No. 74 February 2009
The authoritative source
early churches in New Jersey
created a database and photographic inventory containing more than
a thousand of the 18th & 19th century churches in the state
and add to it each month. We solicit all contributions and suggestions
to the articles
— Highlights —
From Craft to Profession
you identify this church?
- unknown building
photo of the month
Freehold - First Baptist
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List of churches, by county
Links to related sites
order books from Wooden Nail
of the month
There are about 1,500
surviving meetinghouses, churches and synagogues in the state that were built
before 1900. It would not be surprising if a few
of them were very similar to others. Most architects and builders by the mid-nineteenth
century took on a variety of tasks including churches, and there were several
who specialized in churches. Benjamin Price of Atlantic Highlands issued a
book of plans, and no doubt others reused plans for one church a second time,
or a third. Richard Upjohn mailed building plans to impecunious Episcopal congregations,
and his small frame board-and-batten churches can be found in several communities—at
least one of them refers its “mail-order” church, without realizing
(as of my last visit a few years ago) that its designer was the most famous
American architect of the last century.
By the time of the Civil War, several major denominations—Methodist,
Baptist—had issued plan books or promoted specific architects who assisted
congregations in upgrading the quality of its architecture. Both Catholic and
Episcopal bishops had their favorite architects, and Keely and O'Rourke, Upjohn
and Wills and Notman, Pursell and others flourished under that policy. There
no patents on designs, and no architectural critics to look down their noses
at congregations that built in the manner of another admired edifice. The
elders of the Chesterfield meeting in Crosswicks sent a team to check out other
Quaker meetinghouses in 1777 to find a suitable model for theirs. They found
it in Buckingham, Pennsylvania. When the Hicksite schism in 1824-1828 sundered
congregations here, the minority party usually had to build a new meetinghouse.
In Medford the orthodox group lost and their new meetinghouse is a virtual duplicate
of the old one. St. Paul's Methodist congregation in Port Republic so admired
the design of the Methodist church in Williamstown that they borrowed the plans
and erected a fraternal if not identical twin. Let's
look at several others apparently separated at birth and note, or speculate on
the reasons for the similarity.
Old North Reformed Church at Schraalenburgh (Dumont) and the Old South Reformed
(right) were erected by two different builders,
a few miles and a few years apart (1801 and 1799, respectively). The original
congregation was founded in or near Bengenfield by 1723, but by 1755 dissension
congregation led to a rupture. This was
a time of dispute between traditionalists and those who wanted the
ability to ordain ministers in this country. The
two parts of the Schraalenburgh congregation decided to build separate
churches by 1798. Both are in the Dutch Reformed tradition of Bergen
county, and bear a strong similarity to the Reformed church in Hackensack, erected
Both churches were enlarged later, with identical
wooden entry porches added. The Bergenfield congregation, now affiliated with
is on the
National Register, and the HABS website includes measured drawings as well as
design of the Mt. Carmel Roman Catholic church in Boonton (left), erected
in 1860 is a common one,
St. James the Less in Philadelphia, erected fourteen years earlier. That
impression on Richard Upjohn, a leading Gothic Revival architect who
designed churches mainly for Episcopal congregations, but whose designs were
influential among other denominations. The basic characteristics of the
plan are a symmetrical
gable-front building with a steeply-pitched roof line, lancet windows,
a bellcote, and substantial buttresses projecting from the front
of the church.
was Jeremiah O’Rourke, who designed hundreds of other Catholic
churches in the country, but in this case, he borrowed a bit from Upjohn
in my opinion. There
is only the barest suggestion of a tower, and where the liturgy dictated
they could be accommodated within the slope of the roofline. The plan
for the Boonton church
copied , albeit on a slightly larger scale, in St.
Joseph’s church in Bound Brook (above right), erected twenty years
later in 1890.
Windsor, a hamlet in Mercer county once called
a much larger town in Monmouth county sit only a few miles apart.
Both have Methodist
churches, erected in 1863 and 1859, respectively, that are very similar. The
Allentown building (above left) has a band of dentils marking
the distinction between the lower and upper floors, an unusual feature.
