Pennepack Baptist Church is one of the oldest houses of worship in the Commonwealth and for Fred Moore, secretary for the Northeast Philadelphia History Network, the center of what would become the Great Northeast. Amongst the sun dappled headstones of the church’s cemetery, Moore explained how and why the organization he belongs to is dedicated to preserving the memory and future of the often overlooked historic sites which dot the neighborhoods. Under the leadership of lay scholars whose passion alone are sometimes enough to stave off the erosion of time, the organization has been responsible for a number of remarkable projects which are sure to help preserve what’s left of the historic Northeast for generations to come
Beside being one of the first places of worship in the colony, what’s the significance of Pennepack Baptist Church for those unfamiliar?
William Penn was a go-getter and had his vision. He wanted to get out of England and set up a Quaker utopia and that was his reasoning for coming here. There were townships and with each township there were Quaker meetinghouses. Penn had said that it would be free for all religions and it was not before long other religions began appearing. One of the first to do so happened to be the Pennepack Baptists. From the Pennepack Baptist church came all the surrounding Baptist churches in the area, including Philadelphia Baptist church, who were part of the Pennepack Baptists until about 1747.
What is the Northeast Philadelphia Historical Society?
We meet here monthly with the Northeast Philadelphia History Network. We study Northeast Philadelphia history and have been active for about seven or eight years now. We had been meeting at Holy Family a little bit, meeting here and there, but things just were not working out. Pennepack Church was available. I am not a member here but I am on the board of the historical foundation of the church. For about the last four years, we have been meeting here which is great because it is so historical and is located on such a historic spot. We are free to the public. We don’t have money and do not want money. We are totally informal and just trying to teach the history of Northeast Philadelphia. I run the email list and we send emails regularly, informing those about monthly meetings.
So the Northeast Philadelphia Historical Society documents and tries to keep alive as much of this area’s history as possible. How do you typically go about doing so?
Well, right now there is a movie being made. It is a work-in-progress right now. A fellow named Jason Sherman is a 40-year-old filmmaker who lives near here in Holmesburg and is making a movie about Northeast Philadelphia history titled “The Kings Highway” for Frankford Avenue, which was nicknamed the King’s Highway and is probably the oldest road in the Commonwealth.
Is the society active in other sites besides this one?
Yes. We always meet here but there are many more sites around Northeast Philadelphia.
What kind of efforts typically does the historical society make to preserve both the physical history and the knowledge of the area’s history?
Mainly we are about the knowledge. Saving, or preserving, has been very difficult. We just recently lost an old farm house down on Welsh Road near Holmesburg.
– Text and images by Daniel Pelligrine and Mario Corsaro.