New Academy Boarding Student Arrives at 110 Friedlander Street, Philadelphia (1884)

110friedlander.jpg“It was snowing when I arrived. I got directions to Friedlander street from a hackman, and went right up there. My knock was answered by a strange lady, who showed me into a small school room and said that Mr. [J.P.] Stuart would be down soon. While sitting here, I began to get more and more embarrassed, as my hands and face were of a Pittsburgh hue and my appearance withal was anything but neat. In what seemed to me about half an hour, a small gentleman, with spectacles and side burns, entered the room and — smiled. ‘Mr. Stuart?’ ‘Yes sir.’ (sweetly) ‘I am Mr. Synnestvedt, just arrived from Chicago’” (January 26, 1884).

Homer Synnestvedt, at age 16, penned these words a few weeks after arriving at the College and Theological School of the Academy of the New Church, which at that time were situated in a row house in Philadelphia. The full letter is a remarkable and entertaining glimpse into the life of a new Academy boarding student in the 1880s. (The letter is reproduced in full at the end of this New Church History Fun Fact.)

110friedlandervert.jpgFor six years (1879-1885) the College and Theological School shared quarters in a three-story row house at No. 110 Friedlander Street, adjacent to Cherry Street, where the Temple of the Advent Society was located. For several years the Rev. William Henry Benade, the Chancellor, lodged at the same address, and the Rev. L.H. Tafel, one of the professors, lived a few doors down at No. 104. (The name of the street is no longer Friedlander — the name was changed in 1897.) Benade moved into the house at Friedlander shortly after returning from his extended trip to Europe, Egypt, and the Holy Land, as he records in a letter he wrote to a fellow Academician shortly after moving in:

“My house is on Friedlander St., No. 110 — a few doors from Mr. Tafel’s. I have fitted up three rooms for my own use, — one of which I shall use as a classroom for the Students, — a reception room & Museum” (William H. Benade. Letter to Walter Childs. 10 November 1879).

Benade and Tafel were listed as living on Friedlander Street in the 1880 census, which also reports their occupation as “Minister.” At first the row house was a rented dwelling; however, after several years Benade moved out to make more room for the schools, and the Academy purchased the property.

A few other student accounts of the Academy’s school at 110 Friedlander Street have survived, including one by Carl Theophilus Odhner, written in 1917:

“We might record many interesting things respecting this remarkably active set of budding ‘theologs,’ but as these are not our own Memoirs, we must refrain, much to the regret, no doubt, of our dear old comrades. It may be of interest, however, to describe our first impressions of the Academy School, as we first beheld it, — a small three-story building on a side street, 110 Friedlander Street. The little ‘parlor’ on the first floor contained the ‘Academy Book Room’ and the priceless collection of Egyptian antiquities, while the back part of the first floor was occupied by Mr. Van Horn, the janitor of the school and of the adjoining Church on Cherry Street, an ancient worthy who was wedded to a pipe of unforgettable rancor” (From “John Pitcairn: A Biography,” Carl Theophilus Odhner, New Church Life, October, 1917, 605-606).

At this time the Boys School was located in the classroom at the Cherry Street Church. In 1885, most of the Academy’s schools were moved to 1700 Summer Street; later locations in Philadelphia were at Vine Street and Wallace Street. It was not until 1897 that the Academy of the New Church moved “out to the country,” to its present location in Bryn Athyn.

Homer Synnestvedt grew up in Chicago, Illinois, and attended the New Church Society in Chicago where the Rev. William F. Pendleton was pastor. He wished to be a minister from the time he was a little boy, and in 1883 Pendleton wrote a letter of recommendation to Chancellor Benade in Philadelphia: “His earnestness and sincerity cannot be questioned; and, what is remarkable for a boy of his age, he has supported himself for a year or two by drumming in a city regiment, peddling milk and coal, and at the same time has attended high school, standing high in his classes. . . . From these facts you can see that we are all prepared to give him a warm recommendation, feeling sure that he is just the kind of boy the Academy wants” (William F. Pendleton. Letter to William H. Benade. 21 June 1883).

homerdrummer.jpgSynnestvedt graduated from the Academy, and was ordained in 1891. He went on to serve as pastor of the Bryn Athyn Society, Head Master of the Bryn Athyn Elementary School, and Professor of Education at the Academy. The letter from him below was written just four days shy of his 17th birthday. It is addressed to the Rev. W. F. Pendleton.

homerletterdt.jpg“Philadelphia, Jan. 26 [1884]

“Dear Sir

“I write to thank you again for helping me to this ‘opportunity.’ And also for the sake of getting an answer. Perhaps it will interest you to know that I am perfectly contented and happy. The Lord, in the His Divine Providence, does not often bring people into the use that they love, by such a remarkable series of events. The longer I stay here, the more I like it.

