Fairmount/North Philadelphia Tour
This tour highlights many of the historically significant buildings and institutions that are, or have been, in the Fairmount and adjoining north Philadelphia neighborhoods.
The Disston House was designed by renowned architect Edwin Forrest Durang for Albert H. Disston, son of the wealthy industrialist Henry Disston. Construction began on the house in 1881 and was completed in 1882 with renovations taking place in 1906 and 1920. Today, the mansion is the home to the Unity Mission Church Home Training School Bible Institute.
Now an empty lot, the Green Hill Presbyterian Church was a staple of Girard Avenue for over 150 years. Scottish-American architect John Notman (1810-1865) was tasked with building a church for the once-rural Pennsylvania community. It was founded and organized by Reverend Thomas Brainerd as a “New School” revivalist congregation which dissented from the conservative “Old School” Presbyterian Church. Rev. Brainerd was gifted the plot of land, valued at $3000, from philanthropist Charles Macalester while campaigning throughout the community raising funds for a new church. Prior to Green Hill’s construction, Brainerd conducted religious services in peoples’ homes. Built in 1848 and costing $10,000, Green Hill Presbyterian underwent numerous and drastic renovations throughout its history before being torn down in 2009.
When the first Mass was celebrated inside of the church in 1888, the Gesù was not just a single building, but it was the focal point around which revolved entire communities – including multiple scholastic institutions, religious communities, and a neighborhood full of parishioners. Saint Joseph’s Preparatory School, Saint Joseph’s College (now University), and what is now called the Gesù School were largely dependent and united by the Gesù Church and parish. Although the parish closed in 1993, the church is still used by “the Prep” and the Gesù School. The Church of the Gesù was designed by Edwin F. Durang and modeled on the Church of the Gesù in Rome, the mother church of the Jesuit order.
The Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMCP), originally the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania, was one of the first medical schools designed for the professional education of women. Established in 1850 at 627 Arch Street in Philadelphia, it moved to North College Avenue and 21st Street in Philadelphia's Fairmount neighborhood in 1862. While in Fairmount, WMCP grew to become a successful school with an international audience. The college relocated to East Falls in 1930 and exists today as Drexel University College of Medicine.
The Berean Institute, originally the Berean Manual Training and Industrial School, was a school that offered trade and technical classes to the African American community of North Philadelphia. The Berean Institute was founded by Rev. Matthew Anderson in 1899 and officially opened its doors in 1904. The Berean Institute grew quickly and eventually offered classes in sewing, typewriting, carpentry, electrical work, cooking and other trades. The Berean Institute served the community for over 100 years, until it closed its doors in 2012. Today the Philadelphia Technical Training Institute operates a technical and trade school on the site.
Girard College is a 1st-12th grade independent school in Philadelphia that has provided free education and boarding for financially disadvantaged students since it first opened in 1848. Despite the name “College,” Girard has always been a residential school for students between the ages of six and eighteen. The boarding school was created and financed through the will of Stephen Girard, one of the first millionaires in US history, who originally endowed the school for “poor white male orphans.” Owing to the rigorous efforts of civil rights activists to desegregate the school, Girard admitted its first non-white students in 1968; the school became coeducational in 1984. Today, Girard students represent various cultural backgrounds, but all come from families with demonstrated financial need and with one or no birth parents living at home. For much of its history, the school taught a dual curriculum of academic subjects and vocational skill training; today it is fully college-preparatory. Girard College is a significant site in local history and a place of opportunity, student life, and achievement for many generations of students. Please note that Girard College is an active residential school, and campus is only open to the public for advertised events. Founder’s Hall Museum is open to the public for walk-in visitation on Thursdays, 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. unless otherwise noted, with additional times available by appointment. Visitors are required to check in with the Security Office and present photo ID upon arrival.
The German Hospital of Philadelphia was a medical facility established in 1860 tasked with sheltering and caring for infirmed Germans in Philadelphia. The hospital operated from Philadelphia’s Fairmount neighborhood at Girard and Corinthian Avenues from 1872 to 1911, during a time of great German immigration to the United States. Supported by Philadelphia financiers John D. Lakenau and the Drexel family, the hospital was able to meet the needs of the growing German population. It continues operations today as the Lankenau Medical Center in Lower Merion.
The Philadelphia House of Refuge served as a reformatory prison alternative for juvenile delinquents in Philadelphia’s Fairmount neighborhood from 1850 to 1892. Originally established in 1828 in the Spring Garden section of the city, the House of Refuge was a part of the early 19th century incarceration reform movement. Its comprehensive plan of study was based on education, vocational training, and spirituality for boys and girls in a facility separate from the adult incarcerated population. The House of Refuge continued operations through the 20th century as the Glen Mills Schools, which ceased operation in 2019.
The Corinthian Avenue Reservoir was constructed in 1854 to hold and help supply drinking-water from the Schuylkill River. It was intended to expand the capacity of the city’s water system, and, since it was at a higher elevation than the earlier Fairmount reservoir, it would allow the gravity-powered water system to reach the higher floors of the quickly expanding Philadelphia.
The Bache-Martin School has been a center of learning in the Fairmount area for over a century. It combines two buildings: the Bache School, built as a public school in 1905-06, and the Martin School, built in 1937, which was the first school in the Philadelphia school system built for students with physical disabilities. Today Bache-Martin is a part of the School District of Philadelphia and offers general public preK-8 instruction.
The Northern Home for Friendless Children (known today as Northern Children's Services) is an organization aimed at supporting child development and community stability. This institution, originally founded by Elizabeth E. Hutter in 1853, was intended to serve as a residential refuge for poor and neglected children. This organization still operates today, offering residential programs, employment training, and health care services to struggling and formerly homeless families.
What was once the most infamous penitentiary in the United States has left behind a chilling and haunting past. This Penitentiary is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and opened in the 1800s, eventually gaining its historical landmark status. A big part of its creation was due to the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons and the famous social thinker Michel Foucault. During its almost 150 years of operation, it housed approximately 75,000 inmates and many horrific deaths. After its opening, many famous people traveled to observe this new penitentiary. It is so significant because of its experimentation with new techniques of reformation. This created much controversy and would leave an everlasting legacy, causing people to visit today to get a glimpse of tragedy and be spooked by the ghosts that allegedly reside there.