature was the fine ironwork along Second
Street. On September 1, 1797, Samuel Wheeler, the master blacksmith,
was paid the large sum of £264.15.2 for the balance due him “for Iron
Gates and other Iron Work.”122 The gates in the iron palisade are still in use; they are signed and dated “S. Wheeler, 1795.”
Thomas U. Walter’s Work
There is a vast record relating to the maintenance of Christ Church
in the nineteenth century that needs to be studied to get a picture of
changing styles in interior decoration. For instance, the 1828 bid of
painter John Kenworthey who agreed
to paint the woodwork inside of the Church two coats Gild the Organ
pipes and ornamental work on the Organ. letter the tablits in Gold,
Gild such ornamental work near the communion as may want it and Gild
& paint the chandelier chain and ornament in the Ceiling for Five
hundred and forty Dollars123
The tendency has been towards plainer effects in later years.
But there were more basic problems. As the musical program of the
church developed, the weight of the organ increased and space for the
choir in the west gallery became crowded. As early as 1773 Robert Smith
had been asked to inspect its supporting “Pillars” but he pronounced
them sufficient.124 Two years later some church members
had associated themselves for their mutual Improvement in singing
along with the Organ and it was thought by him and several others that
if a seat could be conveniently built in the west gallery on the Front
of the Organ that would hold this little Society of Singers that part
of the Church Service would be performed to very great advantage125
The result was that small columns were indeed added to support the galleries.
In 1818 a special committee was appointed to examine the galleries
and make suggestions to “render them more convenient to the occupants
& tend to increase the church funds.”126 Two years later another committee was appointed to consider enlarging the organ loft “to make it more commodious for a Choir.”127 But these needs had to wait a dozen more years.
An extensive program of rehabilitation and change got under way in
1832 beginning with the notion of substituting a coal-burning furnace
for the four stoves then in use128 and the enlargement of
the “organ loft” to seat a choir and as well as orchestra. Carpenter
Daniel Knight proceeded with the latter project to suit the committee
on music but his work seems to have raised architectural objections.
Architect Thomas U. Walter, recently become famous by winning the Girard College competition, was then engaged.129
He presented his recommendations in a comprehensive letter of April 29,
1834. The conversion of the colonial-style exclusive “box” pews with
locks to the more democratic “slip” pews was approved. But the
conservative and sentimental element of the congregation had to be
assured and Walter wrote:
You further requested me to suggest such other improvements as would
tend to the comfort of the congregation, and the beauty of the house;
this, to me, is by no means an unpleasant duty, I have often looked
with regret at the many innovations on the original purity of the
architecture of Christ Church, and it affords me pleasure to think,
that there is some hope of its restoration to its pristine beauty.
He proposed that the organ be moved backwards with some of the
mechanical elements actually penetrating the tower structure to the
west.130 But he rejected the idea of lowering the ceiling
for acoustical reasons and to save heating costs as well as a suggested
extension of the galleries all the way to the eastern wall.
The problem of light for the great Palladian window got special attention:
The eastern window opening into the chancel, is altogether useless
for purposes of light, and must be a great annoyance to the
congregation, yet it is of importance to the Architecture to retain it,
this may be done and its inconvenience avoided, by placing permanent
blinds each slat to be so wide as to prevent any possibility of seeing
thro’ from any attainable position in the house--by this means, all the
glare of light may be destroyed and the beauty of the window preserved.
I also suggest the propriety of making an additional sash in the
window, on the outside of the blinds for the purpose of keeping out the
noise from Second Street.131
Walter’s recommendations for a heating furnace in the cellar was abreast of the new mechanical comforts of the period.132
Construction work proceeded under a contract with the architect
himself and was completed late in the autumn of 1836 at a considerable
overrun in cost. Lacking drawings and specifications for the job, it is
now hard to say exactly what was done. Besides the large orders for
lumber, the highest paid mechanics were D. R. and R. T. Knight,
contracting carpenters ($2,657.43), and George Wise & Co., painters
But one project led to another and work was soon extended to the
exterior. The advancing technology of the times made it possible to use
copper sheets on the main roof and steeple, hydraulic cement mortar for
the most exposed brickwork of the tower, and a more permanent substitute133
for Dr. Kearsley's wooden urns--by then decaying-which were finished
off, along with the eaves balustrade, with sanded paint. The weather
vane was newly gold-leafed and fitted with “friction rollers which
cause it to point true with a very light wind.”
The Walter work drew some unfavorable notice in subsequent years.
His personal diary has recently come to light. To it he confided (October 22, 1835) he wasn’t really sympathetic to the job.
Visited Christ Church . . . nearly completed. The architecture is
very Sad-always been over rated. I don’t like the idea of preserving
disreputable antiquities, only because they are old. Greece, Rome &
England have all antiquities to look at that far exceed the genious of
the present day; these are well worth preserving.134
A little later Benson J. Lossing, that indefatigable surveyor of
historic sites, was happy to find the exterior of the church unchanged.
And in the churchyard, standing amidst its graves, he felt that an
American could sense that he was on consecrated ground. But he wrote:
“the interior has been greatly changed by that iconoclast improvement--that breaker of images which patriotism delights to worship.”135
By 1854 the organ was felt to be crowding the west gallery and the
vestry authorized it to be cut back into the stone wall of the tower.
