The oldest Baptist congregation in the state has survived through five centuries of change.
Situated between 1960s housing developments, one of Northeast Philly’s busiest arteries, and the well-worn trails of Pennypack Park is the oldest Baptist church building in Pennsylvania.
Pennepack Baptist Church was founded in 1688 a few hundred yards from the banks of the Pennypack Creek, at what is now 8732 Krewstown Road. About a dozen Welsh immigrants, fleeing persecution in their homeland, started the congregation. The church, which celebrated its 325th anniversary last month with the dedication of a state historical marker across the street, still has a core membership of about 12, and they’ve done a remarkable job of preserving their heritage.
Fred Moore, treasurer of the Pennepack Baptist Historical Foundation and advocate for the Northeast Philadelphia Historical Network, said the 17th century congregation was organized by Reverand Elias Keach, who performed baptisms in the nearby creek. The original meetinghouse, erected in 1707, became a destination point for Baptist immigrants from England and Wales, and was fundamental in the formation of the nation’s first Baptist association.
The current stone and wood meetinghouse was built atop the original structure in 1805. In 1885, the congregation moved about a mile away into bustling Bustleton to attract more members, but kept the church building and adjacent cemetery grounds near the park for annual celebrations.
About eight years ago, the congregation chose to sell the location on Bustleton Pike and restore the historic church on Krewstown Road. Heat and air conditioning, an audio system, a vestibule — and running water – were added to the old building at a cost of “at least $100,000,” Moore said, “and we got it into the 21st century. So we moved back to this meetinghouse, which had been dormant for 120 years.”
Moore submitted the church’s successful application for the state marker. The building was listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places in 1960.