“It was snowing when I arrived. I got directions to Friedlander street from a Hackman, and went right up there. My knock was answered by a strange lady, who showed me into a small school room and said that Mr. Stuart would be down soon. While sitting here, I began to get more and more embarrassed, as my hands and face were of a Pittsburgh hue and my appearance withal was anything but neat. In what seemed to me about half an hour, a small gentleman, with spectacles and side burns, entered the room and — smiled. ‘Mr. Stuart?’ ‘Yes sir.’ (sweetly) “I am Mr. Synnestvedt, just arrived from Chicago.’ That settled it. It was all smooth sailing after that. After removing my outer garments, I was conducted upstairs, where I met my old friend, Mr. Price.

“When I was nicely smeared over with soap suds, the fiendish Mr. Stuart brought in the Bishop! What could I do? I smiled a soapy smile, and said How do you do, and then calmly finished my ablutions. Then I was introduced to him and he looked and talked so benignly, that I began to feel quite warm. Downstairs I met ‘Tiph’ (Theophilus) Odhner and the other students Waechly [sic], Billings and Davison.

“Mr. Benade then took me around to the school, and made arrangements for me with Mr. Tafel, who then examined me, and put me in the class with Dandridge. I saw Mr. Bostock and he took me in and introduced me to the class of boys. I stayed with them till noon, when I went home with Mr. Price, to Bouvier St., and ate an enormous dinner, having had no breakfast. After a nap, we went in the evening to hear Mr. Benade, on education. It was the first night of the class. Everybody takes notes, which somebody reads next time. It is very instructive. I found out then why Mr. Benade is thought so much of.

“As to my standing in school, I found that I was up to them in Hebrew, behind in Latin, (but I am catching up) ahead in Geometry, deficient in German, proficient in English, knew comparatively nothing of Theology, all right in History and science, and up to the class in the drawing. They have no Greek this year.

“Thursday morning I moved my valise down to Mrs. Aitken’s, and became one of the boys. Studied all that afternoon, and in the evening went to the Y.P.C. [Young Peoples Club] and was introduced to a number of the young folks. Find New Church folks the same here as there, only that this family is larger than that. Mrs. Aitken is my adopted mother, and Mr. Benade would be my adoptive father, if he felt towards me as I feel towards him. I could say with remarkable truth that the Church is my mother, and the Lord my father, if he would own me. If you have seen my parents, I wish you would tell me what they said.

“By the way, Miss Junge is prospering in the small kindergarten. She looks remarkably well.

“Was baptized Sunday by the Rev. L.H. Tafel. The church is elegantly fitted out, and the services were very impressive. I suppose it will be the same there, in time.

“We had a tea meeting last Wednesday evening. It was in charge of the ‘German’ committee and was quite an extensive. Dr. Hibbard related his missionary adventures, and started a subscription for the support of the Orphanage with success. Got acquainted with a number of the ‘pillars.’ Met Mrs. Bostock and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Drs. Farrington and Starkey, and a number of others.

“In this room sleep Dan, Waelchly [sic] and myself. And the next, ‘Tiph,’ and a young artist, Brown. Sometimes Price, Schill, and Aitken come up, and we have a little party. We saw Ned Starkey off in style last Wednesday, after the tea party. Suppose you will get more news from him than you can from me.  

“I spent an hour this morning fencing with Dan. I get along splendidly with the boys, considering that I neither smoke, chew or drink lager. I don’t see that it is the duty of a New Churchman to do these. The church gives me eight dollars a week, and what I save by not smoking, I spent to see Booth, and The Beggar Student. Board is four fifty, which is very low. Washing, fifty cents, and the three remaining dollars go for books, clothing and luxury. Luxury includes charity and the sinking fund.

“Dr. Tafel preached a three cornered sermon last Sunday on those who ‘would go down into Egypt,’ telling how the regenerating man should keep away from the false scientifics, how the Church was thereby endangered, and then (‘there are some in the Church who etc.’) he pitched into the left wing.

“I got a complete set of the Writings yesterday for nothing! That is something it takes the New Church to do. Please give my regards to Mrs. Pendleton, and don’t forget to tell me about the little girls.

Yours Respectfully,

Homer Synnestvedt”

Photos: The photographs of “Friedlander Street” as it appears today were taken by Ed Gyllenhaal. The 1880 census page listing Benade and Tafel is courtesy of Professor Stephen D. Cole. The photograph of Homer Synnestvedt was most likely taken during his time as a city drummer boy in Chicago. It is in the collection of the Academy of the New Church Archives, Swedenborg Library, Bryn Athyn, PA. The original letter written by Homer Synnestvedt to W.F. Pendleton is also in the collection of the Academy of the New Church Archives. 

Further Reading:

The Academy of the New Church 1876-1926: An Anniversary Record

First Academy School Opening (1877)

Questions and comments may be addressed to the editors at [email protected]

September 30, 2008 | Posted by: Ed and Kirsten Gyllenhaal in New Church History Fun Fact