The authoritative source on
  early churches of New Jersey

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We've created a database and photographic inventory on 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 visitors.

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   Photographic Inventory

First Congregational Church of Chester
Chester, Morris County

Greek Revival was no longer considered the most fashionable style for a New Jersey church when the Congregational church in Chester erected this lovely building in 1856, but no matter because they looked back to New England for their inspiration. A full Greek portico was part of the Wren-Gibbs tradition that many Congregational churches in Massachusetts and Connecticut had used for decades. Whereas most of the Greek revival churches in the region, including the Presbyterian church in Chester, have two Ionic columns, a recessed entrance (in antis) and four corner pilasters, the columns of this full portico are Doric. I suspect the tower once had a rather imposing steeple, as that was also traditional.
     The congregation traces its inception to a small group of settlers from Long Island (who probably came initially from Connecticut) who were in this area by the 1730s. There was apparently a union meetinghouse in the Roxiticus area, but in 1747 the Congregational portion of the membership decided to erect their own church; a curious decision because by that time all of the early Puritan (Congregational) churches in the state had become affiliated with the Presbyterian church. There were not, I understand, significant doctrinal or liturgical issues between Presbyterian and Congregational churches, but only matters of governance. In any event, they erected a large church capable of seating 400 near the site of the current church. In 1803 they built a new church, probably in the middle of the cemetery, and in 1856 erected this imposing building.
     Among the several notable aspects are the trompe l'oeil painting on the back wall of the chancel, the three aisles dividing seating on the main floor, and the existence of the horse sheds in back of the church. There is also an adjacent chapel erected in 1871.

The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.




Copyright (c) 2004 Frank L. Greenagel