Mother Bethel seems to be the talk around town lately. In Society Hill‘s historical district of Philadelphia, one can walk on cobble stone streets while admiring the redbrick row homes that house years of history for Philadelphia. Historic Mother Bethel AME Church which sits at 6th and Lombard street may soon have neighbors.
An apartment building is being proposed to occupy the parking lot space at 6th and Addison. Although this six unit, four story apartment building would bring in new residents, it also would be constructed under modern design. The exterior of gray brick and stucco with large, overhanging bay windows would be quite the black sheep in this redbrick historical area. Neighbors and Society Hill Civic Association’s Zoning and Historical Preservation Committee members have voiced concerns for this project. Many feel that the point of having a historical district is to have the community’s support for respecting the historical landmarks and structures in the community.
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To top off the design, the new building’s air conditioning compressors would be facing into the stained glass windows of Mother Bethel. Rev. Mark Tyler held a prayer vigil recently asking that the commission follow the right path and preserve historical integrity. Hoping the prayer would lead to better judgement. These land owners must not be from Philadelphia.. or maybe its a lack of history appreciation. All we know is that Mother Bethel deserves some sunlight through their stained glass windows, not a rumbling AC shadow.
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Located on 6th Street between Pine and Lombard, in Society Hill, Mother Bethel and the African Methodist Episcopal Church holds history dating back to the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. This church was originally built on land first purchased in 1791 by freed slave Richard Allen with the support of several founding fathers.
(Image Source: motherbethel.org)
The church once owned a cemetery that is now the site of Weccacoe Playground in Queen Village. The cemetery land was in active use from about 1810 until about 1868. Initially purchased by Richard Allen, it was eventually acquired by the city and has served largely as a playground for more than a century. Recently, there have been proposed plans to update and renovate the park, making necessary changes for the community’s safety. In order for renovations to take place, an underground examination must be completed. Reports estimate that the shared land holds more than 2,000 burial sites a mere 2 1/2 feet below the playground surface.
This all came to light last month when the headstone of Amelia Brown was found among top soil while conducting the land dig. For more than a century and today, families enjoy all the playground has to offer including full sized tennis courts, community activities and a full playground. This issue has become a fine line of preserving history while making necessary renovations to the playground.
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After finding the tombstone, it was displayed for church members to see at worship. Mostly, they appreciated learning about the church and burial ground history. The Church is actively working several of the groups involved in the excavation and research to ensure this important part of the its and the City’s history is preserved for future generations.