No. 24 April 2003
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citing of serials by scholars, researchers, abstracters & librarians.
Because the emphasis in this website is on the architectural aspects of the early churches of New Jersey, we've noted the architect or master builder wherever that information was available. We have compiled a directory of individuals and firms who worked in the state, and offer it now, even in incomplete form, for suggestions, corrections and additions.
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We'll begin in Newark in Lincoln Park, an area that was once very fashionable but was allowed to deteriorate and only recently is coming back through the efforts of a number of local residents. Lincoln Park is also graced by the most ornate of the city's six Dutch Reformed churches, the Clinton Avenue church, built in 1870, but our subject is the older South Park Presbyterian church, erected in 1853. Lincoln spoke to a throng from its steps in 1861, from whence came the name of the park. (It is notable however, that New Jersey voted for Lincoln's opponents both times he ran for President.) As the area drifted downwards, the congregation moved away, and from 1974 to 1989, this fine Renaissance Revival building housed the Lighthouse Temple, and in 1992 a fire destroyed the nave. Only the façade remains, but that façade with its two classical towers (tempiettos) was apparently regarded as one of the premier examples of the style, as the building is featured in several books on American architectureone of the few buildings in the state that receives any attention from architectural historians. The architect, John Welsh, also designed the First Reformed church in Jersey City and the High Street Presbyterian (now St James AME) church.
changing demographics and fire brought about the destruction of South
Park, fire alone did the job for Jersey City's North Baptist church. Only
the façade, the tower and the chapel next door remain of this imposing
building, erected in 1885; the nave is completely gone. The variegated
stone in the arches and other details testify to the past affluence of
the congregation. The adjacent chapel remains in good condition, at least
from the exterior. When I last visited the site three years ago, it appeared
that someone had staked out the entry foyer and was living there. The
style is basically Romanesque Revival, but typical of the period, there
are also Gothic and Italianate elements. And this one was built of brick,
Only a couple of miles away lies another ruin of another German Lutheran church, although one not nearly so old. The Mt. Bethel Evangelical Lutheran church was built in 1844, apparently out of spite by a New York minister who was denied the pastorship of the well-established Lutheran church in nearby New Germantown (renamed Oldwick because of anti-German feelings in the wake of World War I). When the minister moved away, membership declined and the building was sold to a Methodist congregation, which defaulted and the building was then acquired by the Spruce Run Lutheran church, also in Hunterdon county. Spruce Run operated it as a sort of outpost from 1864 until 1896, when it was apparently abandoned. Virtually unknown to all but a few residents, it was referred to as the "Swack church" from the name of the mason who built it, a local character called Stuttering Jake Swackhammer. There are a number of grave stones in the adjacent burial ground, which is occasionally cleaned up by the Boy Scouts, but some residents would like to see the two standing walls torn down, citing the apparent danger of an attractive nuisance.
Several miles further into Hunterdon county and we will come across the ruins of the Bethlehem Baptist church, built in 1858. Its stucco-over-stone construction is typical of many of the 19th century churches in the western part of the state. The congregation was a flourishing one, but members gradually left to form three other congregations in villages about five or six miles away. The building was abandoned about 1900. Eventually the roof rotted and collapsed, but the walls are largely intact, and some of the detail of the wall behind the altar can still be seen. I understand that the cost of stabilization is high, so there is local sentiment to tear the building down, because, the thinking goes, "since we can't afford to maintain it, some day someone is going to get killed climbing around there." That would be a pity (tearing it down, I mean). The building is clearly visible on the south side of Interstate 78 a few miles west of Clinton.
There is happier news when we complete our
journey by traveling north about 30 miles into Warren county, north of
Blairstown. I was photographing the old church in Millbrook and was unaware
of the existence of another old church in the area when I first came upon
it, located on a prominent rise on one of the really obscure (to me) backroads
in an area of many obscure backroads. A hamlet (Spring Valley) grew up
in the 1840s, apparently around a mill and then a Christian (Campbellite)
church, which was erected about that time. The stucco-over-stone walls
have been well stabilized by the Hardwick Township Historical Society
and the building is listed on the National Register of Historical Places,
again, a credit to the Historical Society. One can wander among the grave
markers and through the building, also open to the sky. One would not
wish for any greater restoration.