No. 38  August 2004
The authoritative source on early churches in New Jersey

ISSN 1543-3250


  
   
   
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Feature of the month

Lost to history in Morris County

The task of compiling a complete photographic inventory of the remaining churches in a state, even one as small and compact as New Jersey, is not a trivial task. It is one that has engaged me for more than seven years now, and I see an equal period stretching ahead before it is completed. To date I have photographed almost one thousand of the old churches, meeting-houses, chapels, and synagogues. Sometimes the photography is the easy part, sometimes it's not, as I have discussed in a previous feature . About 80% of the old churches can be identified and even located readily from the county histories that were published in the 1880s, or from the detailed maps published about a decade earlier. The Beers' maps of Hunterdon, Warren, and Somerset, for example, include distilleries, blacksmith shops, hotels, schools, quarries and mines, in addition to the names of property owners. Most of these old maps have been reprinted by county historical societies and are available for a few dollars. Street names and numbers have changed—there were no Kennedy Parkways or Martin Luther Kind Boulevards then—but a surprising number of the features listed on the maps still exist, even in the urban areas.

All that is by way of preface. I have recently completed systematic work in four counties and have what I believe is a reasonably complete inventory in Hunterdon, Somerset, Sussex and Warren. I say reasonably complete, because in all of those counties there are a couple of churches which I suspect still exist, but for which I can find no trace. I am now working on Morris County. To date I have located and photographed about ninety of the remaining churches and meetinghouses and expect there are another twenty or so remaining—perhaps a quarter of which may or may not still exist. The purpose of this month's feature therefore is to request help in finding those elusive churches, or in settling the matter that they have disappeared.

I hate to leave a church in limbo, as I have with the African Methodist Church in Belvidere (Warren County); it shows clearly on the Beers map of 1874 but has left no other written trace, and every historian of the county I have spoken with is mystified—most doubted the existence of an AME church in Belvidere until I showed them the map. A search of the old deeds for the property doesn't help because AME churches often combined a residence for the minister with the meeting space and so were registered in an individual's name rather than in the name of the church. (And you thought taking snapsots of old churches was easy!)

I have outlined below what I can find of the early churches in Morris in the hope that some reader(s) can point me to the church or to information which confirms its demise. You will earn my thanks and an acknowledgment in the book to be published later this year.

Flanders. The Methodist congregation in Flanders is one of the oldest in the state, organized by 1789. They built a frame chapel by 1793, which served until their present church was erected in 1853. There is a note in a 1960s Methodist history that the original meetinghouse still existed. It is not identified on the Robinson Atlas.

Morristown. The Presbyterian church on the green was torn down in 1893-94 to make way for the current building. It was disassembled and reconstructed as a barn in Passaic County. I have seen a newspaper photograph (undated but apparently from sometime in the 1960s or 70s) of that barn, but there was no further information with respect to its location.

Meyersville, Long Hill Tornship. The original Presbyterian church, erected in 1847, was sold and moved to a new location on New Vernon Road for use as a residence when the new church was built in 1895. That building almost certainly still exists.

Rockaway Township. There was a Welsh Presbyterian church near the Richards mines, erected in 1863. This may have become in the Mine Hill Presbyterian church, but maybe not. I have criss-crossed the roads in the area, but can find no evidence of an old church.

Taylortown, Boonton Township. A chapel was erected in this hamlet in the 1880s by the Presbyterian church in Boonton, but I have no other information. No such chapel appears on the Robinson Atlas of Morris County (published in 1887).

African Methodist Episcopal churches. Apart from a single AME church in Madison, there is no mention in Munsell's History of Morris County of any other black church erected in the nineteenth century. That there is no mention of an AME church is not surprising, as they were almost invisible to the pious authors and compilers of those early county histories, but that more such congregations did not exist or did not build churches is hard to believe. The county had a substantial black population in the nineteenth century—not as big as Somerset's, but certainly large enough to support more than one church.

Butler. On Manning Avenue there is an interesting small church erected in 1898 (according to the cornerstone) that is now part of an Assembly of God church. Can anyone tell me the original congregation?

Given my experience in other counties, I have confidence there are even more early churches that have survived—ones that were dismantled and removed to another location, then reconstructed as a blacksmith shop, for example, as a Methodist church in Whitehouse (Hunterdon) was, or rebuilt nearby as a barn, as the original Presbyterian church in Knowlton (Warren) was—another building that I have not been able to identify. Any information would be most appreciated.

 
 
 

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