Alnwick Grove Park

alnwickgrove.jpg“I can remember that there was a good sized round pavilion for dancing, picnic tables, and one or two other buildings not as large as the round pavilion. The latter, I think was up the hill above the railroad, and the others were down nearer the Creek. Before my day I know that the young people of our Church came out from Philadelphia on the train for picnics. That was before any of us moved out here. The station was then called Alnwick Grove, but there were not many trains” (Freda Pendleton. Letter to Sylvia M. Fesmire. 14 January 1949. Academy of the New Church Archives, Swedenborg Library, Bryn Athyn, PA).

canoeingthumb.jpgAlnwick Grove, a park along the Pennypack Creek just south of what is now the Bryn Athyn Post Office, between the stations then known as Alnwick Grove and Huntingdon Valley, was an early destination for members of the Advent Society in Philadelphia. Excursions occurred long before the Society’s formal decision to relocate to the area in 1893: “On June 19th [1880] the Academy held its third annual celebration in the picnic grounds near Alnwick Grove . . .” (New Church Life 1917, 596). Apparently the natural appeal of the park was significant: “At Alnwick Grove, in the old days of the Advent Church of Philadelphia, the preliminary worship had a tendency to become perfunctory, the interest in the expected physical delights being too great” (New Church Life 1918, 516).

Many different groups made use of Alnwick Grove, including the fledgling Vegetarian Society of America. On June 26th, 1886, approximately two hundred vegetarians met for a picnic and discussion.

alnwickgrovemap.jpgThe Alnwick Grove property was operated by the Philadelphia, Newtown and New York Railroad, which ran excursions to the site and parked the railroad cars on a nearby siding. A newspaper article from 1879 describes the park: “The park has lately been improved, under the supervision of M. J. Campbell, excursion agent . . . who has had erected a commodious pavilion for dancing purposes, and a large number of tables and seats for the convenience of excursionists and picnic parties. There is a splendid rock spring of pure limpid water on the grounds and a fine sheet of water for boating and fishing, extending some three-quarters of a mile. There is abundance of shade from the numerous fine forest trees, and altogether a more inviting and elegant location could not be found in the neighborhood of Philadelphia” (Exact references for this article are unknown, but it is published in “Where is Alnwick Park?” in Penickpacka Historical Society Bulletin, Vol. 14, 1995, pp. 18–19).

Alnwick Grove might have passed into history as merely one of the many parks visited by members of the Advent Society, if it were not for the following series of events. In the summer of 1888 Robert Glenn chose the area for his summer retreat, and was pleased with his choice. He encouraged John Pitcairn to purchase land there, and in 1889 Pitcairn bought the Knight and Yerkes farms (present site of Cairnwood, Bryn Athyn Cathedral and Glencairn). The Society’s decision to relocate to the area was announced in 1893, but the financial “Panic” of that year slowed down the pace of their move, which did not take place until 1897. The Alnwick Grove train station retained its name until 1899, when it was changed to Bryn Athyn station. The station building (which now serves as the Bryn Athyn Post Office) was constructed in 1902.

Two nineteenth century maps show the location of Alnwick Grove, one from 1886 and another from 1891. Both of these maps and other early maps of the area are part of a NewChurchHistory.org article, “Early Maps of Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, a New Church Community.” The editors have not come across any contemporary photographs of the park facilities or letters describing visits, and would welcome any additional information our readers might have.

Photos: The postcard labeled ”Alnwick Grove, Pa.” is courtesy of the Old York Road Historical Society. The photograph of a man and woman in a canoe is a portion of a lantern slide, and is not formally identified as Alnwick Grove, but it gives a good idea of the Pennypack in earlier days. The slide is labeled “Bryn Athyn, 1916, canoeing on the creek.” The portion of the 1886 map is from C.M. Hunter, Atlas of Boroughs & Towns in Philadelphia, Bucks and Montgomery Counties on Line of North Pennsylvania R.R. and Branches, Bound Brook Railroad to Langhorn, also Plans of Newtown & Hatboro. Published by J.D. Scott, Philadelphia. The map and lantern slide are both in the collection of the Academy of the New Church Archives, Swedenborg Library, Bryn Athyn, PA.

Further Reading:

Farmers Sell Land to John Pitcairn for New Church Community and School (1891)

Bryn Athyn: The Founding of a Religious Community in the Gilded Age (1994)

Bryn Athyn and the Academy of the New Church (1904)

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

May 1, 2008 | Posted by: Ed and Kirsten Gyllenhaal in New Church History Fun Fact