At that time the church was in need of repainting and one thing led to
another. It was decided to remove the curtains and blinds at the great
Palladian window and glaze the inner sash with “a plain enamelled
Glass, that would admit an agreeable subdued light.”136
Further changes were made in the chancel: the pulpit was moved back to
the middle; the canopy removed and a “Rich Walnut” graining applied to
it and the pews. A clear photograph of 1860 illustrates the results
which also included classic revival foliage in panels painted on the
chancel wall and arched ceiling.137
The introduction of Gibson’s fashionable stained glass and dark
woodwork seems to have stirred up an antiquarian reaction. By 1861 a
parish committee on Library and Relics reported that they had
“discovered quite a number of interesting relics, that without timely
care will be destroyed.” On February 17, 1864, there was a long
committee report concerning the pews traditionally used by Benjamin
Franklin and George Washington138 and considering what might
be done to preserve their identity. The committee included vestryman
(and ink manufacturer) Joseph E. Hover, who built a scale model of the
church which has fortunately survived.139
In 1867 the church was lit by gaslight for the first time, but care
was taken to restore the old “central chandelier,” returning it to its
original position. On December 4, 1872, the Committee on Relics
reported a minor triumph to the Vestry when the wooden portrait in low
relief of George II--originally mounted over the Palladian window on
the east front--was returned from the Philadelphia Library which had
preserved it for years.
Abetting the parish antiquarians was the rising interest in historic
landmarks of national dimensions. A literature addressed to what we now
call “tourism” began at an early date as a new function was added to
the house of worship.
At random, Edmund Hogan’s Prospect of Philadelphia, 1795 (p. 31), gives a brief historical notice allowing it to be a “beautiful church.” Carey and Hart, Philadelphia in 1830-1 . . . A Complete Guide for Strangers
(p. 37) notes it as “one of the most ancient and certainly not the
least striking or beautiful religious edifices in this city.” Thomas T.
Ash and Co., Lions of Philadelphia . . . a Pocket Cicerone for Strangers
(1837) allows Christ Church a very scant notice but predicts that “It
will soon become a point of attention to strangers” by reason of an
elegant marble monument then proposed to memorialize Bishop White. R.
A. Smith, Philadelphia as It Is in 1852, Being a Correct Guide (p. 282-3) allowed the steeple to be “a graceful piece of architecture” and the Queen Anne silver “very interesting.”
At cross purposes to the antiquarian pursuits was a functional wing
built in 1871. A contract was made with Robert B. Blake, builder, to
construct “a certain building for school and parish purposes” according
to plans prepared by architect Henry Augustus Sims.140 This
was actually connected to the body of the church at the northwest
corner and stood until a separate parish house was erected years later.
The Centennial of 1876 brought great crowds to Philadelphia and in
the words of Bishop William Bacon Stevens “tens of thousands visited
old Christ Church, the great historic temple of the Protestant
Episcopal Church, to see the place where Washington and his companions
worshipped, where Franklin and his family attended service.”141
THE HEWITT RESTORATION
The crowds at the 1876 Centennial made Philadelphia more
tourist-conscious and the next year Rector Edward A. Foggo recommended
that Christ Church be kept open daily for private devotions and to
recognize “the praiseworthy curiosity of strangers in the city.”
The church was soon planning its own centennial--that of the
formation of the Episcopal Church in America. George W. Hewitt,
Philadelphia architect, was called in as early as December 7, 1881.142
Architect Hewitt’s mission was to restore the church to the period 1783
and for this he offered his services without compensation for his
“labors and plans.” A committee worked with him and plans and
specifications were offered for approval on February 1, 1882. Work
proceeded over the summer and the church was reopened on November 8
with forty clergymen present and a crowded congregation.143
Rector Foggo in a sermon preached on November 11 rejoiced that the
church was again “beautiful in its stately simplicity [and] its walls
free from gaudy and meritricious coloring” and was grateful that when
the church Centennial convened the next year it would find “very much
the old building as it then stood.”
THE LAST ONE HUNDRED YEARS
Over the years all church fabrics, especially those churches
with steeples, have their troubles-large and small. On May 28, 1908,
the top of the Christ Church steeple was destroyed by fire.
Fortunately, there were measured drawings to go by and it was replaced
by John Duncan, carpenter and builder.144
But the hazard of fire was never forgotten.
To celebrate the 225th anniversary of the founding of the parish, an
historical symposium was held in 1920 and the commemorative volume
edited by Louis C. Washburn reported progress including six new
monumental stained glass windows made in London by the firm of Heaton,
Butler and Bayne.145 A parish house had been built across American Street to which the church heating apparatus was moved.146 At that time it was hoped that the churchyard could be extended some forty-five feet north to Filbert Street147 and that was subsequently done.
A large area of landscaping to the south became possible with the
creation of the Independence National Historical Park. The Park, a
great project undertaken by the Federal Government (along with the
Independence Mall carried out by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania) was
intended to protect Independence Hall and other historic buildings in
the area. The movement began during World War II when European cities
were ablaze under air raids. Immediately afterwards Congress created a
Philadelphia National Shrines Park Commission under the adroit and
tireless chairmanship of the late Judge Edwin O. Lewis. This led to the
establishment of the Park itself, and by March of 1951 one hundred and
twenty-five parcels of land were under acquisition. It was from the
first intended to incorporate Christ Church as a separate but important
part of the Park.
On December 27, 1950, there was concluded an agreement between the
U.S. Department of the Interior (Oscar L. Chapman, Secretary) and the
Rector, Church Wardens, and Vestrymen of Christ Church (E. A. de
Bordenave and W. Beaumont Whitney signing) which recognized the Church
“as possessing national significance because of its high place in
American architectural history and its intimate connection with the
personages and events associated with the establishment of this
Nation.” There was no thought of acquiring title to the church itself
but only to clear out for fire protection a narrow strip of land
alongside Church Alley-known as “Project E” to the park planners.
