A New Sanctuary

By the time our church celebrated its 10th Anniversary in 1917 it was still worshiping in the chapel.  That year the church completed construction of an addition to the chapel at a cost of $8,000.  This area now serves as our nursery.  1917 also saw the completion of a manse, since demolished, and the installation of the church’s first pipe organ at a cost of $2,500.  But the church was growing and in need of additional room.

The chapel had been constructed at some distance from Montgomery Avenue to allow for the eventual construction of a sanctuary in front of it.  In 1922 the construction of the sanctuary we now worship in was authorized at a cost of $99,100.  The cornerstone was laid on Thanksgiving Day 1922, and the sanctuary was dedicated on April 6, 1924. 

The design of the sanctuary had been the subject of much deliberation. For several years our first pastor, Dr. Rawson, had been on the lookout for a proper type of church structure but had found none suitable.  Dr. Rawson recalls the history as follows:

“In 1923 the chairman of the building committee asked the pastor to meet with him and the head of the department of architecture of the University of Pennsylvania.   From him was obtained professional advice and the recommendation of five of the leading architects of Philadelphia.  One of them was selected and he was asked to make a sketch. Just at that time the pastor was asked to go to Pittsburgh to conduct the funeral of the mother of one of the trustees.  After the service, as he was driven about the city, we passed the First Baptist Church.  Like the Fourth Church in Chicago it is one of the most beautiful churches in America .  It is built of limestone and is Gothic in design.  We were agreed that that was the type we needed for Ardmore – much simpler of course and far less expensive – but just that type.”

“A few days after returning home came the architect’s sketch.  Without having requested it he had struck the type exactly – English Perpendicular Gothic, with certain French influences introduced.  The most outstanding feature externally is the spire, or fleche, springing from the roof to a height of 100 feet, like that of San Chapelle in Paris.  There it stands ever lifting up the cross with which it surmounted, for we determined that the symbol of our faith belonged to us as much as to any other denomination.”

The building’s exterior was faced with stone from nearby quarries, and the roofing and flooring covered with Vermont Slate “in quiet tones.”  The pulpit was built of limestone with a canopy of gum.  Showing good stewardship, several items from the original chapel were relocated for use in the sanctuary.  These include the limestone font to my left, and the oak pews, which some of you in the back are sitting in today. The chapel’s pipe organ was also disassembled and rebuilt in the sanctuary, where it served until replaced in 1931.   In 1959, a major renovation doubled the size of the sanctuary, while carefully matching the design and building materials of the original structure.

Soon after it was opened the new sanctuary received universal praise for its beauty and design.  Later its picture was featured on the cover of a Methodist book on church architecture.  Reflecting on its aesthetic appeal, Dr. Rawson commented:  “Sometimes a stranger says, ‘Why, this is like an Episcopal church.’ But we, who all of us, love it, say, ‘No, it is just a churchly church, a worshipful church.’”