No. 17  August 2002
The authoritative source on
early churches in New Jersey

      About this site
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 welcome and solicit all contributions and suggestions from our visitors.

                 
       ARCHITECTS
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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— Highlights

Last month's feature
Anti-Masonic movement

Book reviews
Prologue to Independence

Can you identify this church?

Protestant Union Chapel Pomona, Atlantic County

Vintage photo of the month

Methodist Church
Troy Hills,
Morris County


Endangered churches
A dozen at-risk buildings are noted. Submit your nomination for the most endangered churches in the state. We will research the submissions and feature one each month, then maintain that list indefinitely.

Annotate this article
Do have additional information about any of the buildings in this article? Or perhaps an old photograph or an article that can enrich our knowledge? Please submit that information for the benefit of other visitors.

How to use this site
Architects & master builders

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Upload a photo
Suggest a church for inclusion

Glossary
List of churches, by county

Photographic notes
Links to related sites
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Feature of the month

A Report to our Visitors

Most noncommercial websites keep logs of visitors, largely out of vanity I suppose, but at least in part to see what features of the site are of widest interest. The logs record what browser the visitors use, the numeric address of the originating domain (usually your Internet access provider), which pages they visit and how long they stay. There is no personal information, nor any way one could identify an individual user, but analysis does show, for example, that a substantial number of the hits are coming from .edu domains, which means the site probably has value to students, librarians and other scholars, which is very gratifying. I recently used a tool to analyze the data in the logs (there's about 30 MB of data), and thought the generalizations might be of interest. I'll resume with a feature article again next month.

  • In the last nine months, almost 20,000 unique visitors have accessed this site, with 2,507 visiting more than once. 17,000+ visited once and never returned (probably heathens, with no interest in architecture or New Jersey history.)
  • 528 people have visited the site 10 or more times in the last nine months, and more than 1,000 have visited several times. That's the core of the readership, which is really very small when you reflect on it. More than 1,100 hits are logged each day, and the average visitor spends almost 5 minutes here—but nearly 9 out of 10 of them will never return. That's not particularly encouraging news.
  • 46% of the visitors viewed 10 or more pages, which I'm told is exceptional “stickiness,” and about 20 people have visited more than 150 pages. A warm thank you to those people!
  • In an average day, 270 different pages are viewed (out of the approximately 800 that are available). The most active hour on the site is 7-8 pm, and the least active hour is 9-10 am. There is a generally high level of activity during most hours of the day and night, except for the hours between 6 am and noon. That suggests that either the visitors are insomniacs or there are a lot of visitors from distant time zones, which I suspect is the case. The most active day was January 23, 2002, when there were 3041 hits; I have no idea what transpired on that day to cause that blip.
  • One very positive note: there were only 10 server errors, out of 284,227 hits during this period, which is a tribute to Bill Woodall who maintains the site. Except for a denial of service attack on the ISP that provides a connection for the server, there has been almost no downtime.

The most visited pages (in addition to the home page) are the county list (which is natural, since that is the gateway to all the individual churches), the glossary, the page flogging my book, The New Jersey Churchscape, the links page and the page on photography. Eleven of the county pages follow (with Essex leading the pack), then come the pages of the vintage photo and the book reviews. Of the 800+ pages on the site, all have been visited at least once, but there are a dozen which have had less than 4 visits each (it appears that all of them are of churches that have been posted relatively recently). Surprisingly, slightly more visitors go from the home page to the glossary than to the county list page. I was always under the impression that glossaries and bibliographies are among the least used sections of most books.
      What conclusions do I draw from this data? Obviously, the audience for information on the old churches of New Jersey is not large. There are at least 40 other sites that link to it—probably many more than that—but they have not been indexed by Google. The Star Ledger and the Home News have run full-page articles on my work, and several other local papers have run some sort of feature; all the major search engines rank it highly if you search on anything approximating “churches” and “New Jersey,” and last April, Yahoo noted it as a “best site,” so one cannot say that its existence has been kept a secret. On the other hand, I do not spend much effort promoting it.
     I receive a score of e-mails each month, some passing along additional information, but most asking about a church or where to find church records. I am able to help about half of those people. The comments on the site are overwhelmingly positive, but I suspect people interested in checking out old buildings on the Web have a basically positive attitude.
     It appears there are more visitors coming from outside the state than inside, with a surprising number from abroad. The relatively high activity from libraries and higher education is encouraging, as that was a primary audience I hoped to reach. I anticipated greater interest from New Jersey historical societies (there are very few links from any of their sites), but I surmise that the interest in old churches is not deep. I expect I will maintain and extend the site for a while yet, although my work on a book on the old churches of Hunterdon county (tentatively titled Less Stately Mansions—a reference to a line in a poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes) has distracted me from adding to the database and inventory lately. As usual, your thoughts and suggestions are solicited.