Awareness of that hazard had already caused the church to install a
comprehensive set of piping on the exterior which would envelop the
structure in a protective curtain of water in case of emergency. Before
the original plan could be carried out, the church, led by Rector
Ernest A. Harding, prevailed on the National Park Service to acquire
more land and to clear it all the way to Market Street. To the west,
however, resistance by property owners alongside Grindstone Alley
stopped the clearance short of that ancient passageway.148
Two dozen years ago it was discovered that the low roofs on both
sides of the church were in danger of collapse and corrective measures
were quickly taken but at great expense.149 At that time the
strength of the galleries came under suspicion and their capacities
were sharply limited. In 1974 an historical-structural-architectural
study was made which led to the reinforcement of the galleries, the
addition of fire stairs concealed in the northeast sector and other
safety measures. The church was thus prepared to play an important part
in the national Bicentennial of 1976.150
1. The author acknowledges that this essay carries on the work of others: The Reverend Benjamin Dorr, A Historical Account, New York and Philadelphia, 1841; Louis C. Washburn, Christ Church, Philadelphia, a Symposium, Philadelphia, 1924; and Robert W. Shoemaker in Historic Philadelphia, Philadelphia, 1953. Each made his contribution.
2. William Stevens Perry, ed., Historian’s Collections Relating to the American Colonial Church, AMS Press, New York, 1969, II, 5.
3. The Society’s Charter was dated March 25, 1682. It has been
printed in facsimile by the Friends of Nicholas More. More first came
to our attention when Penn in 1687 published in London More’s
enthusiastic letter extolling the wonders of the new Colony.
Republished in 1982 by the Pennsylvania Bar Association.
4. Nicholson left his mark in laying out Annapolis and Williamsburg. In the latter capital he named two streets after himself.
5. Quarry Street near Christ Church named after him existed until recently.
6. Perry, II, 16. Edward Portlock to the Archbishop of Canterbury.
7. Carpenter John Harrison was one of the three. Also signing was
Thomas Stapleford who was paid for joiner’s work as late as 1711. The
third was carpenter Robert Snead from Jamaica. Charles Penrose Keith
“The Founders” in Louis C. Washburn, Christ Church, Philadelphia, 1925. pp. 98-100. Today we can regret that the designer’s name does not appear as such in the records.
8. Letter, Bridge to Secretary, Narragansett, December 2, 1707
(partly illegible). Washington, Library of Congress, Christ Church,
9. Old Swede’s Church, Gloria Dei at Wiccao, just south of
Philadelphia, was begun just as the first Christ Church was completed.
Still standing, it is the oldest known structure within modern
Philadelphia. Both churches were probably designed by John Harrison,
Sr. Dr. Moss shares the opinion that the two churches may have looked
much alike, the difference being that the former was built of brick.
See Roger W. Moss, Jr., “The Origins of The Carpenters’ Company of
Philadelphia,” Building Early America, Radnor, 1976, pp. 38-39.
10. Cash Journal, Christ Church, various entries.
11. The Journal and Vestry Minutes (VM), while listing payments for materials and workmen, do not always identify which building was being referred to.
A progress report from Evan Evans the minister in Philadelphia dated
November 3, 1705, notes that “. . . The Schoolmaster is arrived &
yE Schoolhouse finished, & a house for yE Minister is
now in building, & will be ready before Christmas. There is no
glebe but one Lott laid out for a Garden. The great charge that the
Number of yE Church have been at in building those two structures has
incapacitated them for yE present to buy any more land. . . .” London,
Lambeth Palace Library, S.P.G. Papers, Vol. XV (1702-1707), No. 89.
On May 21, 1711, Governor Gookin wrote from Philadelphia that while
the new additions to the church would be finished in two or three
months that it would still be too small. S.P.G. Papers, Vol. XV, No.
12. William Stevens Perry, The History of the American Episcopal Church, 1587-1883, Boston, 1885, p. 237. The cornerstone was laid by the Honourable Patrick Gordon, Governor of Pennsylvania, on April 27, 1727.
13. Dr. Kearsley (1684-1772) was a native of County Durham, England.
Nothing is known of his education or professional training. According
to his obituary (Pennsylvania Gazette, January 16, 1772), he
came to Pennsylvania in 1711. One is tempted to believe that he had
been living in London where he could have studied the city churches of
Wren (Surveyor General to the Crown until 1718). Kearsley was elected
to the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1726 and in 1730 was appointed one of
the committee of three to direct the expenditure of £2,000 on the new
“Stadt house” (Independence Hall). In planning the latter project he
soon fell into conflict with Speaker Andrew Hamilton and withdrew.
Dr. Kearsley lived near Christ Church on Front Street just south of
the London Coffee House and maintained a pasture in Northern Liberties.
He also owned a number of houses with which he endowed Christ Church
Hospital (today called “Kearsley Home”).
14. Fulham Papers, Library of Congress. Excerpt of letter, Christ
Church Wardens and Select Vestry to the Lord Bishop of London, 4 May
15. Ibid. Excerpt of letter, Archibald Cummings to the Bishop of London, June 7, 1728.
16. Journal, various entries.
17. Adolph B. Benson, ed., Peter Kalm’s Travels in North America, Vol. I, New York, 1964, pp. 20, 21.
18. The specifications for Smith’s contract at St. Peter’s was dated
August 5, 1758. It called for “a Cupola Erected and Compleately
finished on the West End of the said Building of Ten feet Diameter and
at least Thirty two feet high from the Top of the Roof to the Top of
the Vane, that said Smith shall provide and fix thereon a large ball
& vane composed of Copper and to be neatly Gilt.”
A lithograph by artist W. L. Breton of 1826 depicts the St. Peter’s
cupola. It in turn was removed when William Strickland’s tower and
steeple replaced it in 1842.
19. The Minutes, copied in the fine hand of a professional scribe, simply relay to us what was available. The rough
minutes, taken by various volunteer businessmen who were contributing
time to the Church, were probably carried home for further work. There,
many would have fallen into the hands of children to scribble on the
backs of sheets (paper was expensive), or thrown out by distraught
widows or pasted over to make scrapbooks by spinster hobbyists. Some
may come to light yet.
