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Mormon Trail in Philadelphia

Posted on Monday, November 5, 2018

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For individuals and groups visiting the Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple and Mormon Meetinghouse in Philadelphia, there is a great Mormon Trail to walk and/or ride celebrating the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in America’s Birthplace.

Stop 1 - Penn’s Landing Port of Entry: From Philadelphia to Salt Lake City

Spruce Street Harbor Park at Penn’s Landing
301 S. Christopher Columbus Boulevard (Columbus Boulevard and Spruce Streets)
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Spruce Street Harbor Park

After 1854, Philadelphia served as a main port of entry for Latter-day Saints emigrating to the United States from Europe. Because of the serious problems with sickness in the Mississippi River Valley during this time, Brigham Young counseled British Mission leader, Franklin D. Richards, to route Mormon converts through Philadelphia, Boston, or New York, but President Young gave Philadelphia top billing.

Stop 2 - First Independent Church of Christ (today it is Kesher Israel Synagogue)

Kesher Israel (formerly the First Independent Church of Christ)
412 Lombard Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Kesher Israel (formerly the First Independent Church of Christ)

Come see where Joseph Smith spoke at the Philadelphia Conference at the First Independent Church of Christ and preached from the Book of Mormon on January 14, 1840. Sometime after the 1840 sermon, the First Independent Church of Christ became the First Universalist Church, and then in 1889, the church was converted into a synagogue for the congregation of Kesher Israel.

A few weeks after the branch was organized, Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Orson Pratt, and Parley P. Pratt participated in a conference in the city, held in a large building and attended by 3,000 people. Those in attendance said Joseph “arose like a lion about to roar” and spoke with great power.

When John Adams served as the Vice President of the United States, Adams sat in the pews of this historic house of worship.

Stop 3 – The Constitutional Walking Tour of Philadelphia

Meet at the National Constitution Center (Tours meet at the 3 large stone benches outside main entrance)
525 Arch Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106

The Constitutional Walking Tour

Take The Constitutional Walking Tour of Philadelphia for a primary overview of Historic Philadelphia, America’s Birthplace.  We will visit more 20 of the most historic sites in the Independence National Historical Park area, including the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.  Special attention will be paid to the concept of religious liberty including the Bill of Rights and William Penn.

According to the “Roots of LDS Church in Philadelphia Run Deep,” missionaries first arrived in Philadelphia in 1837. Don Carlos Smith, Joseph Smith’s younger brother, and then Jedediah Grant, who would later serve in the First Presidency, each preached in Philadelphia with great success. There were more than 100 Latter-day Saints in Philly by 1838. According to David J. Whittaker, in 1839, Benjamin Winchester responded to an official call to start missionary work in Philadelphia.

Mormon Preaching Place

According to Charles Muldowney, Philadelphia Area Seminary and Institute Coordinator, the first missionaries preached the gospel in Philadelphia on this street corner at 6th & Market Streets which is where the Liberty Bell and President’s House are located today.

William Penn’s Legacy – Religious Tolerance for All

On The Constitutional Walking Tour, we retell the story with all of our visitors of a French visitor in the 1790s who noted that Philadelphia had 33 places of worship.  Philadelphia had so many religious institutions from the 17th and 18th centuries made possible because of William Penn’s vision which was based on religious tolerance for all, including for the prevailing established religions at that time in Pennsylvania such as Judaism, Catholicism and Protestantism.

The Society of Friends, also known as Quakers, grew out of the teachings of George Fox in England, in the 17th Century. William Penn, a disciple of George Fox, founded Philadelphia as a haven for his persecuted co-religionists. William Penn’s “Holy Experiment” was to build a society according to the Quaker ideals of nonviolence, the equality of man and the absolute right of conscience. William Penn proclaimed this religious freedom in 1701 with the creation of “The Pennsylvania Charter of Privileges”.

Stop 4 - 7th & Callowhill Streets

7th & Callowhill Streets
Philadelphia, PA 19123

Head to 7th & Callowhill Streets where Joseph Smith presided over the official organization of the Philadelphia Branch of the LDS Church on December 23, 1839.  This occurred in a brick building that that LDS missionary Benjamin Winchester secured the use of the structure for preaching. Note that the original brick building structure where Smith organized the Philadelphia Branch is no longer there, and it is a rather busy intersection, one can pass by though and see where this event happened.

