Bryn Athyn Historic District

The Bryn Athyn Historic District was designated as a National Historic Landmark on October 6, 2008. Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, was founded as a religious community in the late 19th century by members of a Christian denomination known as the New Church. Just a mile from the Philadelphia border, this small borough is home to some of the area’s most remarkable architecture, buildings that reflect the religious faith and vision of the community’s earliest residents.

The Bryn Athyn Historic District includes three family residences—father John Pitcairn’s Beaux-Arts mansion, Cairnwood, and sons Harold and Raymond’s residences, Cairncrest and Glencairn, respectively—and the renowned Bryn Athyn Cathedral. All were constructed between 1892 and 1938.

Of all the crafts associated with these buildings, the production of stained glass for Bryn Athyn Cathedral and Glencairn is the most noteworthy. The artists and craftsmen were determined to duplicate the textures and pure colors found in the medieval glass windows in European churches. This would prove to be a monumental undertaking. In prewar, industrialized America, the art of making hand-blown glass had virtually disappeared. To achieve the quality they were looking for, the Bryn Athyn group had to do no less than rediscover the lost techniques of the medieval glassmakers. Artists were sent to France and England to draw and photograph the glass in the churches there, and a stained glass studio and glass factory were established in Bryn Athyn. The necessary techniques were, with great ingenuity, finally perfected at Bryn Athyn in the 1920s. Eventually elements of these techniques were carried to other 20th century ecclesiastical buildings, such as the Washington National Cathedral, by craftsmen trained in this small Pennsylvania borough.

Today, Bryn Athyn Cathedral remains a place of worship for the New Church where visitors are welcome. Glencairn is a museum of religious art and history. Cairnwood serves as an educational, cultural, and hospitality center. All three are open regularly for tours. Cairncrest currently serves as a private office building for the New Church.

The formal launch of our National Historic Landmark District was on Saturday, April 18, 2009. From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Glencairn Museum, Cairnwood and Bryn Athyn Cathedral were all open free of charge to celebrate our National Landmark designation. Watch the video above to see visitors experiencing a wide variety of activities such as glassblowing, stained glass painting, stonecutting, guided tours, carriage, trolley, and Packard rides, trips up to Glencairn’s tower, refreshments, and more.

Members of the National Historic Landmark Application Committee:

  • Drew Nehlig, Historic Buildings Project Manager, Academy of the New Church
  • Jean Wolf, Wolf Historic Preservation
  • Mary DeNadai, Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, John Milner Architects

To learn more about the National Historic Landmarks program, visit www.nps.gov.