20. Christ Church Manuscripts, Loose Documents, John Kearsley to
Evan Morgan, December 17, 1760. The total cost was given here as £598.8.6.
21. VM, March 16, June 30, 1732.
22. VM, May 25, 1735.
23. VM, July 5, 1736. He was allowed £9 each for them.
24. Bound MS, Building and Steeple Fund, 1739-1754. Only partly paginated.
25. VM, May 1, 1742.
26. VM, March 20, 1743.
27. Such a chest was eventually procured, secured with three locks, and kept in the Parsonage (VM, April 23, 1745). Today, historians heartily wish that the papers had been locked up sooner.
28. Inventor of the quadrant.
29. VM, October 23, 1744.
30. Today there are few American architectural plans that survive
from this period. There being no inexpensive form of reproduction, the
original drawings were probably worn out on the job. For those that
survived, it was difficult to fold them into standard packets and bind
them with red tape like other documents. Finally, torn and dusty, they
were probably thrown out by irate housekeepers.
31. Marcus Whiffen, Stuart and Georgian Churches: The Architecture of the Church of England outside London,
London, 1948, and The Public Buildings of Williamsburg, Williamsburg,
1958. Professor Whiffen is now at the University of Arizona, Tempe.
32. Kerry Downs, Hawksmoor, New York, 1970. Hawksmoor
(1611-1736) was a proteg‚ of Sir Christopher Wren and Sir John
Vanbrugh. Professor Downs teaches at the University of Reading,
33. I would like to suggest that the designer could well have been
Thomas Archer (c. 1668-1743) “an able and active designer who was one
of the Commissioners for building Fifty New Churches in London under
the Act of 1711.” See Howard Colvin, A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600-1840, New York: Facts on File, Inc. 1980, 68-70.
34. The precedent for the great Charleston church was acknowledged at the time to be the Jesuit Church of Antwerp.
35. In a study of Library Hall (built 1789-90) I was able to find
copper plates in the Library Company’s holdings which offered valuable
suggestions for Dr. Thornton, the prize-winning amateur who created
that relatively simple building. It must be remembered that he had
available a group of experienced mechanics (the list survives) to
design the trim and other necessary details. Historic Philadelphia, American Philosophical Society Transactions, Vol. 43, Part I, Philadelphia, 1953, pp. 146-147.
Helen Park in her valuable study “A List of Architectural Books Available in America before the Revolution” JSAH,
Vol. XX, No. 3 (October, 1961) pp. 115-140, lists many titles but those
I have examined are too late in date and do not explain Christ Church.
The original library of Christ Church contained a building-oriented book by John Barker titled The
Measurer’s Guide, Or The whole Art of Measuring made short, plain, and
easie: shewing 1. To measure any plan Superficies. 2. All sorts of
Regular solids. 3. The Art of Gauging. 4. To measure Artificers’ work;
as Carpenters’, Joyners’, Plaisterers’, Painters’, Paviers’, Glaziers’,
Bricklayers’, Tylers’, etc., London, 1692. The only copy known to
be present in the United States is in the Clarke Library at the
University of California at Los Angeles. It was located with the help
of librarians Edwin Wolf II and William Bidwell. About half of the
little volume relates to building construction; there are no
36. Harrold E. Gillingham, “Some Early Brickmakers of Philadelphia,” PMHB, Vol. LIII, No. 1, pp. 1-27. That study badly needs updating.
37. This writer has followed the career of Thomas Boude with some
care, hoping to find that he was the virtuoso who manipulated the
brickwork at Christ Church-but in vain.
Boude’s name is often misspelled Bonde, both in manuscripts
and in print. He was born in Perth Amboy or Philadelphia about the year
1700, the son of English immigrant Grimstone Boude. He first appears in
the Pennsylvania Gazette for February 1, 1732. The Boudes
married into various prominent families here (notably Hillegas and
Clarkson), but Thomas doesn’t figure in many transactions of record.
Among his possessions was a house near Poole’s Bridge below the British
Barracks operating at the Sign of the Highlander. Boude was a ranking
Mason, briefly Philadelphia Coroner, and he died at the home of Mathew
Clarkson in 1781. His historical distinction is mainly for laying the
brick (probably as master bricklayer with John Palmer and Thomas
Redman) at the State House. John F. Watson, Annals of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Vol. I (1927), p. 396. Granville Leach, History of the Bringhurst Family with Notes on the Clarkson, de Peyster and Boude Families, Philadelphia, 1901.
38. Herbert A. Claiborne, Comments on Virginia Brickwork before 1800,
The Walpole Society, 1957, n.p. The late Thomas T. Waterman, another
friend and connoisseur of colonial brickwork, often lectured me on this
subject. In Virginia “Rosewell,” Gloucester County, though long in
ruin, still represents the epitome of Early American brickwork with its
elaborate molded and cut work.
39. Pennsylvania Archives, Ser. 8, Vol. IV, Harrisburg, 1931, p. 2716.
The art of the brickmaker involved a great deal of technical
expertise in special molding and burning for large layouts as at Christ
Church. A comprehensive idea of what was involved may be found in
Nathaniel Lloyd, A History of English Brickwork, London, 1925
(reissued New York, 1972). The wall design of Kew Palace, Surrey, built
1631 (pp. 173-175) makes an interesting comparison. Good building stone
was hard to come by in London and southeast England generally and it
was there that fancy brickwork was evolved to imitate the sophisticated
Italian buildings done in cut stone that they so much admired. The
Dutch had had the same problem and did much to show the English the way.