Stop 5 - Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple and Mormon Meetinghouse

Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple (not open to the general public)
1739 Vine Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103

Philadelphia Meetinghouse
1682 Wood Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103

Head to the Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple and the Mormon Meetinghouse at 17th & Vine Streets.

Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple

Before you get to the Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple at 17th & Vine, be sure to check out “The Alexander” which is a 34-story residential tower designed by Robert A.M. Stern at 1601 Vine Street. The Alexander is named after the famous Philadelphia sculptor Alexander Calder who created the William Penn statue atop City Hill, and The Alexander is owned by a subsidiary of the Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-day Saints.

Mormon Meetinghouse Philadelphia, with The Alexander in Background

Reconnecting to the Lives of the Pioneers – Henry Grow, Jr., Pioneer Builder

From his Philadelphia roots to his lasting legacy with designing, engineering and building the Salt Lake Tabernacle and Temple Square, the story of Henry Grow, Jr., evokes a sense of awe, reverence and personal connection to the historical roots of the pioneer builder. Grow was born in 1817 in Penn Valley, Pennsylvania (just about 10 miles from the Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple). Prior to becoming the Superintendent of Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Grow was the Superintendent of all bridge construction for the Philadelphia, Germantown and Norristown Rail Road Company.

It is interesting to connect the dots between Henry Grow, Jr.’s hometown of Philadelphia, the immigrants who were Mormon converts arriving in the United States via Philadelphia, and Henry Grow, Jr. providing initial employment in Utah to so many of these immigrants.  Henry Grow Jr.’s pioneer spirit appears to have transcended the typical manager-employee relationship since Henry Grow, Jr.’s management style set these immigrants on a successful pathway by sharing his values including family, spirituality, patriotism, hard work, ingenuity, resilience and success. To that end, the Ogden Standard published that following obituary for Henry Grow, Jr. after he died in 1891, and it was entitled “A Pioneer Gone”:

“Henry Grow, whose death occurred on the 4th inst. in Salt Lake City, and who was buried on Friday, the 6th, was well-known in this City and throughout the Territory.  He [Grow] came to Utah with the Pioneers and for many years was superintendent of the church buildings in Salt Lake. It was in this position he made a host of acquaintances and friends: for thousands who came to this country from foreign lands, and who are now the owners of prosperous homes in various parts of the Territory, performed their first day’s work in America under his direction. He was a gentle taskmaster, and all his men loved him. No better evidence of this could be adduced than was furnished in the addresses at his funeral, most of them from old associates and fellow-workmen who spoke of him in terms of the warmest affection.”

On October 14, 2017, about 100 members of the Henry Grow, Jr. family attended the 200th Birthday Celebration of Henry Grow, Jr. that included a tour of the ancestral home in Penn Valley, Pennsylvania where he was born and an event in the evening featuring a cake in the shape of the Salt Lake City Tabernacle which Henry Grow, Jr. designed and built.  The cake was made by Carlo's Bakery of Cake Boss.

Henry Grow, Jr. 200th Birthday Celebration, October 14, 2017, Featuring a Cake of the Salt Lake City Tabernacle by Carlo's Bakery of Cake Boss

Insider Information

The first LDS chapel built in Philadelphia was located at 316 South 46th Street (46th between Spruce and Pine Streets) in West Philadelphia, and it was dedicated on May 22, 1938. President Henry B. Eyring, who was born in Princeton, New Jersey, was baptized at this LDS chapel that is near the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. Today, the house of worship is the Good Shepherd Community Church in the Spruce Hill section of West Philadelphia, and there is a Mormon Meetinghouse at 3913 Chestnut Street.

Good Shepherd Community Church, Philadelphia

In addition to all of the great history in Philadelphia, the roots of the Mormon Church run deep across Pennsylvania.

Ready, Set, Explore & Learn

Guests taking The Constitutional Walking Tour of Philadelphia are in the perfect spot in the Historic District to start their own self-guided tour of Mormon Trail in Philadelphia.

For tickets and information on The Constitutional Walking Tour, call 215.525.1776 or email info@TheConstitutional.com .

The Constitutional also offers custom private tours featuring the Mormon Trail in Philadelphia and LDS history based on the sites and information described above. Private tours can be arranged any time of year by The Constitutional Walking Tour.  Please email us at info@TheConstitutional.com or call us at 215.525.1776.

Enjoy your tour!

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