No. 77  October 2009
The authoritative source on early churches in New Jersey

ISSN 1543-3250

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Feature of the month

the Georgian style

My involvement in the preservation of a 1750 Georgian mansion in Phillipsburg has been both the reason for my inattention to this website for the last several months and the prompting behind this closer look at Georgian style. Interestingly, there are only a handful of Georgian churches in the state, although there are a number with entrances and cupolas that have been borrowed from the Georgian idiom. Most of the Georgian churches were built between 1760 and 1800, a period during which most churches in the colony/state were simple wooden frame or brick meetinghouses, including, of course, the Quaker meetinghouses which derive some of their architectural features from the Georgian style. Philadelphia appears to have been the locus of the style, perhaps because of the numerous Londoners who settled there and brought an affection for that architecture with them; certainly the influence of the Carpenters' Company there was significant.

The term Georgian comes from the four English Kings of that name who reigned between 1714 and 1830, when George IV died. That period witnessed several styles—the flowering of what is called the English Baroque of Christopher Wren, the neoclassicism of Andreas Palladio, then Greek Revival and finally the pointed arches and finials of the Gothic, so Georgian is probably best used as a dynastic term, and perhaps not particularly useful to locate an architectural period. Yet it has become so entrenched in our usage, that Georgian has come to stand for a rather specific set of characteristics—symmetry in its arrangement of windows, a paneled front door topped with rectangular windows in the door or as a transom and capped with an elaborate crown/entablature supported by decorative pilasters, a cornice embellished with decorative moldings, usually dentils and quoins, and multi-pane windows that are never paired. There are stone, brick and frame houses in this style, but stone and brick are most common in the mid-Atlantic states. About half the Georgian structures have shutters.

The First Presbyterian church in Elizabeth, built in 1789, is one of the better examples. The symmetry, of course, is obvious, but notice also the crown over the entrance, the oculus and half-round windows in the pediment, and the quoins. Although superficially like the Old First Presbyterian church in Newark, this is clearly within the Georgian tradition whereas the Newark church, it seems to me, borrows more from the Old North church in Boston, with its considerably-projecting multi-tiered tower.

The Georgian style arose in this country as a result of plan books more than from the work of trained architects, although there were several architects operating in America who knew the manner well from their training and experience in England. John Hawks, who built Governor Tryon's palace in New Bern, North Carolina is one example. John Ariss of Virginia is another. James Gibbs', A Book of Architecture (1728) and Robert Morris' plan book, Select Architecture (1757) were very influential; Morris perhaps more so in some ways in that his plans included “houses sufficient small to be within the limits of colonial resources.”

The magnificent brick Georgian meetinghouse in Bridgeton (Cumberland) was built in 1792, just a couple years after the Elizabeth church, but is quite different in its general style, although there are several details that are shared. The interior, with its cast iron stoves, brick flooring and original pews, scarcely seems to have been touched since then. The Palladian window above the pulpit is similar to the one in Independence Hall in Philadelphia. It is quite similar to the Old Drover's church in Delaware, which is much better known.

The Pilesgrove Presbyterian church, erected in 1767 near Daretown (Salem) is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a fairly simple Georgian building. It has the two entrances favored by 18th century Protestant churches and meetinghouses, and the balanced façade characteristic of Georgian architecture. The masonry is set in Flemish bond. The flat arch lintels are typical of the early Georgian period in this country. In its fenestration and scale, the Old School Baptist church in Hopewell (Mercer) built in 1823 is a later variant.

Not far away back in Cumberland County is the Cohansey Baptist church. There are several fine Georgian churches in south Jersey and this is among the very best—worth a detour to visit. It was built in 1801 and is beautifully maintained. The building is built of brick, and typical of the Georgian style, is symmetrical, with careful attention to detail. The entrances are patterned after designs of Christopher Wren and are similar to those on the Broad Street Presbyterian church in Bridgeton and Old Swedes church in Swedesboro. They are certainly based on one of the several plan books widely available at the time.
      At the time of the Stamp Act (1765), Cohansey (the name of the large territory before Cumberland County was formed in 1748) was one of the three Jersey ports where a British Customs official was permitted to authorize entry. The first Baptist church in the area was organized in 1683 or 1690; this is the fourth building for this congregation.

The longevity of the style can be seen in Trenton's First Baptist church, erected in 1859. This church owes more to London than to Philadelphia, but illustrates many of the important elements of the high Georgian style. It is missing the multi-tiered tower and steeple that it once had but in most other respects it is a pure Georgian church.

Incidentally, here's the 1750-1770 stone manor in Phillipsburg I'm helping to restore—an exceptional Georgian residence that would not look out of place in New York or Philadelphia. I expect I will continue to be more irregular than usual in keeping to a monthly schedule of publication for NJChurchscape. In addition to working on several books on the old New Jersey churches, the restoration of this house in Phillipsburg is siphoning off much of my available time. It's a lovely large stone Georgian manor, probably the oldest structure in the town and on the National Register. I've been getting dirty with the general clean-up, but mostly documenting the work as it progresses, and applying for grants. It has some exceptional early freehand wall paintings and stenciling that we'll take special care to preserve. See more about it at the blog I created: If you have any specialized knowledge or experience with that kind of building, I'd be very pleased to hear from you.

I am delighted to announce publication of my newest book on the old churches of the state—A Proper Style: tradition and change in the religious architecture of Monmouth County. 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, or from the publisher's website,




Copyright 2009 Frank L. Greenagel