The ground floor provided space for a lecture hall, Sunday School and other meeting
main auditorium is on the
second floor. The church in Windsor lacks the dentils but there is a string course
marking the first and second floors, and the fenestration is identical. The
architect/builders of the Allentown church
Elias & Benjamin
Rogers, who also designed the Baptist church in that town and I suspect,
and the proximity, that they built the church in Windsor also.
and Perth Amboy are located on opposite sides of the state,
but both erected remarkably similar churches within two years of each other,
Simpson Methodist congregation in 1866 (left) and Annandale's
Dutch Reformed church
Charles Graham was the architect of the brick Perth Amboy church,
but the architect-builder of the wooden-frame church in Annandale is unknown.
Complicating the matter,
there are at least 15 other churches of more-or-less identical
design erected within
each other, mostly across the central part of the state. Only the names
of a few of the architects are known, but the plan was a popular one. There
are usually differences in the treatment of the entrance (sometimes three doors,
sometimes only one) and the belfry, but the Tuscan arch in the tower is a common
feature of most.
is now the Senior Citizens Center in Whippany (left) was erected as the Monroe
Union Chapel in 1890. I have learned essentially nothing of its history.
A little more is known about another Morris County church of identical
design—the Crystal Street Chapel on Morris Street just south of Dover, built
in 1892 (below).
That building was erected
Methodists or the Presbyterian
as a mission,
School chapel a few hundred yards away. A some point it was sold to a union
congregation. The name of the architect or builder in both cases is
to me. The two chapels were obviously built from the same set of plans. At
this point one can only speculate about the connection between the two—the
churches are far enough apart geographically that a common builder may
not be involved—builders and contractors were pretty tied to their immediate
area except for major projects. Any additional information about either church
would be most welcome.
of the more unusual church designs is the 1886 First Baptist church
in Washington (Warren County). My initial impression was that the church
substantially sometime later, but that is not the case. An old photo shows that
used to have an open belfry and a different paint job, as well as what appear
to be shingles rather than clapboard siding, but otherwise the building looks
much as it did in 1928 (except for the aluminum siding, of course). The
hipped roof and the front "shed," with
its own gable and entry vestibule is unique in my experience, except for the
carbon copy Yellow Frame Presbyterian church,
erected about twenty years later right on the county line that separates Warren
and Sussex. Yellow
Frame does not appear to be anything more than a crossroads today, but is has
been the site of a Presbyterian church since 1763. There was a large meetinghouse-style
church in 1859 on the south side of the road, where the cemetery now is, but
that church was taken down in 1906 or so. According to one source, the current
erected in 1887, but that is doubtful, in my opinion. Sometime between 1904 and
1907 is the likely date when the current church was erected.
It is relatively easy to see similarities between
a little more difficult to find out why. Among the several possible reasons are
conscious copying, such as happened with the Crosswicks and Buckingham meetinghouses
and the two meetinghouses in Medford. In Port Republic we have a case where the
congregation actually borrowed the plans to build their church.
Upjohn and Benjamin sold plans by mail order, and there were church sponsored
plan books not long after the Civil War . Finally, we should not rule out the
of a meme—the
spread of ideas and cultural phenomena ( term invented by Richard Dawkins) of
what an ideal
should look like. That changed
over time, of course—from Greek Revival temples to Gothic Revival churches
to eclectic late-Victorian shingled, stick or carpenter Gothic edifices. But
even a cursory glance can reveal what architectural elements were demanded
by congregations expecting its church to reflect their financial resources
If you know anything about the old churches or synagogues of Cumberland
County, I would appreciate your help. I created a
wiki specifically for that purpose. A wiki
(like Wikipedia) makes it easy for readers
to or even edit the information. I'm going to encourage churches to add
a link to their own website (one has already done so), photos and other
elements that may interest a wider audience. Initial
readers have already added four more and identified one that had bedeviled
me for years. Churches are organized by municipality. Here's the URL:
purpose is not to supplant this website
but in the hope
of encouraging a wider participation in gathering information. I find I simply
do not have enough time to get to all the local libraries to
look up dates and names in the 21 counties of the state.