History of All Saints’ Torresdale – 1772 to Present Time

Shift your thinking back, if you can, to the eighteenth century in the Philadelphia area. The Torresdale area was a rural one initially settled by the Swedes and then later the British. Frankford Avenue was the King’s Highway or the Bristol Pike–one of the earliest toll roads in the state. One of the “toll booths” was located at the bridge over the Pennypack Creek. This bridge was built in 1697 and served as one of the toll collection points on the pike between Trenton and Front Street in Philadelphia. Religiously, the area had active congregations of Baptists, Quakers, and Episcopalians.

William Smith, First Provost
William Smith, First Provost

The first Episcopal church in the area was Trinity Church, Oxford. Initially a Quaker meeting, it became an Episcopalian congregation in 1698. The church was to become the base from which All Saints’ was to develop. Politically, the Torresdale area was part of Philadelphia County and did not become part of the city until 1854. In 1771, Dr. William Smith wrote to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in London that “…We are this Summer about erecting a new church about five miles from Oxford Church … I go once a month in the afternoon to that place and the Swedish missionary from Philadelphia also goes once a month…… He went on to write that “…They were a people like to fall in with the Methodists and I think I can say that I … have been a considerable means of showing them how much better it is to join a regular congregation…… Ground for the new church was given by Christian Minnick and the building was completed and dedicated on November 3, 1772 with Dr. Smith as the first rector of the mission church. Included in the covenant of ground from Christian Minnick was a stipulation that the church was not to be separated from Trinity Oxford and that the Swedish minister was to preach in it every three weeks.

William Smith had become a major player in the drama that was to surround not only our church but the Philadelphia area and the growing Episcopal Church. Ordained as a priest in 1753, his accomplishments included the role of first Provost of the University of Pennsylvania as well as the Bishop of Maryland. He was also to propose the name Protestant Episcopal Church. When General Howe advanced towards Philadelphia in 1777, Dr. Smith preached a farewell sermon at All Saints’ Church and the mission was closed until 1778, when Dr. Smith again reopened Trinity and All Saints’ with a sermon titled “Of Joy Succeeding to Sorrow”.

In l780, Dr. Smith took a post in Maryland and All Saints’ lost its rector. Successive rectors included Joseph Pilmore, John Hobart, Charles Cotton, and others. In 1831, All Saints’ continued the mission church role by establishing a chapel in Holmesburg that was to become Emmanuel Church. The All Saints’ congregation and the area grew strong enough that in 1835 the union with Trinity was ended. The Holmesburg Chapel was able to separate in 1844 and become a parish of their own. Further chapels were built and supported by All Saints’ at Eddington and Andalusia. Each was to ultimately become a separate parish.

All Saints'By 1850, the area was continuing to grow, with many large estates along the Delaware River. The old church, enlarged in 1812, was now too small. Plans were begun to build a new structure at a cost of $7,500. On August 31, 1854, Bishop Potter laid the cornerstone in the Southeastern corner of the new building. Work proceeded quickly and on May 29,1855, Bishop Potter consecrated the new building. The design of the interior more closely resembled our present building following the “restoration” of the 1970’s–it included a balcony with an organ (later taken down) and a free standing communion table (later replaced by an altar against the wall). The old church building was taken down and the stone used to build enclosure walls.

The church rector during this period of expansion was Dr. Frederick Beasley. He served as rector from 1834 to 1878–a period of 44 years, longer than any of the rectors. He was the son of Dr. Frederick Beasley, Sr., who served as the Provost of the University of Pennsylvania from 1815 to 1825. Following his retirement he was succeeded by John Magruth (1879-1882) and James Basset (1882-1886). In 1886, Rush Eastman became the rector of the church. It was during this period that further growth in the parish took place.

Additional building during this period included a rectory and carriage house on Frankford Avenue (where the Torresdale Country Club frontage is presently), a Sunday school building, a stable, and a Sexton’s house. A further building project was clarified following the death of Dr. Charles King. Dr. King had been a vestryman and warden of the church for 48 years when he died at the age of 88. He also compiled a history of the church, much of it written from first hand knowledge. The King library at the Andalusia chapel was placed under the control of the vestry with pledges of support from the King family.

In 1907, Rush Eastman requested relief from his duties due to declining health. The vestry elected him Rector Emeritus and appointed him Librarian of the King library. His tenure as Librarian was an active one. His reports to the vestry noted lectures for the young people, motion pictures and an active direction of the library which according to his reports included removal of books and magazines which were “deleterious” in their influence (this included the British humor magazine Puck).

stained glassRush Eastman was succeeded by Allen Van Meter who served until 1916. It was during this period, in 1912, that the vestry was offered a new parish house by Mrs. Walter Massey. Mrs. Massey’s intent was that the new building would house a day school for children which would be the first test of the Montessori method of teaching in the Philadelphia area. Her offer was accepted and the cornerstone of the building was laid on September 29, 1912. The building would house a chapel, dining room, kitchen and classrooms.

In late 1915, Allen Van Meter resigned to accept the post of Dean of the Cathedral in Erie, Pa. He was succeeded by Percy James Brown on January 1, 1916. Percy Brown’s tenure was to last to 1953. Percy Brown was rector of All Saints’ Church during two world wars. He is best remembered as a Parson whose focus was on the congregation. Many tales have been told about his Sunday afternoon visits to parishioners who for one reason or another had not been seen at the service that day. The period in which he was rector is best characterized as stable and solidifying the growth of previous years. In 1953, he retired and was replaced by Stuart Thomas from 1953 to 1960.

In 1960, Dr. Edward Chinn, became the rector of All Saints’ Church. A native of Philadelphia whose parents were born in England, Dr. Chinn was to bring to All Saints’ the leadership needed in a new period of transition. His first assignment was St. Mark’s Church, Frankford, with responsibility for St. Stephen’s Church in Bridesburg. In June, 1960, he came to All Saints’ and had served as rector until his death on April 22, 2003. The author of numerous books and articles, he had been at the center of the continued growth of the parish.

The most notable changes during the four decades include the restoration of the All Saints’ Day School back on the church property and the restoration of the church interior. The work on the church interior was done as part of the 200th anniversary of the church. Particularly notable was the re-installation of the balcony for the choir and the organ, and the free standing altar. If you have an opportunity to look around the church interior, you might wish to at least see the following: On the north wall of the church is a tablet dedicated to Dr. Charles Ray King, vestryman and warden for 48 years. On the east wall is a tablet dedicated in 1809 to Patrick Neal. It is probably the only item left from the original 1772 building. In front of the altar is a brass plate dedicated to Percy Brown 7/16/94 and the stained glass sacristy door dedicated to Dr. Edward Chinn on April 27, 2003.

chapelIn 2004, the Reverend Jeffrey Liddy was installed as the new Rector of All Saints’ Church. He resigned in August 2009. In January 2010, the Reverend Stephen Snider became interim Rector of the church until October 2012 when Reverend Dr. Bradley S. Hauff became the 19th Rector of All Saints’ Church. A native of South Dakota, Rev. Hauff continues to expand the mission and outreach of All Saints’ Church to the neighboring communities, and All Saints’ continues to experience steady growth under his leadership.

A 225 year history of All Saints’ Church, completed by Cary H. Rush, is available as an 180 page hardback book which includes 80 maps and photographs of the Torresdale area and parish life. The cost of the book is $20.00 per copy, plus $3.00 shipping and handling. To order, contact Cary at office@allsaintstorresdale.org. The supply of these books will be limited. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own what will surely be a collectors’ item and family heirloom!