No. 19 November 2002
The authoritative source
early churches in New Jersey
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
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 email@example.com.
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.
the Wren-Gibbs style
History of American Architecture
you identify this church?
Rt 94, Sussex County
photo of the month
Old Bergen Church
A dozen at-risk buildings are noted. Submit your nomination for the most
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List of churches, by county
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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
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.
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
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 wellthose
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 dollarsGreenbackswas 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
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.