Amenities Abound at Seamen's Church Institute
A Modern Hotel for a 20th Century Port
Philadelphia's chapter of the Seamen's Church Institute began in 1919, uniting two existing organizations of the same purpose under one name. Previously, the Pennsylvania Seamen's Friend Society and the Churchmen's Missionary Association for Seamen, organizations that worked independently, answered the needs of sailors in Philadelphia as far back as the 1840s.
Seamen's Church Institute provided a valuable resource to the local seaport community, attending to the basic needs of sailors in the merchant marine during their stays ashore in the bustling Port of Philadelphia. Among its earliest successes was the construction of a large hotel at the corner of Dock and Walnut Streets, just two blocks west of the Delaware River waterfront. This establishment operated from 1925 to 1956, offering sailors clean and affordable lodging, food, entertainment and religious services.
In the 1920s, the Port of Philadelphia was busier than ever. Changes in municipal administration endeavored to invigorate and modernize the outmoded seaport in order to accommodate more and larger vessels, thereby increasing maritime commerce. As a result of these efforts, sailors in the merchant marine flooded the shores of the Delaware River daily. Because it was not uncommon for these sailors to be delayed for days or sometimes weeks, the new hotel proved an especially important and welcomed addition to the port's revitalized landscape.
With dozens of private rooms and dormitories available for overnight lodgings, indoor plumbing, heating system, elevator, chapel, bank, library, "Slop Chest" or store, school room, recreation room, employment office, and a fully equipped kitchen and restaurant, this completely modern facility comfortably accommodated hundreds of international clients every day.
By the end of the 1920s, almost $1,000,000 was invested in the building's construction. Money was raised primarily through donations. Encouraged by the Women's Auxiliaries of the Seamen's Church Institute, corporations, groups and other individuals with business or personal interests in the port contributed to the effort. Donations to the Building Fund ranged widely, enabling the "purchase" of items such as a single bed or the completion of entire rooms.
In the mid 1950s, the National Park Service purchased the building from the Seamen's Church Institute. It was torn down to make way for Independence Mall, which was at that time planned to include an extension that ran from Second to Fifth Streets.
This brief history of the Seamen's Church Institute's first actions to support Philadelphia's seaport community was revealed through a larger project designed to provide public access to the organization's records, funded by the Albert M. Greenfield Foundation. Learn more about this Independence Seaport Museum project here »
• Visit the website for Seamen's Church Institute of Philadelphia & South Jersey »