Earlier this summer we visited Pennepack Baptist Church in the Bustleton section of Northeast Philadelphia to survey the archival collections of two institutions that are housed at the Church: Pennepack Baptist Historical Foundation and Friends of Northeast Philadelphia History.
Founded in 1688, Pennepack Baptist is the oldest Baptist church in Pennsylvania and seventh oldest in the United States. It is the mother church to many Baptist congregations in the mid-Atlantic region. In 1683 a group of five Welsh Baptists arrived in Philadelphia and settled on Pennypack Creek near present day Bustleton. By 1688 their numbers had increased to twelve and, led by Reverend Elias Keach, they established their congregation, using Pennypack Creek for their baptismal services.
After meeting in members’ homes they constructed their first church building in 1707 on the edge of what is now Pennypack Park. That same year Pennepack Baptist joined together with four other Baptist churches in the region to form the Philadelphia Baptist Association, the first Baptist association in the new world. The 1707 church building was enlarged in 1774 and then replaced by the present building in 1805. In 1885 the congregation built and occupied a new building about a mile away, but in 2006 they sold that building and moved back to the original 1805 church, where they remain today. In 2010 they established the Pennepack Baptist Historical Foundation, a separate non-profit whose mission is to preserve the Church and promote its history.
The Pennepack Baptist Historical Foundation collection consists of scrapbooks on church history, photographs, cemetery records, and various other historical materials. The collection includes a copy of the first church minute book, 1687-1894, and the original volume of the second minute book, 1894-1956. The original 1687-1894 minute book is currently housed at the American Baptist Historical Society in Atlanta, GA. While small, the Pennepack Baptist Historical Foundation archival collection documents a very important religious institution.
The archival collections of the Friends of Northeast Philadelphia History are housed at Pennepack Baptist under an agreement with the Foundation. FNEPH’s archival holdings include the personal collections of three Northeast Philadelphia historians, plus a group of smaller collections and miscellaneous materials. The three historians’ collections are the Eleanor Birkman (1905-2003) Collection on Holmesburg History, the Bruce Conner (1951-2011) Collection on Philadelphia History, and the Pat Stopper Collection on Northeast Philadelphia History. Each of these local historians collected or created a wide range of materials on Northeast Philadelphia history, consisting of both original documents and secondary source materials.
Of particular note in FNEPH’s holdings are Bruce Conner’s real postcard collection and the 1796-1827 journal of William Lardner. The Conner postcard collection (profiled in a NewsWorks piece last year) consists of over 300 late nineteenth/early twentieth-century photos of Northeast Philadelphia, most of them taken by the noted William H. Sliker Photo and Arts Studio of Bridesburg. Created two centuries earlier than the postcard photos, the journal of William Lardner (1758-1827) documents his management of his large farm estate in Holmesburg, known as Lynfield. William was the son of Lynford Lardner (1715-1774), who emigrated from England in 1740, married into the William Penn family, and held several important positions in the colonial Pennsylvania government.
Together, the archival collections of the Friends of Northeast Philadelphia History and Pennepack Baptist Historical Foundation document over three centuries of local history in Northeast Philadelphia.