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.





Saint John the Evangelist in Orange is a traditional basilica.

Saint Peter's Church in Spotswood is one of the best board-and-batten examples in the country. Note the false buttresses on the steeple and walls.

The belfry on the Reformed Church in Bedminister is carpenter Gothic, although the rest of the building is in the shingle style.


The chapel adjacent to the North Baptist Church in Jersey City.





Uncoursed masonry on the Holy Innocents chapel in Burlington.

In Hope, a crenellated facade on St. Luke's is a distinctive element on this early Gothic church.




The steeple on Saint Mary's Church in Burlington is positioned directly above the crossing.


The gallery in this early Presbyterian church in Franklin Twsp extends around three sides.




The old Pittsgrove Presbyterian Church is an example of a simple Georgian building.








At least seventeen Greek Revival churches like this Methodist church in Cokesbury remain, most of them built within a few years of 1850.

  Ionic capital, from the Chester Presbyterian Church, built in 1851.


This hinge from the Reformed church in High Bridge is typical of the kind that would be found on the best of the Gothic Revival churches.



Oculus from the First Baptist Church in Elizabeth.



The heavy pediment on the Broadway Methodist Church in Salem was common after the Civil War.

The pent roofs on the Greenwich Friends Meetinghouse are typical of Quaker architecture.




A Queen Anne facade added later to the First Baptist Church In Manasquan.


Quoins on the First Presbyterian Church in Elizabeth.


The Church of the Immaculate Conception in Montclair is built in the Renaissance Revival style.



Round-arched windows and decorative arcading beneath the eaves are typical of Romanesque Revival, as in this Presbyterian church in Washington.

The fanlight and door surround from the Locktown Baptist Church would likely have been considered too worldly by the original Baptist congregation, which erected this stone building in 1819.





The Methodist Church in Navesink has a tower, belfry and steeple.



Christ Church, Middletown, contains this quatrefoil design.


This vernacular church is in Mullica Hill; built when other Episcopal churches were adopting the Gothic style.

Trinity-Saint Phillips in Newark is a fine example of the Wren-Gibbs style.


A number of terms, architectural and liturgical, may not be universally understood, so this glossary is offered for the convenience of readers.

In addition to the long space separating the seating, aisle also refers to the space flanking and parallel to the nave, usually separated from the main seating area by columns. Almost unknown in the early churches, the flanking aisle was reintroduced with the Gothic Revival and is common in Anglican and Catholic churches.

Akron plan
Named for an innovative Methodist building in the Ohio town in the 1870s, Akron plan churches are characterized by a rotunda or amphitheater arrangement of seating in the auditorium, and a double tier of small rooms in a gallery, opening on the auditorium by means of sliding doors. That design enabled a number of Sunday School classes to be held, but all having access to a general prayer or lecture session as well. The term Akron Plan has come to mean amphitheater seating as much as the tier of classrooms. The advantage of that design is that more hearers can be close to the pulpit. The entry was often at a corner rather than centered on the front of the building.

A domed part of the church where baptisms are held. In a few churches, the sanctuary is circular and the dome gives the entire building the appearance of a baptistery The Baptistery of Pisa is perhaps the most famous example; the Seventh Day Baptist Church in Plainfield is an outstanding example in New Jersey.

Originally a Roman hall of justice, but gradually the term became applied to early Christian churches. There is usually a long, high nave with a semicircular apse at one end. Most of the large, late nineteenth century Catholic churches were built to the basilica plan.

Battens are narrow wooden strips applied to cover a seam. One of the common styles of the Gothic Revival was the use of a board-and-batten exterior, giving the church a strong vertical appearance. Saint Peter's Church in Spotswood and the Reformed Church in Rocky Hill are fine examples of the style.

braced frame
A type of wooden construction used in barns, churches and other large buildings well into the nineteenth century. The beams are large and require heavy bracing because of the substantial load they bear. Braced frame building generally used mortised joints and wooden pegs rather than nails. See post and beam.

After the Civil War the Italianate style became popular; one of its characteristic features was the use of brackets, often set in pairs, under deeply projecting eaves. Later styles such as the Second Empire/Queen Anne, featured bracketed windows, cornices and porches.

An exterior mass of masonry set at an angle to strengthen a wall or support. In wooden buildings, these are normally false buttresses, employed as stylistic elements in Gothic Revival churches.

carpenter gothic
A wooden variant of the Gothic Revival characterized by elaborate scrollwork, shingles.

