Founded in 1893 as a settlement house, the mission of the Lighthouse is to provide educational, recreational and economic improvement programs to families and individuals to improve the quality of their lives. For more than 100 years the Kensington, Fairhill and North Philadelphia communities have relied on the Lighthouse to provide multi-cultural services that respond to the multi-dimensional needs of our communities’ members.
In response to the unique pressures that the families of North Philadelphia faced, ranging from recent immigration to substance abuse, the Lighthouse began providing services to the children of our community through education and literacy, arts and music, and sports and recreational programming. As the needs of the community changed, the Lighthouse expanded its services to aid the elderly and under-employed in the community. The Lighthouse began the first Meals on Wheels program in the nation to feed the growing elderly population and was a pioneer in the Women’s Rights and Suffrage movements. The Lighthouse has always been driven by its commitment to the families and to be in the forefront in developing creative and cutting edge services to meet families’ needs. For more than 114 years the Lighthouse has been in the community, providing services to the community, enabled by support from the community.
On June 13, 1910, Charles K. Hamilton completed the first round trip airplane flight between two major cities flying between New York City and Philadelphia. The leading newspapers in those cities, The New York Times and the Philadelphia Ledger, sponsored the prize-winning achievement, each contributing $5,000 to the first individual to successfully complete the feat. Taking off from Governor’s Island in New York harbor at 7:30 am, Hamilton followed the Pennsylvania Railroad mainline and landed in Philadelphia at the Lighthouse Field at 9:26 am. Concern for his safety led Hamilton to wrap 5 inner tubes around his midsection as he flew over the Hudson River. Hamilton’s biplane is still in existence today in a museum in Nebraska. This historic flight signaled the beginning of the commercial value and viability of airplane travel.
In 1937, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus brought “the greatest show on earth” to the Lighthouse Field.
By 1940, the Lighthouse Boys Club soccer program was “the largest single soccer organization in the world.” Ed Farnsworth of Philly Soccer Page stated that “It is difficult to overstate the importance of the Lighthouse Boys Club not just in the history of soccer in Philadelphia but in the history of soccer in the United States. Aside from providing the richest source of soccer talent for Philadelphia clubs at all levels of the game for much of the 20th Century, Lighthouse also provided a model for community-based soccer clubs that were intrinsic to the youth soccer boom that began in the 1970s and continues to grow to this day.”Half of the 1938 United States Olympic Soccer Team was from Philadelphia and most of those players learned the sport at Lighthouse Field.
In the 1940s the Philadelphia Phillies practiced at the Lighthouse Field whenever Shibe Park (later known as Connie Mack Stadium) flooded due to heavy rains or their schedule conflicted with the A’s.
In 1950, the most famous goal in American soccer history has scored off the foot of Lighthouse Boys Club product Walter Bahr. Mike Jensen of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote in 1994: “‘I guess almost anybody who was within walking distance of the boys club got involved,’ Walter Bahr said. Bahr was Kensington’s representative on the 1950 World Cup team that traveled to Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and defeated England, 1-0, in what many consider the greatest upset in the history of the sport. It was a shot taken by Bahr, redirected off the head of teammate Joe Gaetjens, that provided the lone goal. ‘That was my one claim to fame,’ said Bahr, who moved to the suburbs, continued to coach the sport and watched sons Matt and Chris become NFL placekickers.”
On May 11, 1952, Manchester United Soccer Club played an exhibition soccer game at the Lighthouse Field against Philadelphia all-stars from the city’s two teams in the American Soccer League. According to Lighthouse Boys club product, Walt Bahr, it seemed surprising that the game was not played at Shibe Park or Temple Stadium, but the Lighthouse Boys Club produced most of the city’s stars and according to local coach, John Hughes, “the heart of United States soccer was at Lighthouse.” According to the next day’s newspaper account, over 3,000 people attended the game, including the British Consul. In anticipation of the big game Manchester United paid for the installation of the concrete bleachers that still stand at Lighthouse Field today
In 1984, the Army National Guard began using Lighthouse Field to host training exercises for its soldiers.