No. 57 March 2006
The authoritative source on early churches in New Jersey

ISSN 1543-3250

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the state's oldest churches, part 2

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How the Other Half Worships

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Paterson - probably Catholic

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Oxford Methodist

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Feature of the month

The start of our sixth year
This issue marks the beginning of our sixth year of publication, which is well into middle-age by 'net standards. We get about 30,000 visitors per day, a figure so far beyond any expectations we had five years ago that we still don't quite believe it. We're not yet to the goal of inventorying every 18th and 19th century church in the state, but we have photographed almost 1200 of the estimated 1400 that remain, so that goal is in sight. Scores of readers have suggested churches we've missed, contributed additional information, corrected our errors and applauded our efforts, for which we are most grateful.

And now we'd like to announce a new website, one focused on our two major interests: photography and learning theory. It was designed for people seriously interested
in learning how to make better images, or who are engaged in teaching the art of photography. We expect to make use of every useful communications capability of the 'net, including video and audio conferencing, wikis, and forums to enable readers to interact with each other and not just with an instructor or master photographer. The goal is to develop a small community of like-minded people involved in learning and teaching photography. We certainly don't want 30,000 visitors, but we'd be delighted to have you look us over. Our address:

And now back to our regular programming.

The Presbyterian churches of J. Cleveland Cady

Several denominations had favorite architects: Richard Keeley and Jeremiah O'Rourke by the Catholics, David Gendell of Philadelphia was the choice of many Baptist congregations, Richard Upjohn and William Halsey Wood by Episcopals and an unidentified designer of the dozen or more brick Greek Revival buildings erected in the 1850s by Methodist congregations. For upscale Presbyterians, J. Cleveland Cady was an often-engaged architect in the 1880s and 1890s. We can credit him with six Presbyterian churches in the state, and they are the subject of this month's feature.

Cady (1837-1919) was a student of Henry Hobson Richardson, the leading architect of the post Civil War era in the country. Richardson gave his name to the style called Richardson Romanesque, an upscale version of the Romanesque Revival that hit the country in the 1860s. It is characterized by oversized arches, massed windows and arcades, asymmetrical gables and towers, and rusticated stone, often with elaborate carvings around the major entrance. Cady headquartered in New York and was responsible for the old Metropolitan Opera house (now destroyed) and a portion of the American Museum of Natural History there. He designed 15 buildings for Yale, and even did a railroad station in Demarest (Bergen County).

Cady designed the Alpine Community church in Closter (Bergen County), a building that borrows much from Upjohn's early Episcopal churches, before he won the contract to design the South Street church in Morristown in 1878. When a portion of the First Presbyterian congregation separated in 1841 to organize the South Street church, they erected a vaguely Greek Revival building on their new site a few blocks from the old church. By the 1870s, Episcopal, Catholic, Baptist and Methodist congregations had all built imposing and obviously expensive churches near the center of town, and it is not difficult to imagine why the Presbyterian congregation, which had outgrown its original building, would engage an established architect who would maintain a certain Presbyterian presence in an area originally settled by Presbyterians. They settled on Cady and he prepared a large Romanesque Revival building. It now serves as the parish house after a merger with the First; the combined entity is known as the Presbyterian Church of Morristown. Fifteen years after this building was erected, First's congregation decided to use Cady as their architect to replace their hundred year old church on the green. And that's the next church on our list.

The First Presbyterian Church of West Hanover (its original name) was founded by portions of the congregation in Whippany, and the church was granted a charter by King George II in 1756. This Romanesque Revival building, its fourth on the green, was erected in 1893-4. Cady had done a similar church for a Presbyterian congregation in Ithaca, New York. Incidentally, the history of this congregation is unusually well documented by Diane and John Anderson in Celebrate: A History of the Presbyterian Church in Morristown, NJ, 1733-1983, and the building of it is detailed by Janet Foster’s J.C.Cady and his Masterpiece - The Construction of the Presbyterian Church in Morristown. There is a wonderful burial ground to the rear of the church with many fascinating old carved headstones dating to the eighteenth century.

A few miles away in Madison we can find an even older congregation; the Presbyterian church there was founded in 1747, and it's one of the half-dozen oldest congregations in Morris county. I know nothing about its earlier churches, but this Romanesque building with a cruciform plan, known as the Webb Memorial Church, was erected in 1887. The rusticated stone and squat squarish tower might be found on a Gothic building, but the oversized arches and the round chapel to the right of the entrance is clearly Romanesque. The plan takes the form of a Greek cross, a most unusual arrangement in this state. The building is still in use although the congregation erected a much larger church next door sometime in the 1950s.

In the 1890s Cady designed the Church of the Redeemer in Paterson. The stone exterior is obviously richly done—it was probably the establishment's church in the city at that time— but it was the interior of the church that was most impressive. One especially interesting feature is the carved stone heads found on two of the entrances; similar although not as well executed to the stone heads on Cady's First Presbyterian in Morristown. I can't recall seeing similar heads on any other church in the state.

There is a fine stone church in Englewood where Cady was responsible for the enlargement of the transepts in 1884—the First Presbyterian. That congregation was used to well-known New York architects, as George F. Babb designed the original church in 1870, and in 1878 the firm of Potter & Robertson designed a new chapel; much of that work has been obscured by twentieth century additions and renovations.

While looking for information on Cady himself I came across an article crediting identical churches in Florida and in upstate New York to him. What caught my eye was a photo of one that bore a remarkable similarity to the Presbyterian chapel in Beattystown, a small village just west of Hackettstown in Warren County. That was a double surprise—not only to find three identical churches in different parts of the country, but to see work distinctly different from his other major designs. These are wooden frame buildings and owe more to the “stick” style than to Romanesque. The chapel was built in 1882 and has subsequently been sold to a Baptist congregation.

Cady probably did much more work in the state than I am aware of. He was a major architect and it is an injustice that he is not better known or his work more recognized. Perhaps this article will stimulate additional interest in him and his work.

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Copyright 2006 Frank L. Greenagel