No. 15  June 2002
The authoritative source on
early churches in New Jersey

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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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Calvary Brethren Church,
Franklin Twsp, Hunterdon

Vintage photo of the month

St Joseph's Church
East Millstone,
Somerset County


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Feature of the month

"
Far removed from the gaze of the cultured and the pious"

The Sourland Mountain is a 17 mile long ridge that runs northwest from Lambertville in Hunterdon county through Mercer county north of Hopewell ending in Somerset county just short of Neshanic. Historically, it's been a place to hide out; Lenape Indians hid there from marauding Iroquois, Thomas Hart, a signer of the Declaration of Independence hid from British soldiers, gangster Carlo Gambino went to ground there, and moonshiners hid their stills from revenuers before, during and after Prohibition. The mountain was home to Eugene O'Neill, artist George Bellows and, of course, to Charles & Anne Lindbergh until the kidnaping of their son in 1932.
     The mountain really isn't much of a mountain—the highest point is only 568 feet above sea level, some 200 feet above the surrounding farmland. It's rocky and heavily wooded. A few narrow roads, some dirt, snake through it, which is part of the attraction, as it's a refuge for a number of contemporary homes as well as a scattering of ramshackle cottages. There's no village on the mountain, but several—Weertsville, Ringoes, Lambertville, Blawenburg, Hopewell, Neshanic, and Clover Hill—sit just off the slope, encircling it like gates to an old walled city. Sometime after the Revolutionary War, a former slave who had purchased his freedom from General Rufus Putnam, opened a tavern there, Put's Tavern, "far removed from the gaze of the cultured and the pious," and hosted any number of cockfights, prize fights and other dubious entertainments—which may explain why it is also home to four small 19th century churches.
     In 1843, a Methodist class was organized in the area, and by 1865 they had erected a delightful stone building, the Mt. Zion Methodist Episcopal Church. It has Gothic-arch windows and simple hammerbeam arches supporting the roof, very unusual in a small vernacular church.
About the same time that church was built, a black congregation erected a smaller wood frame building somewhere on the mountain, the Zion AME Church (below). The building was moved to "the hollow" in this century, and services are still regularly held. In view of the substantial black population of the area at the time of the Civil War, it is surprising there are so few AME churches in the region—only two others in Somerset, one in Hunterdon and one other in the northern section of Mercer. This is a charming building, with its sawtooth band at the base of the gable and the round inserts in the windows to emulate the Romanesque style that was popular at the time.
     In 1876, or thereabouts, several Reformed and Presbyterian churches in the region decided that someone needed to bring religion to residents of the mountain, so they appointed a committee, raised funds, hired a minister and built a small wooden mission. It was simply called "the mountain mission," and was nominally under the supervision of the Reformed church in Harlingen. The mission (below, right) (or what I believe was the mission) now sits in Hunterdon county, at the corner of Lindbergh and Burd Roads, but it was originally sited in Somerset, probably in Montgomery Township, and moved sometime in this century.
     The remaining of the four churches on the mountain, the Mt Hope Christian Church, located on Mountain Church Road, was built sometime before 1880 but perhaps as early as the 1860s. It continued to hold services well into this century, but I am unsure when they were discontinued. It is now a private residence. The editor of the 1881 History of Hunterdon and Somerset Counties refers to it as "that feeble Unitarian society on the mountain," confusing the Unitarians with the Campbellite Christian denomination, which he also does in the instance of the Christian church in Little York.
     The area that early German settlers found unsuitable for farming, hence the name "sourland," nevertheless proved fertile enough for these four congregations to take hold, in spite of the low population density, and for two of them to last more than a century.

 
 

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