The sanctuary of the church, usually reserved for the clergy and choir. It is usually deeply recessed from the nave in Anglican and Catholic churches, with their emphasis on the mystery of the sacraments, and often nonexistent in reformed churches, where the emphasis is on the spoken word. The chancel is often separated from the nave by an arch, rail or screen (rood).

Usually a small area within a larger church, intended for private prayer, but occasionally a small secondary church in a parish. Several of the nineteenth century Gothic Revival churches have an attached or semidetached chapel.

A projection, anchored in a wall, used to support an overhanging beam or roof. The Italianate style introduced double corbels or brackets projecting below the exterior roof line. A row of miniature arches below the eaves is called an arcaded corbel table, but I refer to it as simply "decorative arcading."

The exterior trim where the roof meets the wall. It is often of wood, even in stone and brick churches. One of the unfortunate consequences of aluminum siding is the elaborate dentils and corbels of the cornice are covered or removed.

coursed masonry
Construction in which the stones, of approximately equal height, are set in regular rows. Uncoursed masonry, using irregular or random stone, was often covered with stucco. Uncoursed masonry is common in ruder buildings, but it is effectively employed in Notman's Chapel of the Holy Innocents in Burlington, an important Gothic Revival building.

Battlements, or a series of indentations along the top of a wall, such as one would find in a Norman castle. In Saint Luke's Church in Hope (Warren County), the crenellated front is the distinctive feature.

The area of a church where the transept crosses the nave and the chancel, resulting in a cruciform, or cross-shaped plan. A cruciform plan would have been considered too Popish for most Protestant churches well into the nineteenth century, but that plan became standard for large and small Gothic Revival churches built by Episcopal and Catholic parishes after 1850.

A band of small, square tooth-like blocks, usually part of the cornice on Greek Revival and neoclassical buildings.

Doric order
A traditional architectural style, and one of the standard Greek Revival forms of column, simple capital and cornice. See also Ionic and Tuscan orders.

double window
Two rounded arch windows, set side-by-side, are a common mark of the Romanesque Revival style, popular in the last half of the nineteenth century.

Flemish bond
Brickwork in which each course consists of alternate headers (the short end of the brick) and stretchers (the long side) is called Flemish bond. It was standard construction for most of the Quaker meetinghouses in south Jersey.

The vertical, triangular portion of the end of a building, formed by a double-sloping roof, from the level of the cornice to the peak of the roof. A characteristic of Gothic Revival is use of multiple gables and turrets or towers to introduce an asymmetrical appearance.

An elevated seating area, usually on three sides of the nave, supported by columns. A gallery permitted additional seating close to the pulpit, important in many Protestant churches, or a place for children or slaves to be seated. Galleries are standard features of Wren-Gibbs churches.

Georgian architecture
A common style in the eighteenth century, it is characterized by a symmetrical plan, with balanced windows and entrances. The window and door surrounds may be modest or somewhat elaborate. The term, Georgian, comes from the several English kings of the late seventeenth through early nineteenth centuries. It is most common in south Jersey, where the architecture was influenced by Philadelphia, considered the bastion of Georgian buildings in the country. In this country, Georgian is also known as Federal; although purists will point out differences between the two, they are not significant for our purposes.

Gothic arch

A pointed, rather than rounded, arch, sometimes called a lancet arch when it is elongated and sharply pointed. Gothic windows are found in a wide variety of churches in New Jersey, including some early meetinghouses (but never a Quaker building) and an occasional Greek Revival building.

Gothic Revival
A broad term covering a wide variety of architectural forms and styles of the nineteenth century, particularly those employing pointed arch windows, buttresses, gables, towers and turrets. Gothic Revival is also used to identify a movement in the mid-nineteenth century to embrace the English parish church of the fourteenth century as the most appropriate style for Episcopal churches in this country, and in England.

Greek Revival
The dominant style of the early part of the nineteenth century, deemed especially appropriate for public buildings and for churches, but also employed for banks and grand residences. It is characterized by a triangular pediment supported by columns or pilasters. Elements of Greek Revival are often carried over into later styles, particularly the heavy-corniced pediment.

hammer beam
Short horizontal beams, supporting rafters in a roof. Used in place of tie beams, which extend across the width of the nave. Hammer beams are a typical feature of English Gothic architecture. Outstanding examples can be found in St. Mary's Church in Burlington.