For those who have not (yet) purchased book on The New Jersey Churchscape, I here append a review recently received from Professor John Fea, Ph,D, Assistant Professor of American History, Messiah College, Grantham, PA. Many thanks to Professor Fea.

As a graduate student writing a dissertation on the early religious history of colonial New Jersey I could have used Frank Greenagel’s The New Jersey Churchscape. This handsome collection of church photographs surpasses the work of Ellis Derry as the definitive catalog of eighteenth and nineteenth century churches in the Garden State. Each photograph includes the date of construction, the founding date of the given congregation and, in some cases, the date of renovations and additions to the original structures. Greenagel estimates that there are approximately 1100 eighteenth- and nineteenth-century church buildings currently standing in New Jersey, making the task of choosing the 225 churches that appear in his book a difficult one. In the end, he chose to publish photographs of all the existing eighteenth-century structures in the state and a representative selection of nineteenth-century churches based on architectural style and religious diversity.

     But Greenagel is not content on merely producing a coffee-table book of photographs of New Jersey churches. His introductory essay, entitled “The Churchscape: Diversity, Location, Construction, and Design,” challenges us to think about the role that churches have played in the social, economic, cultural, and religious history of New Jersey. Greenagel is aware that these churches were constructed and reconstructed in a given time and place. Such historical and architectural context—which he describes here as a “Churchscape”—provides us with a fuller understanding of a building’s history. He grounds this essay in the rich and diverse history of early New Jersey, reminding us that the colony, and later the state, was never a culturally homogeneous place. Such heterogeneity was exemplified in these material manifestations of religious and social life. From the simplicity of the seventeenth-century Quaker meetinghouse to the Gothic designs of post-Civil War mainline Protestant and Catholic buildings, religious beliefs, steeped in the social and cultural milieu of a given era, are essential for interpreting these sacred spaces. Greenagel is thus very sensitive to region and religious pluralism.

     The church photographs are divided into three New Jersey regions—the Hudson River, the Delaware Valley, and the Raritan Valley. They also represent a host of different religious groups ranging from Catholicism and Judaism (synagogues) to smaller Protestant denominations such as the Seventh Day Baptists and the Moravians.
At one level, Greenagel’s book is a wonderful reference tool. I am sure that I will consult it regularly in my continued research on colonial life and religion in early New Jersey. At a deeper level, Greenagel’s notion of a “Churchscape” offers a worthwhile way to think about material religion in early New Jersey or, for that matter, anywhere else. Scholars are beginning to use church buildings and material culture generally as invaluable sources for “doing” American religious history. While the term “Churchscape” is, as far as I can tell, unique to Greenagel, the idea of exploring the religious world and community that surrounds these buildings and their construction is certainly a worthwhile endeavor. For example, did the choice of building materials reflect the social standing of a given denomination or congregation? Friends’s meetinghouses were supposed to model Quaker simplicity and frugality, but they were also made of brick, the most expensive building material available in the eighteenth century. What do building renovations—such as the construction of a new pulpit, the erection of steeple, or the installation of more comfortable pews--tell us about the history of a given church, denomination, and its people? Many churches, such as the Methodists and Baptists, used their buildings to reflect an ecclesiastical move away from the rough and tumble religiosity of their founding and toward a more refined place on the mid-nineteenth-century religious landscape. Furthermore, how did the challenges of war, especially the American War for Independence, influence religious communities and their buildings? The movement of British and colonial troops damaged several of the churches included in this collection. Or how did local revivals and other aspects of the everyday religious life affect the erection of church buildings? My research shows that the construction of the “Old Stone Church” by Fairfield (Cumberland County) Presbyterians in 1781 may have contributed to a doubling of the church membership. I have also found that the construction of the “Old Swedes Church” in Swedesboro was closely linked to the loss of Swedish ethnic identity on the Delaware and the Swedes’s late eighteenth-century ecclesiastical transition from Lutheranism to Episcopalianism.

     Greenagel does not have the space to develop his thoughts along these lines or treat individual cases, but his book does make an attempt to push us in such interpretive directions. Those who are willing to take up his challenge may be surprised to find that the early records needed to construct these New Jersey “Churchscapes” are often extant. Through some careful detective work the stories of these buildings and their place in the life of a given religious community can be uncovered and told, providing us with a richer history of New Jersey’s past. For those interested in such a pursuit, Greenagel’s book, and his accompanying web site (www.njchurchscape.com) will be the starting point for many years to come.

 
 

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