First Unitarian Church

In the year 1796 in the summer month of June on the 12th day, twenty prestigious individuals formed the First Unitarian Society of Philadelphia. They became the first year round, uninterrupted continuously functioning church which identified itself as being 'Unitarian'. Two of the leaders at that time were Joseph Priestley and Dr William Furness. Dr Furness began serving at the young age of 22 and continued for fifty years, eventually becoming one of a sparse few abolitionists of that era in the city. He died in 1898 as a reverend, activist and scholar who was said to have inspired activities of the Underground Railroad in the 1830's. The first building was called the Octagon Building and was designed by a native American architect by the name of Robert Mills. The design was quite unusual for the city and for that time. The inspiration for the building was said to have originated in other Unitarian churches in England whose designs shifted from the more traditional cross shaped floor plans of the more traditional Orthodox Christian churches. The second building was called the Doric Building. This edifice was built larger than the first with a more elegant style to reflect the growing number of church goers. Architect William Strickland was hailed as having designed one of the most magnificent and exceptional churches in Philadelphia. The third building was designed by Frank Furness, the son of the first minister of the church. This third building is the present day edifice. It was dedicated in the year 1885 and was completed the following year. With blue walls, daffodils in gold leaf and a rust colored hammer beam ceiling along with Tiffany & Co stained glass windows, it was a sight to behold. The building boasts a sanctuary and the basement level houses Griffin Hall. The rear of the church holds the Parish Room and a small chapel.

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  • First Unitarian Church
  • 2125 Chestnut St
  • Philadelphia, PA 19103
  • (215) 563-3980
  • Directions

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