In 1833, Joshua Fisher and his wife, Elisha, purchased property which now is the site of St. Nicholas Church. In 1840, John Davis and his wife Sarah purchased the property adjoining to the south. These properties were situated in the east side of 7th St. in the district of Spring Garden. In the county boundaries, they used a small country road called Coates St. In 1845, Mr. Davis of Philadelphia sold his property to Joseph Sharpless for $5,916.66. The property sold to Mr. Sharpless consisted of six brick and one frame buildings. The frame building was a barn. Mr. Sharpless, being dissatisfied with the size of a farm, purchased his neighbor’s lot (belonging to Mr. Fisher) in 1847. Mr. Fisher received $2,083.34. This situation made the property 100’x100′. In 1852, a reorganized Dutch Congregation was looking for ground to build a church. In the same year Mr. Sharpless sold his property for $5,000 to the Second Dutch Reform Church. The erection of the church took the design of many other buildings of previous eras. It took two years to complete the church, and on March 5, 1854, the building was dedicated by Minister Joseph Berg. This was the first parish to wander into this pioneer type wilderness beyond the Vine St. city limits of Philadelphia. The countryside of the County of Philadelphia became less rural.In the 1880s it became part of the city. The once Coates St. became Fairmount Ave. On November 22, 1917, Peter Solovay and his wife Ludmilla, purchased the church building occupied by the Second Dutch Reform Church for $22,700. Under the direction of Protopresbyter Basil Kurdiumov, a group at St. Andrew’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral, for various reasons, primarily their church could not accommodate the huge congregation.
Another Board of Trustees was organized; they bought the property from M/M Solovay and the Russian Orthodox Independent Congregation and Church of St. Nicholas was chartered on December 20, 1918. On that day, an Orthodox Cross was lifted and planted on the roof of the church by members of St. Nicholas Church. The interior of the Second Dutch Reform Church was remodeled and redecorated to make it suitable for Orthodox Liturgical Services. The iconostas was constructed. The walls of the interior of the building were written by iconographer George Novikoff. The work of the interior of the church took less than 2 years. In November, approximately 5,000 took part in a procession, led by a cross bearer, banner bearers, and flags. St. Nicholas, under the pastorship of Fr. Vasile Kravstsoff, was officially dedicated. The new congregation consisted of 782 married families. The spiritual and material state of the new parish was high. Income in the first year surpassed $21,000. In 1923, Fr. Kurdiumov became pastor, and to 1935, the following served as pastors: Fr. John Kedrovsky, Fr. M.D. Chervinski, Fr. Nicholas Senofsky, Protopresbyter N. Uspenski, Protopresbyter A. Shabashev, and Fr. Jonah Koretsky. In 1931, under Protopresbyter N Uspenski, the Sisterhood of the Protection of the Theotokos was organized, and is still active in the life of the church.
The Sisterhood assures that the Church interior is kept spotless. The women are always concerned with the beautification of the Church. They prepare many dinners for the parish functions. In 1939, the Sisterhood purchased from Europe a very beautiful gold-plated cross for $600 that stands in the center of the church to this day. During the Great Depression, in 1935 Fr. A Gougnin was assigned to St. Nicholas. The financial condition of the parish was very poor during the Depression years. In 1937, a special commission was established and was to concern itself with the payment of the debt on the Parish home to the Integrity Trust Company. The legal aspects were handled by Atty. Charles Harding. The total debt of the parish at this time was $22,000. Through the efforts of Atty. Harding and his dealings with the bank, an agreement whereby the sum of $1,000 was paid in cash, and the debt was reduced to $14,000. Payments were $2,000 per year. Under this plan, the debt was liquidated. The 25th Anniversary of the parish was in 1942. The interior of the church was again restored by the original iconographer George Novikoff. The marbleizing was done by Simeon Filipovich Frederick. All of the above was done at a cost of $8,075. Other accomplishments were the reconstruction of the East wall, a new ambo, the Church front was redone with white stone stairwells, new railings installed, and the rectory remodeled – at a cost of $22,096. The parishioners immediately donated $12,177.20 to help liquidate this debt. On October 28, 1945, the church was blessed by His Eminence, Metropolitan Theophilus. The Metropolitan blessed the church with holy water and oils, with the appropriate prayers read. The Hon. Bernard Samuel, Mayor of Philadelphia, delivered an impressive address. After the Liturgy, a banquet was held in the church hall. A capacity crowd was in attendance. The toastmaster was A.A. Wotowitch. Prayers were sung for the continued health of all parishioners, and Memory Eternal was sung for all deceased parishioners. During World War II, St. Nicholas gave its fair share of men and women to the service of their country and had many casualties. Through diligent fund raising efforts St. Nicholas purchased a tank and a P-38 fighter plane and other military supplies for the U.S. war effort. At the end of the war they returned to active parish life. The character of the church changed with new adult members participating in all phases of church life. Many parishioners also served in World War I, the Korean Conflict, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Haiti, and continue to serve in the military even to this day. Fr. Gougnin retired in July 1956 after 21 years as pastor of St. Nicholas. Two years later he died, and his Matushka followed him in blessed repose two years later. Fr. Paul Zlatkovsky was pastor from 1956-58, and during his tenure the Church School program once again became active and sparked with enthusiasm. Fr. Vladimir Borichevsky arrived in 1958, and at the same time, the surrounding neighborhood began its urban renewal. Starosta Alexander Leon and Fr. Vladimir encouraged the purchase of the properties surrounding the Church, and the new parish home and choir director’s home were purchased soon thereafter.
