No. 14 May 2002
The authoritative source
early churches in New Jersey
We've created a database and photographic inventory containing more than
half the 18th & 19th century churches in the state and add to it each
month. We welcome and solicit all contributions and suggestions from our
New this month
emphasis in this website is on the architectural aspects of the early
churches of New Jersey, we've noted the architect or master builder wherever
that information was available. We have compiled a directory of individuals
and firms who worked in the state, and offer it now, even in incomplete
form, for suggestions, corrections and additions.
Orders from France
you identify this church?
Zion Baptist Church,
photo of the month
A dozen at-risk buildings are noted. Submit your nomination for the most
endangered churches in the state. We will research the submissions and
feature one each month, then maintain that list indefinitely.
Do have additional information about any of the buildings in this article?
Or perhaps an old photograph or an article that can enrich our knowledge?
Please submit that information for the benefit of other visitors.
to use this site
Architects & master builders
Consult the database
Annotate the database
Upload a photo
Suggest a church for inclusion
List of churches, by county
Links to related sites
of the month
from cottage to ecclesiastical style
of Gothic is vertical, but how to do vertical in a wooden building
of modest size? Narrow windows help, as does a steeply-sloped roof, but
what else can be done to provide a vertical emphasis? That was a question
which, in one form or another, confronted mid-19th century architects
asked to design a church in the Gothic manner, but limited by budget to
a wooden frame structure. A clue to the answer is to be found in some
of the "cottages" of Llewellyn Park in West Orange.
Llewellyn Park was the first instance in
this country of a residential "development" designed to have
a picturesque natural setting. Planned a few years before the outbreak
of the Civil War by A.J. Downing, the design for the park was guided by
the idea that even the smallest residence on a modest lot could be "picturesque"
if sympathetically sited. The developer, Llewellyn Haskell, who was also
influential in support of Central Park in New York City, engaged a friend,
architect Andrew Jackson Davis, in his project. Davis built his own residence
there and designed several others with a decidedly Gothic look employing
steep roofs, multiple gables, narrow pointed windows and a clear vertical
emphasis in the siding, called board-and-batten, which he had worked
out 20 years earlier.
In 1836, Davis published Rural Residences,
a book which would have a significant impact on American architecture.
It included the first known
illustration of the board-and-batten technique of vertical siding for
a wood frame building. Board-and-batten consists of tongue-and-groove
planking covered by a batten (a narrow strip of wood) over the joint.
This produced a fractured surface with a strong vertical emphasis, which
is what those who favored the Gothic
were looking for.
By the mid-1860s, board-and-batten churches
sprouted up all over the placeMaine, upstate New York, Wisconsin,
even Colorado. I have found a dozen board-and-batten style churches in
the state, all but two of them Episcopal churches, scattered from Cape
May to Hackettstown, Boonton and High Bridge; Rocky Hill has two, and
I expect there are at least another half dozen more that I am not aware
of. The board-and-batten churches in New Jersey were built over a span
of 25 years, from 1849 to 1875, and I suspect that Richard
Upjohn was the architect for at least two of them. He built the first
church in that style in 1845-46 (in Brunswick, Maine), and within a few
years, was deluged with requests from small parishes. To handle the demand,
he published a book, Upjohn's Rural Architecture, which gave plans
and specifications for a small country church. Dozens of churches cite
that work as the basis for their building plans.
Peters church in Spotswood (above),
built in 1849, is the earliest of the board-and-batten churches in the
stateand very likely, one of the earliest ones in the country. It
is usually attributed to Upjohn, although the National Register listing
credits Frank Wills and Charles Pursell, which I think is unlikely; I
have not been able to find another wooden church that Wills designed anywhere
in the country. St Peters sits in a park-like setting with a stream flowing
nearby, and clearly embodies the ideal that was to be incorporated in
Llewellyn Park 10 years later. St Peters was followed in 1856 by a board-and-batten
Reformed church in Rocky Hill.
The builder/architect was Henry Leard of
Princeton. Six years later, Horace Stone designed and/or built another
board-and-batten church for Rocky Hill, Trinity
Episcopal. In 1859, St James Episcopal church in Hackettstown was erected.
I believe this is also an Upjohn design. The following year, a New York
architect and leading light in the Gothic Revival movement, J.
W. Priest, designed St Stephen's
church Millburn. Then came St John's
church in Boonton, erected in 1863, possibly by Upjohn; the open-frame
steeple on that church is very similar to those he designed for churches
in Copake Falls, NY and Clermont, NY, and it has the entry, transept and
chancel that are never missing from his churches.
In Cape May, we can find a board-and-batten
church that, just as clearly, was not designed by UpjohnSt
John's church/Chapel of the Assumption, built in 1865, has board-and-batten
siding, but not of the verticality of most of the other such churches
in the state. It does not seem to me that the architect/builder of that
church has any real feel for the Gothic.
Cross church in North Plainfield (top,
right), erected in 1868,
by an unknown (to me) architect is a nicely-preserved example of a church
complex that has been added to subsequently without destroying the character
of the original building. In High Bridge we find a fascinating Reformed
churchI hesitate to describe it simply as a board-and-batten building
because it is so much more. Designed by New York architect George
Post, who is better known for his skyscrapers, it was built in 1870.
Post said his A-frame building was modeled after a Gothic church he had
seen in France. Although the steeple is much shorter now, after serious
damage in the 1930s, the building (right)
is one of the most interesting churches in the state, and is, like the
Spotswood church, on the National Register.
in the southern part of Burlington county, we can find another Gothic
revival building with board-and-batten siding (now aluminum) and a round
apse, unusual in a small rural church (erected in 1872). Medford, a few
miles from Vincetown, is home to two fine Quaker meetinghouses, pre-Civil
War Baptist and Methodist churches, and St
Peter's (Episcopal) church (left),
erected in 1875. Painted dark red, it has not held religious services
for some time, and was being renovated for professional offices when I
last visited the town.
In 1868, St
Luke's Episcopal parish in Metuchen erected a delightful small church
just north of the
center of town. It combines the board-and-batten siding with a very steeply
pitched roof, a minuscule but appropriate belfry and an elaborate barge
board characteristic of what is called "carpenter Gothic." There
was some modification to the church in 1890, and I am not sure whether
the belfry and the barge board are original or date to that renovation.
Board-and-batten siding was a technique
rooted in American domestic architecture; because American architects
and builders were quick to exploit the capabilities of wood, this style
became the principal difference between small Gothic Revival churches
in American and those in England.
"By making the board-and-batten function
so logically as a vehicle of the Gothic style, Upjohn created something
which by its very uniqueness was expressive of a new and ever-changing
America." The Gothic style was widely used by early churches in new
towns of the west and midwest, a style which above any other, "maintained
the image of an established church tradition and brought an element of
grace to even the most isolated pioneer town. . . .The board-and-batten
cottages and churches of Downing, Davis and Upjohn together spoke of a
restless people moving ever farther into the wilderness and taking with
them as they went, not the established certainties of a familiar building
tradition, but rather the ingredients of a new architecture, flexible
and varied in form, but simple and attainable in structure. (The quotations
are from William Pierson, Jr., American Buildings and Their Architects,
New York: Doubleday 1978.)