Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI) has been a constant presence in Greater Philadelphia since 1843, a time when clipper ships were fast and the telegraph and the railroads were fairly new.
In its first incarnation, SCI was a 75-feet high, 600-seat church that floated on the Delaware River – built in 1848. This floating chapel, moored at Dock Street & Spruce, in the Society Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia, served merchant seafarers for 10 years.
Several incarnations later, Seamen’s Church Institute was a 5-story hotel covering the entire Center City block of Dock Street between Front and 2nd, with 230 hotel rooms, a restaurant, an auditorium, a home for aged and disabled seamen, a chapel, and a school of navigation. During World War II, this building served allied naval crews and officers in addition to merchant ship workers. It was demolished to make way for Independence National Park in 1957.
A couple moves later, in 1974, Seamen’s Church Institute acquired the former Corn Exchange Bank at the corner of 3rd & Arch Streets, in the heart of Old City. With the advent of new technologies and new shipping patterns, the needs of seafarers had changed. SCI responded by transitioning away from housing and toward Center based hospitality, social services, and advocacy by acquiring a property at 475 N. 5th St., near Spring Garden. However, the industry continued to change with rapid ship turnaround, security issues, and personal technology.
Today, Seamen’s Church Institute has become more agile, to meet a rapidly changing maritime industry and the seafarers needs by focusing on shipboard services. SCI leased greatly reduced space at the same location. This location still incorporates our chapel, but more modest Seafarer Center with television, a computer / communication capability, and access to clothing for visiting mariners. Vans supply the mobility for Chaplains and Ship Visitors who bring hospitality, companionship, kindness, advocacy, and secure transport to seafarers.