A Brief History of Queen Memorial Building
In 1875 Union Theological Seminary graduate Rev. J. Gray Bolton became pastor of Hope Presbyterian Church, a small congregation that worshipped at the southeast corner of 33rd and Wharton Streets. The surrounding neighborhood, located in a industrial pocket formed by the curving Schuylkill River to the west, bustled as Reading Railroad and B&O Railroad trains traversed its streets, distributing locally made goods of all kinds.
An offshoot of Calvary Presbyterian Church, Hope Presbyterian Church had been founded four years earlier by John A. Neff. Under Rev. Bolton, the young congregation grew rapidly. By 1887, the congregation numbered 212 and its Sunday school numbered 400, necessitating the construction of a larger church building.
In 1887, the cornerstone of the present church building was laid. Designed by ecclesiastic architect Charles W. Bolton (1855-1942), the 80 by 85-foot building was constructed of Newtown brownstone and accented by Indiana limestone trimmings. The distinctive tower, which now graces the building, would be added later due to financial limitations. The tower originally featured a tall steeple topped by a cross.
In 1895 Abbie S. Queen, a member of Hope Presbyterian Church, pledged to build a library in memory of her late husband, James W. Queen. Mr. Queen was a manufacturer of scientific instruments such as air pumps, induction coils, and gyroscopes.
According to a Philadelphia Inquirer article published in February of 1896, a spokesperson for Mrs. Queen articulated her reasoning for making such a gift: “Love has done many things and has been the dominating feature of many lives. But there are features and phases of life more beautiful than love. The most beautiful feature is that of character. Yet love and character are sometimes inseparable. I desire to impress upon you today the force of both and how they were exemplified in the life of Mr. Queen.” Construction began in May of that year.
The Gothic Revival style library, which would replace the church’s chapel (located on the south side of the property), featured a 1200 seat auditorium and several meeting rooms in addition to the core library space. The basement, unfinished at first, would later become a gymnasium.
Queen Memorial Library, though owned by Hope Presbyterian Church, was operated as a branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia from 1912 until moving to 1313-15 Point Breeze Avenue in 1945. It held over 2,000 books, including books from the collections of James W. Queen and Samuel J. Dickey. Still in operation, the branch is now located at 1201 S. 23rd Street in the Point Breeze neighborhood.
Over time, the congregation of Hope Presbyterian Church dwindled. Like many other Mainline Protestant congregations, its numbers declined during the latter half of the twentieth century until it finally closed its doors in the early 2000s.
Building history researched and written by Rachel Hildebrandt