No. 23 March 2003
The authoritative source
early churches in New Jersey
We've created a database and photographic inventory containing more than
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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.
NJ's Mormon church
History of American Architecture
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Rt 94, Sussex County
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of the month
More than one church of a single denomination in a small town usually
points to an interesting bit of the settlement history of the area. Nineteenth
century English and German Presbyterian and Reformed churches, built within
a few miles of each other in Hunterdon County, reflect the language and
national origins of the congregation, as do the many national varieties
of Catholic and Lutheran churches found in Trenton and Roebling, for example.
Those churches mark neighborhoods as well as the congregations' origins,
language and/or form of service. But in some towns, the existence of two
churches signifies a schism in the congregation, often over the choice
of minister, but occasionally over personalities or doctrine. In Hopewell
(Mercer County) two Baptist churches face each other, one Old
School (built in 1823 ) and the other a New
School congregation (erected in 1872 ). In Hunterdon we have several
examples of schisms that began in personality clashes and spread to doctrinal
differences in a Dunkard (German Baptist) church and in a Methodist church.
The most widespread schism, easily documented in brick and stone, is scattered
over the southern part of the state.
Edward Hicks, an influential Quaker preacher
from Long Island, was largely responsible for the abolition of slavery
within the Society of Friends. He also opposed the adoption of a set creed
by the Society of Friends at a time when the Yearly Meetings were moving
in that direction. As his influenced widened, he was increasingly regarded
as a heretic by orthodox Quakers in the Baltimore area, and ultimately
most of the Yearly Meetings cast him and his followers out. Hicks' adherents
thought of themselves as the Liberal branch of the Society, but the orthodox
members called them "Hicksites," and that name stuck.
The schism of 1827-28 spread throughout
the Society of Friends in the mid-Atlantic states and resulted in the
formation of many separate congregations. Some splits were apparently
cordial, but at least one resulted in prolonged litigation over church
property. Some congregations agreed to share the meetinghouse, but in
many cases, the minority faction (which might be Hicksite or orthodox)
was obliged to leave and erect a new meetinghouse.
Chesterfield Friends meetinghouse
(far left) in
Crosswicks was erected in 1773 and was retained by the orthodox faction
when the congregation split in 1828. The Hicksite
group erected a meetinghouse a block away in 1850. That building (above,
right) now serves as the headquarters of the Chesterfield Township
In Trenton, the Hicksites were in the majority,
for they retained the original meetinghouse (erected in 1739, but greatly
modified over the years) and the orthodox Friends built a new meetinghouse
themselves the Mercer Street Friends,
in 1858. I haven't determined where they met for the 30 years between
the schism and the erection of this meetinghouse. Smaller buildings like
this one often have a single entrance, whereas all of the larger Quaker
meetinghouses have two entrances, one for men and one for women. In other
respects, all the aspects of the conventional Quaker idiom are present
in the Mercer Street building, including the pent roof, cornice and even
the details of the latches for the shutters.
Hicksites were the majority in Medford,
as well, and they kept possession of the fine meetinghouse (below,
left) that was built in 1814, while the orthodox group withdrew
and built their own, the Union
Street Friends meetinghouse (below,
right) a couple of blocks away, in 1843. The Union Street
building looks essentially identical to the 1814 building, down to the
large sycamores trees that grace the grounds of both sites. The new building
is no longer used for services, but was undergoing a restoration or stabilization
when I last visited a year ago.
One of the finest early meetinghouses in the state is found in Greenwich
It was erected in 1771 and does not appear to have been changed, inside
or out, since. The Hicksite faction
withdrew and built their smaller meetinghouse a mile or so away in 1857
smaller, they did manage to squeeze in two front doors.
In Mt. Laurel Township, the Evesham
Friends hit on a different solutionthey simply extended the
existing building, erected in 1770, which is why that meetinghouse has
three front doors.
By the turn of the 20th century, the schism had
been healed and one of the two buildings was converted or used for other
purposes. In Camden, it is the Hicksite building, erected in 1828, which
has survived. In most New Jersey towns, there is only one Quaker meetinghouse,
but few published records to inform us about the impact of the schism.