No. 51 September 2005
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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 solicit all contributions and suggestions from visitors.
— Highlights —
of the month
post Civil War decades have been described by historians, novelists,
and social critics
in many ways—as a gilded age, the mauve decades,
the age of the robber barons, the melting pot, the light of the world,
or the rise Manifest Destiny and of American imperialism. Most characterizations
arose, of course, from
towards the rising
urbanization, vast immigration, social upheaval, the move to the suburbs,
industrial concentration, the closing of the frontier, free silver
and a myriad of problems and pressures. The U.S. population had doubled
between 1860 and 1890 (from 31 million to 62 million), and that alone
brought problems of public health and education that a barely constrained
capitalist economy usually seemed disinclined to deal with. The novelists
and essayists we remember today (Twain, Drieser, Crane) saw it as both
materialistic and idealistic—but as often as not, thrusting,
grabbing, and posturing. Surely that
could not be true of the country's religious establishment as well?
350 of the remaining churches in the state were erected in the last
of the century—roughly one-third. All of the
remaining synagogues (there are only seven left) and half the Roman Catholic
churches were built in these two decades, but only 30% of the Presbyterian
churches and none of the Quaker meetinghouses—the two denominations
that had essentially dominated the state's religious and political life
during the early colonial era. Since I have found it is relatively easily
(now) to make a fairly accurate guess as to a churches age (based largely
on the scale, construction, and architectural style), I wondered whether
the zeitgeist (spirit of the age) of that late nineteenth century
period might have been as much a determining factor as the denomination's
architectural traditions, or the ethnic background of its members. Presumably
many of these buildings have more in common with each other than with
those of their own denomination erected a few decades earlier. It's an
interesting question, but rather than try to make an argument here, my
intention this month is to show you a selection of the more interesting
churches of the period and let you draw your own conclusions.
In Elizabeth, St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church (above) was built in 1887 facing a park by the waterfront. This monumental Gothic church, with its twin towers and rose window, would not look out of place in one of the older cities of Europe; in fact, it reminded me very much of Cologne Cathedral. Except for the fact that Catholics rarely built this grandly before the Civil War, there is little in the church itself to suggest a late nineteenth century edifice. The compound, however, includes schools and several residential buildings, which is the best clue as to its date.
Tom's River- Christ Church. This interesting church was erected in 1882, but since the completion of a newer church on the same property, it now serves as the congregation center. The massed windows are characteristic of the Romanesque Revival popularized by architect Henry Hobson Richardson, although in other respects the design is more likely to be called "stick." The emphasis here is clearly on gables and lines, in contrast to the above churches.
The Cranford Presbyterian (at the top) is one of the finest examples of the shingle style in the state. This building was erected in 1893 in a style that was more characteristic of upscale homes. Atlantic Highlands boasts another late Victorian style (the second image from the top). The Central Baptist Church was constructed in 1896. The interior is an amphitheatre arrangement, as one might infer from the corner entrance, the style and the date. The large rose window, set between towers of different height, was a common feature of the period.
Newark's Roseville Methodist Episcopal Church was built in 1889. The large triple arched entrance and rusticated stone are typical of the Romanesque Revival. The elongated, heavily decorated windows high on the tower are occasionally seen on other churches of the period, but not any like these. The adjoining structures are obviously part of the "church," but they are very secular in appearance. When it was built it was much the largest structure in the neighborhood, and still stands out because of its tower and white stone construction. It is now known as the First Hopewell Baptist church, located at 525 Orange Street in Newark.
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