40. William MacPherson Hornor, Jr., Blue Book, Philadelphia Furniture, Philadelphia, 1935, pp. 74-77, 176.
41. VM, December 6, 1769.
42. VM, June 11, 1770.
43. Benson J. Lossing, The Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution,
New York, 1851, Vol. II, p. 248 was pleased to note “One vestige of the
olden time remains untouched-the pulpit sounding-board, the
indispensable canopy of the old pastors.” In recent years it became
derelict and seems now to have disappeared.
44. VM, March 16, 1732.
45. VM, July 31, 1740.
46. VM, August 14, 1769.
47. VM, October 23, 1769.
48. The Vestry ordered a new pewing plan before the first section of the new church was even completed (VM, June 11, 1730).
49. Carl and Jessica Bridenbaugh, Rebels and Gentlemen, Philadelphia in the Age of Franklin, New York, 1942, p. 17.
50. At first it was reported that the Governor wished to sit in the gallery and wardens called on him to get that confirmed (VM,
March 16, 1732). However, that didn’t suit His Excellency, as it turned
out, for he wanted his pew “where the pulpit formerly stood.” It was
then directed that a handsome one be built and that the Governor be
asked to approve it before the communion table was pulled down (VM, May 26 and 27, 1732).
51. On August 15, 1790, Robert Towers was paid £7.4.0 “for Crimson Velvet for Lining the President’s pew” (Journal).
52. VM, November 6, 1744. Benjamin Reeves is the only joiner
specifically credited with the pew construction. The Journal for August
14, 1746, reported that he was paid £5 “in part for the Pews on the
53. VM, February 22. 1745.
54. VM, March 23, 1745.
55. Redrawn by architect George S. Bethell in 1865 and presented to
the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, where it has been preserved. On
close analysis, the names of the individual holders will probably
pinpoint the date of the layout.
56. Christ Church Archives.
57. Bound pew book for Christ Church, St. Peters and St. James. Christ Church MSS.
58. Edmund Hogan, A Prospect of Philadelphia, Part I, Philadelphia, 1795, p. 31.
59. VM, June 11, 1717.
60. VM, May 2, 1727.
61. VM, April 3, 1744.
62. VM, April 24, 1746. The misspelling of the word architect here says something about its unfamiliarity in early Philadelphia.
63. VM, June 2, 1746. Not otherwise identified but probably John Jr. or Daniel Harrison.
64. Nicholas B. Wainwright, “Scull and Heap’s East Prospect of Philadelphia,” PMHB, Vol. LXXIII, No. 1 (Jan. 1949), p. 18.
65. Edmund Woolley’s accounts began on March 30, 1750. For the State House see Edward M. Riley, “The Independence Hall Group,” Historic Philadelphia, Philadelphia, 1953, pp. 17-18. This has been updated by a massive mimeographed study “by staff,” Historic Structures Report, Part II, on Independence Hall, Independence National Historical Park, Philadelphia, April, 1962.
66. Wainwright, p. 19. To get his painting engraved, Heap embarked
for England with it but he died en route. The painting was recovered by
Heap’s widow who sold it to Peters who had a copy sent off to England
where it was engraved soon enough to be advertised in the Philadelphia
newspapers on November 1, 1753.
There are other examples known of engraved steeples never actually
built yet appearing on old city views. It would seem that steeples,
prominently delineated in port city views, often were valuable
landmarks to ships; navigators.
67. The principal views we have today are the Columbian Magazine
(1787), Thomas Birch’s engraving “Second Street North from Market St.
with Christ Church” (1799) and William Strickland’s painting of 1811.
In later years the artists’ views multiplied to eventually being
succeeded by photographs.
68. VM, March 11, 1750.
69. VM, April 29, 1751.
70. “The Steeple of Christ Church in PhiladA to Jacob Duche Treasurer Dr.” A brief historical summary may be found in the Pennsylvania Gazette, January 7, 1755.
71. The same thing happened at Independence Hall. Stone was a basically stronger material, less porous and more waterproof.
72. Steeple Accounts.
73. VM, August 6, 1752.
74. VM, October 27 and 30, 1752.
75. VM, February 22, 1753.
76. VM, December 3, 1753.
77. The engraving is reproduced and discussed in Suzanne Foley, “Christ Church, Boston,” Old-Time New England,
Vol. LI, No. III (January-March, 1961), p. 71. This article was brought
to my attention by Penelope Hartshorne Batcheler who made a study of
the Boston structure for the U.S. National Park Service (Denver Service
A drawing of St. James may be seen in Bannister Fletcher, A History of Architecture,
5th ed., London and New York, 1905, p. 577. There it is depicted
without the steeple or spire which was actually designed and built by
Edward Wilcox (H. M. Colvin, A Biographical Dictionary of English Architects, London, 1954, pp. 670, 709) and has no relationship to the American steeples.
78. Vestry Minutes, August 23, 1756, and April 14, 1759.
Because John Thornhill’s first bill for carpentry was contested as
“very extravagint” it was decided to get third parties to measure and
evaluate his work. Three years later this troublesome matter was
settled when the master carpenters Edmund Woolley and John Harrison,
Jr., adjudged Thornhill’s work to be worth the large sum of £114.4.0.
Thornhill’s work included framing, floors, stairs and partitions,
two arched windows with their sash, and two arched doors and the
necessary scaffolding. Loose MS dated April 6, 1759.
John Thornhill, a member of the Carpenters’ Company of the City and
County of Philadelphia, died in 1783. He lived on North Third Street
and owned a Vine Street tavern “At the Sign of the Tennis Court.” Pennsylvania Gazette, September 5, 1765.
79. The record can be found in the Edinburgh General Register Office
among the County’s parochial registers. The bound manuscript is titled Register/
of the Childrens Names / Baptised in the Church of Dalkeith Since
Martmas / 1712 / Together with an Account of the Dayes of their Birth
& Baptism. On page 67 is the neat but tightly written entry
“John Smith and Martha Lawrie had a son born Jany. 14. baptised 23 [?]