Ionic order
A classical order of architecture, characterized by the scroll-like capital, which, in this country, is practically the only difference between the Doric and Ionic styles of Greek Revival. Many of the Greek Revival churches built in 1851 utilize the same plan, and vary only in their choice of Doric or Ionic capitals.

Episcopal churches, in particular, employ cast or wrought iron decoratively on the front door hinges.

Italianate style
In the 1850s one of the popular styles included low-pitched and heavily-bracketed roofs, square towers, and double rounded-arch windows, a design that came to be known as Italianate. Many of the elements were picked up in the somewhat later Romanesque Revival style.

In new England, Puritan meetinghouses were originally square, or almost so, with the main entrance opposite the pulpit, a hipped roof, with a weathervane or modest cupola in the center. As attendence grew, one dimension was lengthened, and the main entrance was normally on the long side. In New Jersey, only the old Tennent church survives of this type, although there were once many examples. The term is used here to designate a mostly unadorned church, usually of modest scale, often with a small belfry, cupola or tower. The Presbyterian church in Springfield and the Reformed church in Blawenburg are good examples of larger meetinghouses. Weymouth and Estelle Manor have excellent examples of smaller meetinghouses. And the Society of Friends has always referred to its places of worship as meetinghouses rather than churches.

The middle aisle of a church, including the seating on either side. Intended for the laity rather than the clergy. In Episcopal and Catholic churches the nave is generally longer than in Reformed Protestant churches, where the nave is often almost as wide as it is long.

In this country the term is used loosely to describe buildings that are symmetrical, that employ traditional classical orders (Doric, Ionic, etc.) and are sparely ornamented. Trinity-St. Phillips in Newark and the Allentown Presbyterian church are neoclassical buildings as is the more modest Calvary Baptist Church in Hopewell. The Wren-Gibbs style, named for two leading seventeenth century English architects, is neoclassical.

A small circular panel or window, usually found high in the gable end of a church. Also known as a roundel.

The triangular gable end of the roof above the horizontal cornice. The pediment may be closed with an uninterrupted horizontal cornice, open, with the horizontal cornice broken, or interrupted by the tower. In many of the early Reformed churches in Bergen, the pediment is hardly noticeable, but the cornice becomes more elaborated in the nineteenth century.The interrupted pediment is a common feature of Gothic Revival churches in the central part of the state from the Civil War onward.

pent roof
A small, sloping roof, commonly found above the doors in Quaker meeting houses. If they don't have a pent roof, they almost invariably have a porch, or skirt roof. Pent roofs can also be seen in domestic architecture throughout the Delaware Valley. Even the dimensions of the posts supporting the pent roofs are pretty standard throughout the Quaker meeting houses in south Jersey.

A decorative column or pier, usually rectangular. Pilasters were easier for the unskilled carpenter than a rounded or fluted column, so are often found in the humbler Greek Revival buildings, but they are a staple of the grander churches, as well.

post and beam construction
Wooden construction often employed a frame which consisted of horizontal beams resting on vertical posts (instead of on a wall). The beams were mortised and pegged, rather than nailed. In a large building such as a church or barn, the major joints would be braced. See braced frame.

Queen Anne style
In this country, this inaptly named style is a variant of the Gothic Revival, characterized by steep or Mansard roofs, turrets, tall, decorated chimneys, multiple gables, and a variety of textures, patterns and colors.

A hard stone or brick used to reinforce an corner. Often purely decorative.

Renaissance Revival

A style, not much in evidence in New Jersey, using elaborate pediments window openings and surrounds, and classical orders. Immaculate Conception Church in Montclair, the South Park Presbyterian church and St Columba's Catholic church, both in Newark, employ a number of Renaissance Revival elements.

Romanesque Revival
The Romanesque Revival got started in German in the 1830s, where it was called Rundbogenstil, for "rounded arch." There are a number of German Catholic churches exhibiting Romanesque Revival elements, notably Saint Mary's in Newark, but the style became very popular in the period following the Civil War. While the rounded arch is the defining characteristic, there are other distinctive features, including square, round or polygonal towers with low or flat roofs, paired windows and exaggerated arches for door openings. Decorative arcading beneath the eaves is another common feature. The buildings are generally of brick or rusticated stone.
      Henry Hobson Richardson is the name most associated with this style; although I have found no Richardson-designed churches in New Jersey, there are several fine Romanesque Revival churches in Essex and Hudson counties, and a large percentage of the brick and stone churches built in the last quarter of the nineteenth century have strong Romanesque Revival elements, often mixed with Gothic Revival features.

