No. 61 August 2006
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We've 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 from visitors.
— Highlights —
Feature of the month
William Halsey Wood — "destined for prominence"
regular visitor to Newark, Paterson, Passaic, or Bloomfield is likely
designed by one of the country's most imaginative and
prolific architect's—Newark's own William Halsey Wood. Although
the name won't ring a bell for any but architectural historians, he was
nationally famous in the 1890s, and his design for the Cathedral of St.
John the Divine in New York was one of four finalists. Wood also designed
a large stone mansion in Saratoga Springs, NY that became the principal
building of Yaddo, the famed artists colony. But it his his work in New
Jersey, of course, that merits attention here rather than any of the
libraries, college buildings and churches he designed for congregations
as far away as California, Wyoming, Alabama, Tennessee, Missouri, and
I have identified ten churches in the state that can be attributed to Wood with confidence, but I suspect there are several more. He drew on a variety of late nineteenth century styles, and didn't confine himself only to what was currently fashionable. Wood knew his architectural history well and tapped the cruciform (Greek Cross) plan of early Christian churches (as Roberts did in his plan for St. Barnabas) and one must infer that the great central dome of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople provided the idea for the Peddie Memorial First Baptist church (1888) in Newark. We can find the exposed timbers of the Tudor style in the small St. Paul's church (1895) in East Orange (right) and a Norman tower and other heavy elements in a couple of his churches, notably St. Paul's Church (1895) in Paterson and Christ Church (1893) in Bloomfield. Few of his buildings draw extensively from the Gothic idiom, in spite of the Episcopal church's virtual endorsement of that style; a book on religious architecture (Francis Parker, Church-Building) published for Episcopal congregations in 1886, says, “As to the order of architecture, it is not worth while to throw away time in discussing which shall be adopted; that question has practically been settled in favor of the Gothic. The Protestant sects and the sect of the Jesuits should be allowed the monopoly of classic and renaissance architecture.” Even in Wood's designs for Episcopal congregations he seems more partial to the Romanesque for his basic plan, which (from the exterior) seems to provide scant separation of nave and chancel, and frequently makes use of the amphitheatre style seating arrangement—something no self-respecting Anglican congregation would have considered in the middle decades of the century. His arches, columns, and polychrome and rusticated stone are not to be found in the Gothic lexicon. We can see the occasional buttress, a steeply-pitched roof and some pointed arch windows in a few of his designs, but on the whole he seems to have gotten away from the precepts laid down forty years earlier by Episcopal Bishop Doane who insisted that Anglican churches be based on the model of English parish churches, meaning Gothic.
earliest church in the state (to my knowledge) is St.
Peter's Episcopal church in Washington (Warren County),
erected in 1886. I believe it has a cruciform floor plan, but I have
not been inside to verify that.
The exterior is deceptively modern, but it appears there is space
for aisles and even separation of the nave and chancel, which were
important features of Anglican architecture based on liturgical considerations.
The round windows are unusual, as
is the absence
of buttresses and Gothic-arch windows. I passed it by several times, thinking
it was built in the 1920s or 30s, until an old postcard convinced me of
an Episcopal congregation in Jersey City built a church—St.
Mark's, which may have been designed by Wood—the evidence for
his involvement is indirect; he is credited with a St. Mark's in
that city, and there is no other
It is a fairly traditional approach—a wide central tower projects
a few feet in front of the symmetrical nave.
after the Congregational church was built (1891) Woods built Christ
Church in Bloomfield. Here he had space to work with. The result is a massive
building, almost fortress-like, constructed of the rusticated stone
that was made popular by the Romanesque revival. The windows here are
lancet in shape (that is, Gothic), and remind me of the narrow
slit windows in Norman architecture—wide enough to shoot an arrow from
pretty small for defensive reasons. Notice how the angles of the roof
and gable here echo those of the church in Washington.
Wood was widely referred to by contemporaries as "brilliant" and "famous," and seemingly destined for great prominence when he died at age 41. But New Jersey history knows little of that. Here are ten churches that may help us to remember.
article is one of a series featuring the architects
and builders of
of whom seems to have merited an entry in the Encyclopedia of New
articles examined the work of J.
Cleveland Cady, Jeremiah O'Rourke,
and Oscar Teale, and we've called attention
here and there to William Kirk, Thomas Roberts, and John Welsh, as
as to contractor-builder-architects Asa Dilts, William Goltra, Aaron
Hudson, Henry Leard, and Amos Wilcox. They were all professionals who
based their practices in New Jersey, not just who did some of their
work here. I would be most appreciative of additional information about
any of these men.