authoritative source on
early churches of New Jersey
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.
John the Evangelist in Orange is a traditional basilica.
Peter's Church in Spotswood is one of the best board-and-batten
examples in the country. Note the false buttresses on the steeple
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.
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.
gallery in this early Presbyterian church in Franklin Twsp extends around
The old Pittsgrove
Presbyterian Church is an example of a simple Georgian building.
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
on the best of the Gothic Revival churches.
from the First Baptist Church in Elizabeth.
The heavy pediment
on the Broadway Methodist Church in Salem was common after the Civil War.
pent roofs on the Greenwich Friends Meetinghouse are typical of
Queen Anne facade added later to the First Baptist Church In Manasquan.
on the First Presbyterian Church in Elizabeth.
Church of the Immaculate Conception in Montclair is built in the Renaissance
and decorative arcading beneath the eaves are typical of Romanesque Revival,
as in this Presbyterian church in Washington.
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.
Church, Middletown, contains this quatrefoil design.
vernacular church is in Mullica Hill; built when other Episcopal
churches were adopting the Gothic style.
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.
Named for an innovative Methodist building in the Ohio town in the
1870s, Akron plan churches are characterized by a rotunda or amphitheater
of seating in the auditorium, and a double tier of small rooms
in a gallery, opening on the auditorium by means of sliding doors.
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
Akron Plan has come to mean amphitheater seating as much as
the tier of classrooms. The advantage of that design is that more
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.
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,
as stylistic elements in Gothic Revival churches.
A wooden variant of the Gothic Revival characterized by elaborate scrollwork,
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
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.
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.
A traditional architectural style, and one of the standard Greek Revival
forms of column, simple capital and cornice. See also Ionic and
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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,
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
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,
broken, or interrupted by the tower. In many of the early Reformed
churches in Bergen, the pediment is hardly noticeable, but the cornice
more elaborated in the nineteenth century.The interrupted pediment
is a common feature of Gothic Revival churches in the central part
state from the Civil War onward.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
Three/four lobed cloverleaf patterns, often worked into the facade of
Gothic churches above the entrance. Most common in Episcopal and Catholic
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.
molds, see surrounds
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
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.