Asbury M.E. Church burned down on March 9, 1997, a few months before it was to become the home of the Graduate School of Fine Arts at the University of Pennsylvania. The church was undergoing renovations at the time. The following is excerpted from West Philadelphia Illustrated: Early History of West Philadelphia and its Environs, its People and its Historical Points, pp. 40-41 of the chapter "West Philadelphia Historic Churches and Burial Grounds." Written and compiled by M. Laffitte Vieira. Phila.: Avil Printing Co., 1903
Asbury Church represents the oldest Methodist organization in West Philadelphia and is the mother church of several churches of that denomination on the west side of the Schuylkill. The first congregation began to worship in 1827 in an old school house at the corner of Oak (now Ludlow) and Thirty-third streets. In 1829 they purchased the lot extending through from Chestnut to Ludlow and built a church fronting on the latter street. In the rear was a burial ground extending to Chestnut Street. This church was dedicated in 1830. Oak, or Ludlow, Street was evidently then a more important thoroughfare than Chestnut Street, but in 1849 an addition was made to the south end of the church, and that became the main entrance.
The old church, certainly one of the oldest of any denomination in West Philadelphia, was, after the new edifice was erected, sold by the congregation and used for manufacturing purposes. A member of the old church writes as follows of "Asbury":
"When Asbury Church was organized by a few earnest workers in 1827, that part of the city was a country village, and around the First Church was a cow pasture. The name of the church was taken from that of Bishop Asbury, the first American Methodist Bishop sent over from England by John Wesley. The first meetings were held in the Quaker school house, at Thirty-third and Ludlow Streets, and in 1818 they organized the first Sunday school west of the Schuylkill, in Hamilton Academy, Fortieth and Chestnut streets. The little band which laid the foundation of the church met from house to house, until the Rev. Jacob Gruber and the Rev. William Cooper came in 1827. The First Church building was erected in 1829. At the time of the dedication in 1830 there were seventy regular members, and during all the succeeding years it has had a widening field of usefulness.
"The church, seeking to enlarge her borders, in 1835 started a mission at Forty-second and Market Streets. Another mission was organized in Haddington in 1857 and a little later another in Mantua village. It was then that Asbury became the mother church of West Philadelphia Methodism, having given the first impetus to the present Fortieth Street, Christ and Sarah D. Cooper Memorial Churches. The first Asbury Church was a quaint building, with two front doors and a series of steps leading to each entrance. There was one aisle, and that was in the centre. The pulpit was at the south end, and was reached by a high staircase. The church was lighted by oil lamps suspended from the ceiling.
"In 1850 the growing congregation emphasized the need of better accommodations, and a remodeled and enlarged building was the result, with the front on Chestnut Street. During more than thirty years the congregation worshiped in the second temple, but in 1883 such changes had taken place in that section of West Philadelphia that the time had come for a new church on a larger scale. Plans were introduced during the pastorate of the Rev. Jerome Lindemuth, and the Rev. Dr. James Morrow, his successor, was the means of erecting the present handsome and commodious edifice at a cost, including the ground, of $80,000. The auditorium has a seating capacity for 800 persons. The first floor is divided into Sunday school and class rooms and trustees' apartments. The windows are all of stained glass, the large memorial one in front of the building being a gift of the late George W. Childs, as a tribute to the life and work of Bishop Simpson.
The Rev. Dr. W. H. Lindemuth, the pastor, was called to that field five years ago [ca. 1898], and is the son of the Rev. Jerome Lindemuth, a former pastor, who served the church in 1883-1885. Marked improvements have been made in the church during the present pastorate. The mortgage indebtedness has been reduced from $16,000 to $8,000.
The new church stands on the site of the old burial ground, the bodies having been removed to Mt. Moriah Cemetery.
Among the families of West Philadelphia who have been or are now represented on the roll of Asbury membership are the Sages, Roses, Mullens, Wests, Ritters, Hunters, Hickses, Prentzels, Allisons, Loflins, Van Houtens and others, all old families of West Philadelphia.
When Rev. J. F. Crouch was stationed at Chester some years ago, an old lady belonging to his congregation told him that she frequently in her younger days walked from Chester to Philadelphia, to attend the Sunday lovefeast at Asbury, returning the same day. The distance covered is about twenty-four miles.