The headquarters of the American Catholic Historical Society is a patrician four-story building on South Fourth Street, Philadelphia. Erected in 1810, its design is in the austere style of the Federalist period.
The building is listed by the U.S. Department of Interior in the National Register of Historic places and designated Historic by the Philadelphia Historical Commission.
Originally the Society had been in the former Biddle mansion at 715 Spruce Street since 1895. When that building was needed by the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority they encouraged the Society to seek new quarters elsewhere.
Fortunately, at that time, the present building on Fourth Street became available in the heart of the newly restored Independence Area, a major project of the U.S. National Park Service.
A Most Proper Location
In 1810 a home builder, Jacob Vogdes, acquired all the land on the east side of Fourth Street, south of Locust, for $1 and a mortgage from two Quaker families, the Brintons and Burds, to construct a row of huge homes on lots 25 feet wide, 172 feet deep, 4300 square feet in all. These would be the homes of the growing group of prosperous merchants, ship builders and bankers on nearby Second Street, then the main commercial artery of the city.
Since public transportation was unknown, these businessmen sought residences near their establishments.
In those days, as today, it was a most “proper” neighborhood. Directly across the street was Old St. Mary’s Church, which was erected in 1763 and in 1808 served as the first Cathedral for the Diocese of Philadelphia.
The neighborhood had already seen many of the outstanding figures of the Revolution who attended Old St. Mary’s Church. A family up the street, at 4th and Walnut Streets, were the Todds. His widow, Dolly, had married James Madison and was now living in the new Executive Mansion as the nation’s first lady in Washington City.
The War of 1812 was in progress when the first owner, a merchant named Jacob Sperry, moved in and occupied it for the next 14 years. The building had three owners until, in 1881, it was bought by the Cadwaladers, the last family to live there.