The immediate area around the altar is a precise definition, but the term is often used to identify the main auditorium of mainstream Protestant churches, when the altar is unobtrusive, or even nonexistent.

shingle style
A late nineteenth style utilizing shingles as a uniform covering of walls and roofs, almost like a skin. Corners are rounded, not right-angled. Turrets, towers and gables abound. The Central Baptist Church in Atlantic Highlands and the First Presbyterian Church in Cranford are particularly good examples of the style.

surrounds, window and door
One of the keys to identifying the style, and therefore the approximate of date of construction, is the kinds of moldings and arches above windows and doors. The surrounds might include the fanlights typical of Georgian architecture, the pedimented lintels of neoclassical designs or the elaborately ornamented lancet windows of a high Gothic style. A rounded arch window is typical of the Romanesque Revival, while a pointed arch or Gothic window is the distinctive mark of the Gothic Revival. None of these clues are infallible, however, as local builders readily mixed elements of one design with those from another.

tower, belfry, spire
The terms, tower, belfry and spire, are often used interchangeably by most people, but they refer to distinct elements. The tower is the usually square structure arising from the ground, and may be capped by a belfry, cupola, steeple, or a combination of those elements. It may be set back on the roof, project from a portico, or interrupt the pediment. In the last decades of the nineteenth century, the tower is often set to one side, or even free-standing. Catholic churches are partial to two towers, occasionally twins, especially among middle-European congregations.
      Smaller churches often have a belfry mounted on the roof, and no tower, or a steeple so mounted, and no belfry. The Wren-Gibbs type of churches often employ multi-tiered steeples, culminating in an elongated spire. Upjohn designed a particularly graceful steeple for St. Mary's Church in Burlington; it begins as a square but transitions to an octagonal spire.

Ornamental intersecting mullions, usually in a curvilinear pattern, or openwork shapes in wood or stone in the upper part of a Gothic window.

The transverse arms of a cross-shaped (cruciform) church. Almost unknown in this country until 1848, a transcept, separating the nave from the chancel, became widespread in the state through the influence of Episcopal Bishop George Washington Doane. Never popular among other reformed Protestant sects, smaller Methodist congregations often built an L-shaped church, while Baptists and Presbyterians erected a number of buildings using amphitheatre seating. See also crossing

trefoil, quatrefoil

Three/four lobed cloverleaf patterns, often worked into the facade of Gothic churches above the entrance. Most common in Episcopal and Catholic buildings.

vernacular architecture

A term used to describe regional building design that may employ elements of a variety of "higher" styles, but usually in an unsystematic manner. Vernacular buildings are usually simple, rather than elaborate. Many churches are indistinguishable from school houses or townhalls.

window molds, see surrounds

Wren-Gibbs style

English architect Christopher Wren designed several score churches in London after the city was destroyed by fire in 1666, a few of which became models for American churches in the eighteenth century. James Gibbs, a later English architect, who followed Wren's basic principles, was actually more influential in this country because of his Book of Architecture, published in 1728. A Wren-Gibbs church, such as Trinity-St. Phillips in Newark, is fundamentally a shallow basilica design (the churches are rectangular but not much longer than their width), with a classical portico at the front and a steeply-rising tower and spire placed back on the roof. Interior galleries are common, and, originally, the windows were of clear glass. The emphasis was on light and acoustics in the interior, befitting congregations that wanted to see and hear the minister. The multi-tiered tower, with several elaborate stages, is characteristic of Wren-Gibbs designs.
     A majority of American Protestant churches follow the basic principles of a Wren-Gibbs church, although the exterior ornamentation may employ Gothic or Romanesque elements and the portico is often absent. Old First Church in Newark, First Presbyterian Church in Elizabeth, and the several early Reformed churches in Bergen County are all based on Wren-Gibbs principles, although they are likely patterned after Boston's Old North church. In all of those examples, the tower has been moved forward and projects from the front wall of the church; the pediment may be emphasized or non-existent.




Copyright © 2001 Frank L. Greenagel