No. 69 July 2008
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We've created a database and photographic inventory containing more than a thousand of the 18th & 19th century churches in the state and add to it each month. We solicit all contributions and suggestions from visitors.
— Highlights —
Feature of the month
An architectural debt to Philadelphia
first Continental Congress met in 1774 in Philadelphia, Carpenter's Hall
was made available to the delegates. The Carpenter's Company, a quasi-medieval
guild that controlled construction in the city was already 50 years old
but the building itself, designed by member Robert Smith, was erected between
1770 and 1773. Smith was one of the country's first professional architects,
and he was responsible for two churches in this state as well as for Princeton
University's Nassau Hall. Smith was not the only master builder/architect
to come out of the Carpenter's Company, but he is the most famous, and
as such, a most fitting way to begin this month's feature, which is a tribute
to the architects of Philadelphia.
designed the original Presbyterian church in Princeton, which was later
replaced by the present Greek Revival building,
and he designed the first addition to [old] St.
Mary's church in Burlington
in 1769, as well as a number of the early churches in Philadelphia, including
St. Peter's Church, Old Pine Street Presbyterian Church and Old St. George's
Strickland (b.1787-d.1854) was an exceptionally talented
and versatile architect, born in Middletown, New Jersey. His father
was a master
carpenter who moved the family to Philadelphia in c. 1790 and became a
charter member of the Practical House Carpenters' Society in 1811. Strickland
worked as an apprentice/assistant to Benjamin Latrobe (designer of
the U.S. Capitol
building) for a time, but during the War of 1812, Strickland was primarily
concerned with defense work, using the engineering skills that he had
After the war he secured several more commissions, culminating in the
structure that would be a turning point for both his career and for the
course of American architecture— the Second Bank of the United States. In
1818 Strickland won the competition
with a design based on the Parthenon. That design turned
out to be a seminal work in the history of neoclassicism, and specifically
the Greek Revival, in the United States. By the mid-1830s Strickland began
to lose major commissions to his former student Thomas Ustick Walter and
to emigre architects such as John Notman. In 1845 he moved to Nashville
where he designed the Tennessee State Capitol.
was responsible for the nearest thing to an authentic English Gothic
parish church in the state—St. Thomas' Church in Glassboro.
He was born in Scotland and apprenticed to a builder there. He came to
Philadelphia in 1831, and by 1839 had secured an important commission to
design a villa for New Jersey's Episcopal Bishop George Washington Doane,
in Burlington. A few years later Doane asked him to design the Glassboro
church in a Gothic manner, then a chapel at St. Mary's Hall
in Burlington, for which he was instructed to follow a specific English
first such attempt for a church in this country. Notman planned the first
architect-designed, park-like rural cemetery
at Laurel Hill, Philadelphia, but is sometimes wrongly credited with
designing St. James the Less church, located nearby. His most famous building
is St. Mark's Church in Philadelphia. He was one of the founders of the
American Institute of Architects, and a leading advocate of the English
Gothic style. He is likely the architect for the Sunday School/Chapel at
Trinity Church in Princeton.
Ustick Walter (b.1804-d.1887)
was the son of a bricklayer and served an apprenticeship with
him in expectation of becoming a bricklayer/ contractor, too.
But he eventually trained in the office of William Strickland and by 1831
had begun to practice architecture, first gaining local recognition with
his Gothic-style and Greek Revival buildings. Hundreds of commissions followed
in the 1830s and 1840s, including ones from Venezuela and China.
Walter won the competition for the design for the extension of the United
States Capitol in 1850; the wings and the dome of the Capitol shaped the
image and iconography of American governmental building for a century to
come. He was a founder of the American Institute of Architects.
apprenticed as a carpenter and worked under
the direction of an accomplished architect (John Haviland). He was originally
listed as a carpenter-builder, but by 1850 or so, he was thought of as
an architect. He based his practice in Philadelphia, but designed buildings
all over the country, and his influence was spread by his influential plan
books. John McArthur based his design of Salem's First Presbyterian
the plans of Sloan, in my reading. Sloan also designed the Masonic Building
Forrest Durang (b.1825-d.1911)
] was born in New York City, and by 1855 he appears in Philadelphia
city directories as an architect.
Durang specialized in ecclesiastical design, most notably for the
Catholic Church. In 1896 he designed the Catholic church in Lambertville,
30 years after he had completed the Methodist church there. His most
important work is the Church of the Gesu, an elaborate baroque design
the practice continued well into the 20th century.
Isaac Pursell (b.1853-d.1910) may have designed only a single church in New Jersey—an exceptional late-Victorian Baptist church in Freehold. He was based in Philadelphia, apprenticed to Samuel Sloan, and designed the very substantial St. Paul's Reformed Episcopal church there. Pursell was born in Trenton, and after his apprenticeship opened an office in Philadelphia in 1878. For many years Pursell was part of the effort on the part of the Presbyterian Board of Church Erection to publicize acceptable plans for churches and church manses; many of his design appeared in the Board's annual reports and were constructed across the United States. Pursell's church designs exhibit the English Gothic Revival style used for St. Martin's Episcopal Church (Philadelphia).
Gendell (b.1839-d.1925) was a favorite architect of
Baptist congregations in the Philadelphia area, which obviously extended
into New Jersey. Gendell
was born in Philadelphia, the son of a carpenter/builder, foundryman and
owner of an architectural iron works. He served an apprenticeship with
Thomas Ustick Walter, and then launched an office with his father, for
the first time listing himself as an architect. He was a devout Baptist,
and this is reflected in the several projects which he designed for Baptist-affiliated
R. Watson (b.1859-d.1940) specialized
in church building,
generally for Catholic parishes. He was
born in Philadelphia, and after high school he entered the office of Edwin
F. Durang, an eminent architect concentrating on Catholic church projects
during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Watson spent five years
with Durang before establishing his own firm in 1883. While
not limiting his practice to Catholic projects, Watson became well-known
for his church designs. So successful was he that he opened a branch
office in Atlantic City in 1898.
I have no
confidence whatever that my list of the New Jersey projects is complete
for any of these architects. Information about the contractor or architect
come by, even
when one has ready access to the church records. The architect, contractor
or builder was simply not regarded as important enough to merit mention
in the permanent record. I find it more
than a little ironic that the only reason some of these buildings will
be remembered is that they were designed by an important American architect.
In a couple of cases I know of a church is now on
the National Register and has obtained funding for needed repairs only
because of the architect.
I am indebted to Sandra Tatman & Roger Moss for much of the biographical information in this article, which extend and correct data I had assembled from several sources. Their more more extensive biographies can be found at http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/index.cfm. That site also includes a list of projects for each architect, although it leaves out many New Jersey churches.