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Institutions in Overbrook
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John L. Puckett

Throughout the late 19th century and early 20th century, houses of worship and benevolent/charitable institutions played a role in the Overbrook section.

Throughout the late 19th century and early 20thcentury, houses of worship and benevolent/charitable institutions played a role in the Overbrook section. These included the Overbrook Presbyterian Church, Our Lady of Lourdes, the Memorial Church of St. Paul (later the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas), and the Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia

Houses of Worship

In 1890, Presbyterians, assisted by the Quaker Wistar Morris, built the Gothic Revival-style Overbrook Presbyterian Church at the intersection of Lancaster Park and City Line Avenue, soon to be part of Overbrook Farms. This church was expanded in 1909 and rebuilt in 1925.

In 1899 Catholics built Our Lady of Lourdes in Overbrook Farms—a granite-and-limestone Gothic-Revival church, located at the intersection of Lancaster Avenue and 63rd Street.

In 1899, White Episcopalians built the Memorial Church of St. Paul in Overbrook Farms on Lancaster Avenue between Overbrook Avenue and Sherwood Road—an English Gothic-style church constructed of Wissahickon schist, featuring Tiffany and d’Ascenzo stained-glass windows. Decades later the Church of St. Paul was sold to become the home of the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, an institution that was founded in 1792; a chapel was added in honor of the founder, Absalom Jones.[1]

In 1953, Talmudical Yesihva of Philadelphia, an all-male orthodox yeshiva, was founded. Located on Drexel Road between City Line Avenue and Upland Way, a short walk from Overbrook Station, the yeshiva offers a college-preparatory curriculum for approximately 100 high school students and a curriculum for a select group of college-age students, with all levels emphasizing Talmudic studies.[2]  

Charitable Institutions

Pennsylvania Institution for the Instruction of the Blind

In 1832, a German immigrant, Julius Friedlander, with the help of prominent Philadelphians J. Francis Fisher and Robert Vaux, established the Pennsylvania Institution for the Instruction of the Blind in 1832 (renamed the Overbrook School for the Blind in 1946). The Institution’s early board of directors included such luminaries as Bishop William White, Dr. Phillip Syng Physick (“father of American surgery”), and Alexander Dallas Bache (University of Pennsylvania professor and first president of Girard College). The Institution’s new building, at 20th and Race streets, was dedicated in 1836. This building, and the Institution’s early operations, were underwritten by the estate of William Young Birch.[3]

In 1896, its original building showing signs of deterioration, the Institution purchased 26.3 acres from the Morris Estate in Overbrook for new buildings on a green-space campus at 6333 Malvern Avenue. “The site offered proximity to the Overbrook station of the Pennsylvania Railroad and accessibility to streetcar lines,” writes Edith Willoughby, the school’s archivist. “The former farm was surrounded by green open space, perfect for promoting health.” The Institution opened its splendid new campus in 1899, its dominant feature being an expansive, Spanish Renaissance-style central building architected by the firm of Cope and Stewardson. Crowned by a rotunda, this building included boys’ and girls’ interior cloisters, a library, facilities for support services, and a pool and interior playgrounds. Ten acres of adjoining athletic fields rounded out the campus.[4] 

Orphan Society of Philadelphia

Walter S. Bromley’s 1892 map of the 27th and 34th Wards shows the Orphan Society of Philadelphia located on a tract that extended from Lebanon Avenue to Lansdowne between 64th and 68th streets. This was one of four successive locations over a 150-year period for the orphanage established by the Orphan Society of Philadelphia in 1815. According to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania: “The institution, while nonsectarian, was Christian-based in philosophy and teaching. For at least the first one hundred years, admission was restricted to ‘destitute fatherless children of married parents.’ Boys were not admitted over the age of seven and were housed until the age of sixteen; girls were not admitted over the age of nine and were housed until the age of eighteen.”[5]

[1] Overbrook Farms Club, Overbrook Farms (Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2014), 41–46; University City Historical Society, “Overbrook Farms,” accessed from, 27 July 2016.
[2] “Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia,”; “Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia—High School,”; both accessed July 10, 2018.
[3] Elizabeth Willoughby, Overbrook School for the Blind (Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2007), 9–20.
[4] Ibid., 21-29.
[5] Historical Society of Pennsylvania, “Orphan Society of Philadelphia Records, 1814 – 1925,” Collection 1913, accessed from, 6 July 2018.

Continue reading Overbrook

Map of Blockley Township Including All Public Places, Property Owners, etc., 1849

Arriving in the mid-1680s, Welsh Quakers held the original patents in the Western Liberties. The descendants of these immigrants maintained sizable estates in the 18th and 19th centuries that evolved into the modern Overbrook.

Mill Creek, Indian Run, Morris Park, and City Line are notable historical features of the Overbrook landscape.

Overbrook Farms, an elite turn-of-the-20th-century suburban development notable for its curvilinear streets and late-Victorian and early-modern houses arose in the quadrant of 59th to 66th streets between City Line and Woodbine Avenues. The project involved more than 50 architects; its hallmarks were (and still are) spacious late-Victorian and early-modern houses arrayed on curvilinear streets.

From the late-17th to the mid-19th century, Overbrook was home to agricultural estates and water-powered mills. By the turn of the twentieth century, it was a residential section of the city dominated by Overbrook Farms, with business activity concentrated along 63rd Street above Lancaster Avenue.  

From the mid-19th century onward, the Pennsylvania Railroad’s “Main Line” trains spurred the development of affluent suburbs just northwest of the City of Philadelphia. Overbrook’s residential development benefited immensely from the railroad’s passage through West Philadelphia to the central city. Electric trolleys arrived in Overbrook in 1895.

Throughout the late 19th century and early 20th century, houses of worship and benevolent/charitable institutions played a role in the Overbrook section.