No. 19 November 2002
The authoritative source on
early churches in New Jersey

      About this site
We've created a database and photographic inventory containing more than half the 18th & 19th century churches in the state and add to it each month. We welcome and solicit all contributions and suggestions from our visitors.

A friend is in the process of compiling an illustrated guide to stained glass in the area's churches, especially those with Tiffany or John LaFarge windows. For a sample of some fine windows, check this site:
If you know of any churches with Tiffany windows, send an email to

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.

Find a church

— Highlights

Last month's feature
the Wren-Gibbs style

Book reviews
History of American Architecture

Can you identify this church?

Rt 94, Sussex County

Vintage photo of the month

Old Bergen Church
Jersey City

Endangered churches
A dozen at-risk buildings are noted. Submit your nomination for the most endangered churches in the state. We will research the submissions and feature one each month, then maintain that list indefinitely.

Annotate this article
Do have additional information about any of the buildings in this article? Or perhaps an old photograph or an article that can enrich our knowledge? Please submit that information for the benefit of other visitors.

How to use this site
Architects & master builders

Consult the database

Annotate the database
Upload a photo
Suggest a church for inclusion

List of churches, by county

Photographic notes
Links to related sites
Bulletin Board
Contact us

Feature of the month

"a tavern every 15 steps, and some talk of building a church"

When Mark Twain was living in Nevada during the Gold Rush there, he described the wide-open mining town of Virginia City as having " a tavern every 15 steps and some talk of building a church." He said it was "no place for a Presbyterian, and he did not long remain one." At that same time in Hunterdon County, New Jersey (1867), there was more than talk of building a church; in fact, 37 churches were erected between 1860 and 1871, more than one-third the total (101) that have survived from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. That flurry of activity deserves a little more analysis, which is the topic of this month's feature.
      Information about the founding date, erection date, architect/builder, style, denomination and location of each of the 800+ churches I have photographed in the state over the last six years were entered into a database, portions of which make up the county lists on this website. Sorting the churches by denomination or style yields some interesting generalizations, but for this analysis I wanted to focus on the building date. I plotted the graph (below left), which shows building activity at 10-year intervals between 1810 and 1900. That spike in the 1861-1870 period was most intriguing, as it was double the building of any similar period.
Next I plotted the building activity data at 2-year intervals, hoping that some distribution would provide a further clue. That distribution is illustrated in the graph on the right.
The task then was to try to tease out some explanation.
      1861-1865 were war years, so one might expect church-building would be suspended during the period; instead, it lessened from the two prewar years, but only slightly. In any case, the prewar and postwar years showed building well ahead of most other periods, so the surge cannot be explained by war prosperity.
     There was no index of consumer confidence, then, and no relationship between interest rates and new church-starts, but perhaps something in the historical record might provide a clue. The most significant era of religious revivals, called the Second Great Awakening, occurred in 1820-1840, and it appears, from the first graph, that there was an upsurge of building in the 1831-1840 period, which continued through the Civil War era. One might argue that population growth was the cause, and that is possible, but Hunterdon actually lost population as Morris, Sussex, Warren and parts of Mercer counties were carved off. So the first graph suggests that revivals in the 1830s-1860s may well have been influential in church building in Hunterdon county. The county was visited frequently by Methodist, Campbellite and Baptist revivalists, and the ministers of established churches conducted their own revivals (sometimes lasting weeks) as well—those revivals had been ongoing for decades and would continue through the end of the century. In fact, several of the churches built in the period can be traced directly to revivals which led to the formation of new congregations.
     The drop-off in church building shown in the second graph between 1860-61 and 1862-63 appears very dramatic, but how to explain the upswelling after that drop? Wartime inflation (the gold value of paper dollars—Greenbacks—was worth only 46 cents in 1867 and would not recover its prewar levels until 1878) was succeeded by postwar depression. Wheat prices declined from a wartime high of $4/bushel to 67 cents/bushel in 1867. The upshot: I'm not sure anything can be made of the economic conditions in the county, but I suspect from the general construction activity, as well as from extension of the railroads in the area, that the wartime prosperity carried over into the postwar period. Four new churches were built in Glen Gardner and three in Stockton, so one might infer that it was something other than steeple-envy that led to that level of activity.
     Congregations build new churches when they can and when they have to. A fire or a big increase in the size of the congregation is "have to;" the rising affluence and the popularity of new architectural styles leads to "can." Twelve of the churches were built, according to the records, because the congregation wanted a larger church, four were brand-new congregations, in addition to the two that were the result of revivals, and five were built because the congregation wanted a church closer to home (Annandale Reformed, Fairmount Methodist, Kirkpatrick Presbyterian, Mt. Salem ME). Three congregations specifically mentioned a significant increase in membership led to a need for a larger church (the Methodists in Bloomsbury, Clinton and Lambertville), but I suspect that a desire to build more grandly played a role in churches in Spruce Run, Oldwick and Whitehouse.   
     Of the 37 new churches, twelve were Methodist and Presbyterian and Baptist congregations each built five. More than half a dozen of the churches resemble the Methodist church in Clinton (above), but the name of the architect is not known.

The churches, from top to bottom: First Presbyterian Church, Virginia City, Nevada; Fairmount Methodist church, Tewksbury; Clinton Methodist church, Clinton; Spruce Run Lutheran church, Glen Gardner.



Copyright © 2002 Frank L. Greenagel