In 1967, with Mr. Peter Kavchok as Starosta, new doors and windows were put in the church, and a wrought iron fence was erected around the entire church property, without indebtedness. In 1967, St. Nicholas celebrated its 50th Anniversary, with the Most Rev. Ireney, Archbishop of New York, Metropolitan of All America and Canada, and His Grace, Rt. Rev. Kiprian, Bishop of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, officiating. After the 50th Anniversary, a new roof and cornices were replaced. In 1971, Fr. Borichevsky left for an assignment at St. Tikhon’s Seminary. For the next two years, the parish was served by several monks from St. Tikhon’s. In 1972, Fr. Paul Borick was assigned as permanent pastor. During his pastorate, the church annex was remodeled, and the exterior of the church was completely refurbished. New stained glass windows designed by Matthias Von Reutlinger were installed. In 1974, the parish was serviced by Hieromonk Sebastian (Gyza) and other clergy from St. Tikhon’s. In April 1976, Fr. John Bohush was assigned as permanent pastor, after serving as a Chaplain in the U.S. Air Force.
Since the coming of Fr. Bohush, the rectory was entirely refurbished and the first restoration of the church interior was begun by restoration specialist Harry Niblock. It took seven years to complete at the cost of 7 cents per square inch. Prior to the 60th Anniversary, the altar table was restored and consecrated to conform to Orthodox tradition with the placing of a relic of a saint into the altar table. The church was rededicated at its 60th Anniversary in 1977 by Metropolitan Theodosius and Bishop Herman. Under the leadership of the Parish Council president George Sinitsky, St. Nicholas was made handicapped accessible, including an elevator, to meet federal standards. A three-phase electrical system and the entire electrical system of the church was upgraded. The parking lot was expanded, the exterior lighting was modernized, an alarm system was installed, two containers were purchased for storage, sidewalks were replaced or repaired, and the sub-basement walls and pillars were reinforced because the modern traffic weakened the structure. A new asphalt roof was installed, and the paintable exterior portions of the church, including the columns, were painted. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, St. Nicholas sponsored five restoration specialists from the Ukraine to complete another more intense restoration of the iconography and interior to the original 1917 beauty and configuration. A great portion of the interior was gold leafed to enhance the striking beauty of the church.
Under a leadership of William Simpson, a five-year $300,000 pay-as-you-go program was necessary. When the church interior was done, an engineering survey prompted the first $65,000 reinforcement of sub-supports and replacement of damaged 150 year old sewer lines. When that was done, plans were drawn to place a cupola and new cross on the church roof when another structural problem necessitated an $85,000 church floor and choir loft supports. The church hall was air-conditioned. A new Plaschanitsa was made and an antique icon of St. Nicholas was donated to the church where our parish Family Patron Saint Site be established. The church hall was modernized, including the rest rooms. We look at ourselves as the Old Church in the New World. All of our services are in English, yet we retain the traditions and customs of our parish incorporators. An inner city parish whose closest parishioners live 10 miles away, yet we are a spiritual magnet to members who commute from a 75 mile radius to be with and support us. A commendable accomplishment unparalleled near and far. Our hope for the third millenium is to turn the reigns of our church over to a well-prepared leadership. When anyone enters St. Nicholas they are immediately struck with awe and amazement because of its size and amazing beauty for an inner city parish. It is a wonderful place to pray, and the amazing acoustics enhance the beautiful voices of our choir.