Rob: witness Rob Lawrie and Ja: Barron.”
80. The body of the church was built 1750-1752. Presbyterian Historical Society, Second Presbyterian Church Congregation Minutes, 1747-1772, MS, various entries.
Smith’s partner Bedford (1720-1802), born in New Castle, Delaware,
was working in Philadelphia as a house carpenter as early as 1746. On
September 16 of that year, he indentured an Irish servant girl. PMHB,
Vol. 32 (1908), p. 354. “Account of Servants Bound and Assigned before
James Hamilton.” The Presbyterian church, begun 1749, was probably his
first important job and, under construction, it appears in the
background of Bedford’s portrait by Charles Willson Peale. He fathered
thirteen children, served in the French and Indian War as a lieutenant,
surveyed for fire insurance under the Philadelphia Contributionship,
played an important part in the affairs of the Carpenters’ Company, and
was elected Philadelphia alderman in 1787. His funeral on March 28,
1802, was “attended by a numerous concourse of mourning relatives and
friends.” Lewis D. Cook, “The Gunning Bedford Family,” The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, Vol. XXX, No. 1 (1977), pp. 1-9. This includes valuable notes by Hannah Benner Roach.
81. James Hamilton, Cash Book, 1739-1757, MS, HSP. I owe this reference to Mr. Nicholas B. Wainwright.
82. Since publication of my notes on Robert Smith in “Carpenters’ Hall,” Historic Philadelphia,
Philadelphia, 1953, pp. 119-123, several persons have made important
contributions. Willman Spawn in 1955 reported the letter (8/9/1759)
from David Hall, Philadelphia printer, to Hamilton and Balfour,
Edinburgh booksellers, transmitting money from “my good friend M.
Robert Smith” to be remitted to his widowed mother Martha Smith of
Lugton, near Dalkeith (D. Hall Letter Book, No. II [MS], American Philosophical Society Library). It remained for Beatrice B. Garvan in Philadelphia: Three Centuries of American Art, Philadelphia, 1976, pp. 31-32, to report the entry in the Dalkeith parish records and to suggest that
he may have shared in work at Dalkeith under the direction of William Adam.
Smith’s career was to close on February 11, 1777, when he was
working on the American army barracks at Billingsport, New Jersey, part
of the defenses on the Delaware River.
83. H. M. Colvin, A Biographical Dictionary of English Architects, London, 1978, p. 56.
84. William Smith, Philadelphia County Gaol, to the Archbishop of
Canterbury, February 7, 1758, London, Lambeth Palace Archives, S.P.G. Papers, Vol. 1123, Part II, No. 112.
85. E. P. Richardson, “West’s Voyage to Italy, 1760, and William Allen,” PMHB, CII, No. 1 (January, 1978) pp. 20-21.
86. Hamilton, Cash Book, various entries.
87. Steeple Accounts, various entries. Today, Harding’s most famous
works are the carvings in Independence Hall central hall and grand
stairway. His bill for “Carved Work Done for the State house” covers in
picturesque detail such items as “8 blases for the balconey hurns at
10S pr blase,” “6 flowers & 6 fishes for the pillars” of the back
door, “4 Compositta Cappitalls 2 plasters & 2 quarter plasters” and
“the carven of 2 tabernackels frames one of each side of the Venession
winder.” The itemization is spread from 1753 to 1756 totalling
£195.13.11. Payments were acknowledged for June 17, 1757, to August 23,
1758, when Elizabeth Downey got the final payment “in full as pr
agreement made with Joseph Fox.” Norris MSS, HSP. The late Lester
Hoadley Sellers, AIA, brought this to my attention.
James Hamilton’s Cash Book shows Harding also worked for Hamilton:
“for carving” (6/11/1751) and “for Carving Shield” (2/27/1753).
Benjamin Loxley, a fellow member of the Philadelphia Carpenters’
Company, had also assisted-partly by furnishing a large quantity of
shingles which (in the Philadelphia manner) were shaved and “jointed”
on the job.
88. Dorr, pp. 106-107. The Steeple Accounts record the £40 cash was paid on December 4 for hanging them.
89. VM, November 22, 1756.
90. VM, June 2, 1762.
91. James Glen handled this work May 31-August 10 for which he employed two to six “hands” at a total cost of £9.5.0. Loose MS.
92. VM, May 20, 1771.
93. VM, June 4, 1771.
94. Smith wrote to Hopkinson recommending “the Painters to paint the
spindle Black of A dark Couler.” The painters’ bill for three and four
coats came to the large sum of £123.3.10½ from which £8 was deducted as
a contribution. (Many others had done the same.) They were steeplejack
prices. Included was an item for “Smalting the Cap of the Spire”--a
coating of tiny glass beads that would glitter in the sunlight.
95. The last payment voucher was dated May 8, 1772, in the amount of
£41.16.5. In all the work Robert Smith was closely assisted by his son,
John, also a house carpenter.
Francis Hopkinson, who kept the steeple repair accounts, reported
that £664.2.10 had been spent, causing something of a financial crisis
in the church’s affairs (VM, November 16, 1772).
96. Carl Bridenbaugh, Peter Harrison, First American Architect, Chapel Hill, 1949.
97. H. Paul Caemmerer, The Life of Pierre Charles L’Enfant, Planner of the City Beautiful, the City of Washington, Washington, 1950.
98. Talbot Hamlin, Benjamin Henry Latrobe, New York, 1955.
99. Philadelphia, 1805, p. 56. Biddle further noted “The
superstructure of this steeple is composed of three distinct
well-proportioned parts of Architecture, the first story, with its
small Pediments and Attics, forming one; the octagonal part, with its
ogee formed dome, being the second; and the spire and its pedestal, the
third. These three parts are very dissimilar, no one having any thing
in it that is common to the others; and yet they agree very well with
each other, forming one complete and consistent whole.” The plate notes
that the total height is 190 feet.
