The Friends of St. Paul’s Elkins Park is a non-profit, secular organization with members of many faiths from our Cheltenham community. Our goals:

• To maintain and preserve St. Paul’s historic site for our community and for the nation.

• To celebrate our community’s history and to educate residents and visitors about its importance.

• To make St. Paul’s a valued community resource by producing events and concerts of educational and artistic merit.

 


 

A Brief History of St. Paul's Elkins Park


- Local resident and Quaker, abolitionist, women’s rights activist, and social reformer, Lucretia Mott – widely called by her contemporaries the greatest American woman of the nineteenth century – attended weekly bible study here at St. Paul’s, held by the devout abolitionist and financier Jay Cooke – who was known during the Civil war as the financial savior of the Union.

- Jay Cooke, who lived on his estate nearby, paid for the original construction of St. Paul’s Elkins Park – the first house of worship in the area. He was a technology leader who established the first investment bank that had all its branches and headquarters interconnected by telegraph – the internet of his day. At the start of the Civil War, the United States Secretary of the Treasury asked Jay Cooke to sell bonds that Congress had authorized to finance the Union Army, but which the government had been unable to sell. He was spectacularly successful; it is estimated that over 3 1/3 Trillion dollars of Civil War bonds at today’s prices passed over his desk, which now stands in our church.

- The Mott Family donated the land for Camp William Penn, the nearby training ground for troops of color during the Civil War. St. Paul’s provided the only regular religious services at the camp throughout the Civil War, and it is said that the women of our church cared for sick soldiers there.

- Oral tradition has it that Jay and Lucretia worked together on the Underground Railroad network which hid escaped slaves on their way to freedom in Canada.

- Among St. Paul’s Sunday attendees from the Ogontz School for Girls were students Amelia Earhart, the second person and first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic – an early supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment and an inspiration to women everywhere; and Mary Curtis, benefactor of the Settlement School of Music and founder of the Curtis Institute of Music.

- During the Gilded Age, St. Paul’s was home to many of Philadelphia’s wealthiest, including the Widener family, one of the wealthiest families in American history. Their friends, the Art Nouveau artist Louis Comfort Tiffany, and the noted architect Horace Trumbauer, expanded and graced our church with thirteen spectacular stained glass windows.

- The Widener family, preparing for their daughter’s wedding, returned from Europe in 1912 and held a glittering party aboard ship with the captain present; the very hour on its maiden voyage that the RMS Titanic was struck by an iceberg. Our church vestry member George D. Widener (who was also a Director of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts) and his son Harry were lost at sea; and in memory of his friends, Tiffany designed our Christ the Good Shepherd window, showing Christ with a shepherd’s staff in front of an iceberg, and our window of John the Evangelist holding his book aloft (son Harry was a rare book collector). As a result of this disaster, standards were adopted which made travel at sea much safer at the time when American immigration entered its peak.

- In 1925, an AM radio station, WIBG (standing for Why I Believe in God) was started in the basement of our church. WIBG AM 99 went on to become THE premier Top40 radio station in the Delaware Valley throughout the Civil Rights Era (1950s to mid-60s). It was THE place on the transistor radio dial where white teenagers first heard black rhythm and blues music, and where black teenagers first heard white rock music. St. Paul’s Sunday services were broadcast on WIBG AM 99 until well into the 1960s. The basement of St. Paul’s Elkins Park is the birthplace of WIBG AM 99!

- Saint Paul the Apostle is widely acknowledged and studied in cutting-edge anthropology, sociology, and political science departments in academia today as the “inventor” of Western multiculturalism. St. Paul’s Elkins Park is an inclusive and intentionally multicultural church worshipping in the Episcopal tradition. Our members are now from all over the world and come from many faith backgrounds – including “spiritual but not religious”. All are welcome at the Holy Table in our church. No exceptions. Many more mighty deeds of God have been done, and are being done in this place, than can be written here.