No. 79  Februay 2010
The authoritative source on early churches in New Jersey

ISSN 1543-3250

      About this site
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.

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Last month's feature
Patrick Keely

Book reviews
Taking Heaven by Storm

Can you identify this church?

near Daretown? unknown building

Vintage photo of the month

St Elizabeth's RC

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Feature of the month

St. Peter the Apostle & Preservation New Jersey

The annual meeting of Preservation New Jersey was held at St. Peter the Apostle church in New Brunswick on January 30, a particularly appropriate site because of the on-going preservation of the church, and the adaptive reuse that has been made of the adjacent former convent. Those efforts have been funded by the Diocese and a grant from the New Jersey Historic Trust. It seems fully appropriate to celebrate the church and the convent in this month’s feature.

St. Peter the Apostle stands just south of Old Queens and the Rutgers campus, actually on the site of a former Baptist burial ground, as I learned at the meeting. The original Catholic church in New Brunswick, erected in 1831, was located just a few blocks away on Bayard Street. By the 1850s that proved too small, and so a very prominent site on a rise near the campus was purchased, and construction began in 1854 under the direction of architect Patrick Keely. Regular readers of this website are quite familiar with Keely, as he was responsible for more than a dozen Catholic churches in the state and the feature of last month's issue. The cornerstone was laid in 1856; the building was not completed until 1865.

The church is a symmetrical Gothic building with a single tower rising from the front. It is characterized by tall pinnacles and a castellated parapet at the top of the tower, and pinnacles and castellations along the side of the gable end. The narthex is rather shallow, but the nave is substantial, and a gallery extends along three sides of the interior. Although there has been some deterioration to the walls, the building is in rather fine shape given its age. Restoration work on the church has concentrated on the slate roof, the gutters and the rear wall and roof of the chancel, as a critical first stage in a 15 year preservation plan.

The convent , which until about four years ago was occupied by the Sisters of Charity, was erected of a similar stone in the 1860s, I believe, and it looks like it might have been modeled on a English priory of the mid-nineteenth century. The exterior has been beautifully restored and the interior completed reworked as a center for the church’s work with Rutgers students and the New Brunswick community. The chapel of the convent preserved the configuration and the deeply recessed windows with their stained glass (right). We got a full tour of the building, which in concept and execution is really exceptional. The discussion in a presentation by architect Annabelle Radcliffe-Trenner (an old friend) of old and new stucco and mortar, and the necessity of buildings to "breathe" was very interesting to me, as I am presently engaged in restoration of an old (1750-1770) stone building in Phillipsburg.

To the west of the church is a Civil War-vintage Greek Revival building, which was constructed as the rectory for the church, and to the east of the convent a late eighteen-century residence— home to an early bishop, I'm told, was attached. From the interior it is a seamless transition as you move from one part of the convent to the attached residence, but great efforts were made to preserve narrow doorways, arches and the early millwork. The entire complex of church, convent and rectory are on both State and National Registers of Historic Places.

Preservation New Jersey’s meeting was graced by an appearance by Congressman Rush Holt, who said that preservation was a significant part of his “portfolio.” Dan Saunders of the state’s Historic Preservation Office provided a fascinating account of the “greening” of his 1860’s home, and the attendant savings in energy costs. The major address of the meeting was an explanation of Rutgers programs uniting preservation and environmental awareness by Jennifer Senick, Executive Director of the Rutgers Center for Green Building. I don't often get an opportunity to enter a church, and so the chance to photograph at my leisure and attend the annual meeting was a particular pleasure.

Efforts to keep this website up to date, and to maintain a regular schedule of publication of my books on the religious architecture of the state have taken a backseat to my involvement in preservation of a mid-eighteenth century manor house in Phillipsburg. We have obtained a $120,000 grant from Warren County to continue that effort, so I expect my attention to the old churches will be somewhat sporadic. Nevertheless, I expect to release two books by early spring—one on Mercer County's churches and another on Cumberland County.

In November my newest book on the old churches of the state—A Proper Style: tradition and change in the religious architecture of Monmouth County was published. The book is is a richly-illustrated guide to all 116 of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century churches and meetinghouses still standing in Monmouth County. My intent was to explore and explain the history of Monmouth's religious buildings, from the earliest religious structure—a beautifully-restored wooden-frame meetinghouse in Upper Freehold Township, erected in 1739, to the stylish Methodist church in Bradley Beach, built in 1900. The subtitle of the book, tradition and change in the religious architecture of Monmouth County, New Jersey, suggests that the book goes well beyond an inventory of the old churches of the county—in fact, it might serve nicely as a basic reference on architectural styles and construction traditions during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Each of the 116 surviving churches from the county’s early history is visited and photographed, with special attention paid to their founding, construction and architecture. From the sophisticated Gothic Revival designs erected in stone by leading architects to the simple wooden-frame meetinghouses built by hand by members of the congregation, the book offers an engaging account, illustrated by stunning photographs of the visual and material presence of Monmouth's religious buildings. Twenty are on the National Register of Historic Places, and several others ought to be, and I try to make a case for their inclusion.

The 352 page book includes more than 250 photographs, tables and drawings, an outline of architectural styles, a summary of the religious denominations operating in the state during the early centuries, a glossary of architectural terms, an extensive bibliography, and index. The book is available from, and the publisher's website,



Copyright 2010 Frank L. Greenagel