100. The curious, complicated story of the publication may be found
in the 1980 reprint in detailed essay by Edinburgh architect James
101. The Reverend Robert W. Fraser, Parish Kirks and Manses in Scotland, Edinburgh, London and Dublin, n.d.
The early years of Robert Smith’s American practice were later
reviewed by Charles E. Peterson, “Robert Smith, Philadelphia
Builder/Architect: From Dalkeith to Princeton” in Scotland and America in the Age of Enlightenment, Richard B. Sher and Jeffrey R. Smitten, eds., University of Edinburgh Press, 1990, pp. 275-299.
102. Journal, April 2, 1728. On June 19, 1732, Bradley advertised in the Pennsylvania Gazette:
“A choice Parcel of Glasier’s Diamonds, and Window Glass, of different
Sorts, by the Box, to be sold, and Looking Glasses silvered.”
Succeeding the medieval diamond-shaped “quarrels” the larger
rectangles, also set in lead, came into use; many London churches still
The windows of the Thomas Massey house (c. 1696) in Delaware County,
Pennsylvania, were painstakingly reconstructed by John Milner, AIA,
from fragments of glass and lead found on the site. Kenneth M. Wilson,
“Window Glass in America,” Charles E. Peterson, ed., Building Early America, Radnor, 1976, pp. 155-156.
103. Journal, October 8, 1736. Christopher Marshall on
October 5, 1742, John Ellis on December 29, 1747, Joseph Godfrey on
August 28, 1750, and William Leech on September 27, 1756.
104. VM, June 15, 1767. De Normandie, painter and glazier,
later did extensive decoration in General John Cadwallader’s house on
South Second Street, remodelled in 1770. Nicholas B. Wainwright, Colonial Grandeur in Philadelphia, Philadelphia, 1964, various entries.
A very mysterious item appeared in the Vestry Minutes for
April 11, 1746: “Jacob Drake is requested to order a Light or Window to
be near the north east Corner of the Church in the best and safest
manner, the outside thereof to resemble brick-work, as near as
105. VM, December 17, 1773.
106. VM, November 2, 1773. On November 24 Thomas Clifford was
paid for two crates of glass and on December 20 Carlisle Simmons for
lumber. Jesse Roe & Co. got the large sum of œ10.2.5 on July 11,
1774 “for a New Window.” It is possible that they were gradually
replaced over a period of years.
Somewhere in this essay should be inserted the comments of Duch‚ who, in his anonymous volume Observations on a Variety of Subjects,
Philadelphia, 1774, noted (pp. 9-10) that “CHRIST CHURCH has by far the
most venerable appearance of any building in this city; and the whole
architecture including an elegant steeple (which is furnished with a
complete ring of bells) would not disgrace one of the finest streets in
Westminster. The eastern front is particularly well designed and
executed; but its beauty is in a great measure lost, by its being set
too near the street, instead of being placed, as it ought to have been,
forty or fifty feet back.” The volume, interestingly, is dedicated to
James Hamilton Esq. of Bush Hill.
Duch‚ deserves some study. His house on Third and Pine, Society Hill, today known only from an old painting, was an unusual one.
107. VM, June 9, 1777.
108. VM, September 16, 1777.
109. VM, October 22, 1778.
110. Lossing, Field-Book, p. 250.
111. Bill from Mary Gibbs dated December 5, 1727. MS, Boston, Christ (Old North) Church Manuscripts.
I owe these references to Penelope Hartshorne Batcheler of
Philadelphia, who has recently studied the fabric of that church and,
by scraping old paint, has found traces of the ornamentation.
112. Ibid. Bill of December 23, 1732.
113. Finally settled in 1743. Pennsylvania Archives, (8th ser) IV, 2767, 2857.
114. VM, June 15, 1767.
115. VM, July 6, 1767.
116. Nicholas B. Wainwright, Colonial Grandeur in Philadelphia, Philadelphia, 1964. Various entries.
117. VM, April 26, 1756.
118. VM, May 3, 1756, and March 3, 1757. A request for such a
footway had been made as early as 1736 when the Wardens were asked to
consider it (VM, August 12, 1736). The new footway appears on
the excellent Nicholas Scull map published by Clarkson and Biddle on
November 1, 1762. Much later the alley was widened to make the present
119. VM, April 18 and August 9, 1757. In the meantime a part of the wall on the north side had given away.
120. Christ Church Manuscripts, Loose Documents.
122. Journal, September 1, 1797. Wheeler had done work on the church steeple (Journal, March 25, 1772). He also made the balcony on Congress Hall (1787) and the iron palisade at St. Peter’s Church in 1785 (Journal, November 23 and 29, 1785, and April 22, 1786).
123. September 2, 1828. Christ Church Archives, Loose Papers.
Among the same papers Robert Shoemaker found an 1804 bill for 668
pounds of white lead, 6 kegs of Spanish brown and a few pounds of
lampblack. Another bill or 1814 to Samuel Wetherill & Sons
included, along with more white lead, small quantities of Prussian
blue, yellow, and red pigments along with six books of gold leaf.
124. VM, May 12, July 5, 1773.
125. VM, February 13, 1775.
126. VM, March 30, 1818.
127. VM, April 10, 1820.
128. On February 10, 1832, Samuel Louderback offered a furnace to heat the church for $250. Loose Papers.
129. Thomas Ustick Walter (1804-1887), a native of Philadelphia, was
first apprenticed as a bricklayer under his father. He was to become
justly famous for his extensive and far-flung works which included the
Dome and Extensions of the U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C.
