Public invited to celebrate Bryn Athyn Historic District designation

Marketplace will offer goods by local artisans, live music.

Public invited to celebrate Bryn Athyn Historic District designation with a day of tours, music, carriage rides and family activities April 18.

A celebration of historic proportions is planned for Saturday, April 18 in the small borough of Bryn Athyn in southeastern Montgomery County.

With just about 1,350 residents and 1.9 square miles, Bryn Athyn has earned the attention of the United States Department of the Interior which designated a district within its boundaries one of 17 new National Historic Landmarks in 2008. Only two sites in Pennsylvania were awarded this designation in 2008, according to Patty Henry, a historian with the National Park Service’s National Historic Landmarks Program.*

The Bryn Athyn Historic District, which received the designation last October, officially will be launched April 18 with a ceremony and day of family fun for the public from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at three venues in the district.

Bryn Athyn was founded as a religious community in the late 19th century by members of a Christian denomination known as the New Church whose doctrine is based on the teachings of the Bible as illuminated by Emanuel Swedenborg, an 18th century theologian and scientist. A congregation of the New Church remains vibrant in the borough and supports an educational system, founded in 1876, that includes secondary schools, a college and a theological school.

Bryn Athyn is home to some of Montgomery County’s most remarkable architecture, buildings that reflect the religious faith and vision of the community’s earliest residents. The historic district, located off Huntingdon Pike at Cathedral Road, includes four buildings in close proximity: Glencairn Museum; Bryn Athyn Cathedral; Cairnwood mansion; and Cairncrest, which currently serves as a private office building for the General Church of the New Jerusalem, a world-wide New Church organization.

Cairnwood, a 19th century country house in a Beaux Arts style, was completed in 1895. Formerly the family home of John Pitcairn, a Scottish immigrant who co-founded the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co., it now is a venue for weddings and social events.

Bryn Athyn Cathedral, a medieval-style house of worship, was dedicated in 1919. Known for its stained glass and unusual architecture -  there are no right angles or straight lines – it serves as the worship center for the Bryn Athyn New Church community.

Now a museum of religious art and history, Glencairn, completed in 1939, once was the family home of one of John Pitcairn’s sons, Raymond Pitcairn. Another son, Harold (an aeronautical pioneer involved in developing the American autogiro) lived at Cairncrest with his family.   

While there are many historic sites across the nation, only 161 bear the National Historic Landmark distinction in Pennsylvania.* On April 18, visitors to the Bryn Athyn Historic District will experience a wide variety of free activities at three of the buildings: Cairnwood mansion, 1005 Cathedral Road; Glencairn Museum, 1001 Cathedral Road; and Bryn Athyn Cathedral, 900 Cathedral Road. Doors will open at 11 a.m.

Activities include glassblowing, stained glass painting, stonecutting, guided tours, carriage rides (for a nominal charge), trips to Glencairn’s nine-story tower - which offers a view of the Philadelphia skyline - special food, an afternoon carriage parade and more.

Among the offerings at Cairnwood will be interactive blacksmith demonstrations, guided tours, maypole dancing, Victorian farming demonstrations, two Gypsy Vanner horses and a strolling barbershop quartet.

At Glencairn, visitors can view a stained glass exhibit, glassblowing demonstration, participate in a stained glass painting class, take guided or cell phone tours and travel by elevator to the castle’s nine-story tower from which they can view the Philadelphia skyline.

The cathedral will offer guided tours, stone carving demonstrations, an organ recital and free photos for a “Passport Quest” of the district.

Visitors may pick up a “passport” at the cathedral, Glencairn or Cairnwood, then collect stamps at various stops throughout the buildings. Those collecting all the stamps will win a prize.

Onsite parking will be available at the cathedral, as well as a shuttle service to the historic district.

At noon, local dignitaries and Pitcairn family descendants will be on hand at Cairnwood’s terrace for an official ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate Bryn Athyn’s status as a National Historic Landmark District. The national anthem will be performed by local musicians.

Other highlights of the day include carriage rides (for a nominal charge) and a carriage parade. A food pavilion with seating, and a marketplace pavilion will be set up for both lunch and shopping. Sandwiches, salads, hoagies, beverages and snacks will be for sale by local vendors. Also, select vendors will be selling wares including hand-crafted jewelry, wooden crafts, paintings, pottery, bags, and more. Local musicians will entertain. 

Guests also are invited to attend a public service at the cathedral, highlighted by the resounding sound of brass, vocalists and organ music. Brass preludes will begin at 4:30 p.m.; the service at 5 p.m.

Weather permitting, a special cathedral lighting event will be held at 8 p.m. Visitors can see Bryn Athyn Cathedral lit from the inside and can stroll the grounds while enjoying instrumental music.

For a complete list of activities, with times and locations or for additional information about the historic district and its buildings, access www.bahistoricdistrict.org or call 267-502-2600.

*Verification: www.nps.gov/nhl or Patty Henry, historian, National Historic Landmarks Program, National Park Service, Department of the Interior, 202-354-2216.