No. 8 November 2001
The authoritative source
early churches in New Jersey
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Deutsche Kerke, Camden
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First Presbyterian, Atlantic City
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of the month
"Not so wide as a church door, nor so deep as a well"
in Shakespeare's day, church doors were expected to be wider than the
average door, although not as wide as barndoors. Like the window treatment
and the cornice, doors (which importantly
includes the door surrounds) are one of the best clues to the style of
architecture and therefore to the date of the building. Nine out of ten
church doors in the state are double doors, hinged right and left, each
side about as wide as a standard dwelling door.
With few exceptions, like the Old Tennent [Presbyterian] meetinghouse
near Freehold, most doors are paneled, usually painted white or red, and
rarely have a window panel. But this is New Jersey, so exceptions abound.
In this month's feature, we'll examine the doors and entrances of almost
a dozen old churches.
One of the simplest doors in the state can
be found on the Old Tennent
; everything about it is strictly functional, with only the sparest decorative
element to the hinges. In some of the early churches in New Mexico, the
stout door may have a peephole, for the churches were often designed during
the Spanish colonial period to provide a defensive shelter for the parish's
Puebloan Indians against raids by hostile Apaches and Utes. The doors
to some of the surviving blockhouse residences in New England were designed
for similar purposes, but there was no necessity for defense against hostiles
when the Scotch Presbyterians erected this church, so we can, perhaps,
lay the pure functionality of the design at the feet of a parsimonious
Almost one hundred years later, a Methodist
in West Portal (Hunterdon) erected this
small church that might be mistaken for a schoolhouse except for the stained
glass windows. Windows in a church door are unusual,and these doors open
into a small vestibule, which is fairly common even in the smallest churches
in the state. There are no religious motifs or symbols worked into the
scrollwork above the doors, and the hinges by this time have been hidden.
equally modest wood frame church in Imlaystown
(Monmouth), built by a Methodist congregation in 1866, is similarly bereft
of any decorative elements which might mark it as the entrance to a sacred
place. It may be doubted that the Methodists of that era considered the
building itself as particularly sacred, since it was heavily used for
all kinds of social, civic and educational activities throughout the week.
In 1864, a Christian congregation in Locktown
erected this fairly large meeting house style church with a set of glass
panels in its front doors. The tower, which may have been added later,
is canted 45 degrees to the plane of the front of the church, also unusual
for that period. But lest it appear that rural Baptist, Christian and
Methodist churches, in particular, employed fewer of the stylish modes
of architectural and decorative elements of the day, we'll turn to some
a few hundred yards from that Christian church lies an Old School
Baptist church, (left)built
in 1818. This was a congregation opposed to Sunday School, missionaries,
church music and many other practices that had become standard by that
date, yet there we see two very fashionable Georgian-style door surrounds,
similar to that employed on an upscale Presbyterian church erected in
(Cumberland) 26 years earlier
Those Georgian touches would normally have been considered much too worldly
by most Baptist congregations. A Reformed church in Blawenburg
(Somerset), erected 12 years later in 1830, employs a similar door. Over
a period of 40 years, the Georgian-style door was used in a large brick
Presbyterian church, a small, unstuccoed stone Baptist meeting house,
and a large shingled Dutch Reformed church. Undoubtedly it was used earlier
than 1792 and later than 1830, as well.
Ecclesiology movement in the later 1840s brought some unity to religious
architectural elements, such as the Gothic arch, that had been used previously,
but not consistently or particularly well, in Reformed as well as Episcopal
churches. The entrance to the church was no less a concern to Ecclesiologists
like Bishop George Washington Doane, who consecrated most of the Anglican
churches built in New Jersey at mid-century, than the chancel and transept,
all of which had liturgical implications to the movement. Christ
erected in Woodbury (Gloucester) in 1856, copied several elements from
the highly influential St. James the Less in Philadelphia, including this
modest front entrance. Note the Gothic arch surrounding the door, the
ornateness of the door itself and the elaborated hinges, all characteristic
of Episcopal churches erected after 1850.
Shortly after the Civil
War, New Jersey communities had achieved an unprecedented prosperity,
which shows in the extent and the expansiveness of the era's churches.
The First Baptist Church of Freehold
is a delightful wooden Gothic Revival building, erected in 1869. The window
over the door seems to be a stylized trefoil design, the roof over the
window and door employs some of the open timbering associated with the
Carpenter Gothic phase; the elaborated door hinges, even on this side
door to the church, adorn Episcopal, Reformed, and Presbyterian, as well
as Baptist churches throughout the state.
In the last years of the 19th century, Catholic
parishes were building substantial stone and brick churches from the Hudson
to the Delaware. In Lambertville
on the Delaware, a Catholic parish built a large stone Gothic church,
St. John the Evangelist (left),
in 1896. The doors are buried rather deep in the Gothic arch, formed by
pedestals, granite or marble columns and elaborately carved capitals.
Notice also, that the door is not set at street level, as has been the
case for most of the churches we've seen, but several steps up, a feature
also found on the dual doors that provide
entrance to St. Stanislaus Catholic
Church in Newark (right),
erected in 1899-1900. The panels on the Lambertville church have been
elaborated with moldings, while the much plainer doors of St. Stanislaus
are each hung with three substantial decorative hinges.
In a feature we're planning for next year,
we'll look at additional entrances from the last half of the nineteenth
century, noting what they can tell us about the cultural and architectural
traditions that built them.