130. An organ was first introduced in 1728. The second, replacing it
in 1766, grew until it had about 1607 pipes. The third organ, built by
Henry Erben of New York in 1837, had 1809 pipes and weighed eleven
tons. Dorr, pp. 325-329. A drawing for an organ case is the only known
drawing by Walter for Christ Church known to still exist. It is
preserved in the privately held Walter Papers.
131. In the records there are frequent references to measures for
controlling the light. A loose manuscript of June 13, 1836, offers a
bid from Clapp and Roberts for venetian blinds “all to be put up, well
secured with Iron double hooks to belay the cords when the blinds are
132. Walter wrote: “The present manner of heating the church is
quite ineffectual, and the stovepipes and flues mar the beauty of the
architecture. I therefore suggest the propriety of removing all the
stoves, . . . and in lieu thereof to construct a large furnace for the
purpose of supplying the church with rarefied air. A cellar may be
excavated under or near the door leading from the vestry-room to the
nave of the church, and the furnace built in this cellar, the rarefied
air to be admitted into the church through an iron grating made in the
floor. This I believe to be the only method by which the church can be
warmed effectually, the ceiling being so very high. By this manner of
heating, we may obtain comfort, without marring the beauty of the
church, or interrupting the worship, by making fires, etc.”
The T. U. Walter Receipt Book shows that Stephen P. Morris & Co., grate manufacturers, were paid $308.70 for their apparatus.
133. “In 1838 . . . the Urns, formerly of wood, were remade in the
same form of gravel concrete [except for the four on the steeple, see
photograph, p. 11] . . . In  they had so far disintegrated that
they were discarded and new ones made of cast-iron filled with
concrete.” Herbert C. Wise and H. Ferdinand Beidleman, Colonial Architecture for Those About to Build, Philadelphia, 1913, p. 170.
134. Walter Papers, with thanks to Mr. Ennis.
In this respect Walter falls in line with notable American
architects both earlier and later. In 1796 Benjamin Henry Latrobe
(1764-1820) remodelled Governor Berkley’s picturesque Green Spring
mansion on the James River (thought in Virginia to be the oldest house
in America) beyond recognition. In 1807 Robert Mills (1781-1855) tore
down the original wings of Independence Hall to put up something (in
his opinion) better. Architects today still believe that they can
improve on any historic building, the U.S. Capitol in Washington being
135. Lossing II, p. 248.
136. John Gibson executed this extensive work, providing an
elaborately patterned set of windows, a premonition of the glass
ceilings he was soon to install in Thomas U. Walter’s new wings of the
United States Capitol in Washington. See Edwin T. Freedley, Philadelphia and Its Manufacturers, Philadelphia, 1959, p. 278.
137. An estimate by Gibson survives as a loose MS dated June 7, 1854.
On completion the special committee reported “the whole interior
more in harmony with the design of the architect, and more beautiful,
although now more than a hundred years since the entire building was
erected” (Vestry Minutes, April 16, 1855).
138. The Washington pew found its way to the City of Philadelphia’s
“National Museum” on Independence Square and today is in storage by the
National Park Service.
139. It is remarkably explicit, recording details of the fabric--inside and out--that might otherwise have been lost.
140. Loose MSS. Contract dated November 2, 1870, to be complete December 1, 1871.
Sims (1832-1875) was a native of Canada, came to Philadelphia about 1860, became a charter member of the local chapter of the
America Institute of Architects, designed many country estates and a
number of public buildings. Withey & Withey, 1956, p. 556.
Sims also submitted estimates for minor work inside Christ Church on a sheet dated October 21, 1871. (Loose MSS).
141. Thomas Scharf and Thompson Wescott, History of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, 1884, Vol. III, p. 1341.
142. Hewitt (1841-1916) trained under John Notman, was in
partnership with his brother William in the years 1877-1902. He was the
architect of more than fifty churches and the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel.
Withey & Withey.
143. The restoration measures accomplished consisted in large part
of undoing the changes made by architect Walter in 1836. Exterior
doorways were reshuffled in accordance with archeological evidence
found. The grave floor slabs in the aisle were again exposed and
supplemented by tile flooring to match the color of the old brick. The
1854 side doors opening into the chancel were obliterated, the pulpit
moved again and its “walnut imitation” finish burned off and the
earlier white paint restored. A new gallery access stairway in the
southeast room (which remains today) was a tour-de-force of antiquarian
A happy postscript of this campaign was the installation of an
electric light (then sensationally new) over Benjamin Franklin’s grave
at Fifth and Arch streets in connection with the great electrical
exhibition then being held in Philadelphia.
144. Wise and Beidleman, p. 170.
145. Washburn, p. 37.
146. Ibid., p. 312.
147. Ibid., p. 310. The plat is dated March 15, 19
148. The early history of the Park is sketched by this writer in
“Philadelphia’s New National Park,” Proceedings of the Eightieth Annual
Meeting of the Fairmount Park Art Association, Philadelphia, 1952, pp.
14-36. Architectural Historian Constance M. Greiff of Princeton since
then produced a book-length work Independence: The Creation of a
National Park, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987.
149. Designed by Keast & Hood, structural engineers (Nicholas L.
Gianopulos, president) and executed by the A. Raymond Raff Co. (Walter
S. Riley, president).
150. The study was funded by the U.S. National Park Service, Hobart
G. Cawood, Superintendent, and carried out by a consortium of Charles
E. Peterson, FAIA, and the Keast & Hood and Raff companies. Their
report was titled Certain Problems and Needs at Christ Church,
Philadelphia, Philadelphia, 1974. An analysis of the interior problems,
generously illustrated with old views, is dated December 10, 1974. The
structural report with plans is dated December 31, 1974.
The work was executed by J. S. Cornell and Sons using funds
appropriated by the U.S. Department of the Interior and allotted by the
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, matched by monies locally donated.
To order a copy of xxx, go to Diane Publishing