Chelsea Church: Presbyterian


(Pearl Street-West Fiftieth Street) (Eighth Avenue, West 23rd Street-Westminster)
(Merged with Village Church)
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During the autumn of 1833 the Presbytery of New York authorized its missionary committee to "engage a man to labor in that section of the city lying on the Eighth Avenue and its vicinity, where a few Presbyterian families were endeavoring by occasional prayer meetings to keep the Christian flame glowing in their hearts."

 History records that fifteen year old Lucretia Owen, a daughter of a member of the Greenwich Reformed Church, gathered together the children who played about the streets on Sundays. They met first on her father's doorstep on Sixteenth Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, and later in an old school house on Seventeenth Street.

The prayer meetings which developed after the Sunday School soon made it important to secure a minister, and the ground floor of 189 Eighth Avenue was rented. A church was organized February 9, 1834, known as the Eighth Avenue Church.

The first building was a small farm structure on leased land on the north side of 17th Street, west of Eighth Avenue. In 1840 the congregation moved to a spacious hall on the second floor of a building at the southeast corner of Eighteenth Street and Eighth Avenue, known as the Cider Mill. By this time the Chelsea district was growing and the streets were being filled with houses. A more commodious church building was erected on the south side of Twentieth Street east of Seventh Avenue and dedicated in 1844. The Cider Mill was later occupied by a Baptist Mission and also an Episcopal Church.

In 1854 a large new building was dedicated at 208 West 23rd Street, and the name of the church changed to the West 23rd Street Presbyterian Church.

The story of the early days of the Eighth Avenue Church is one of sacrifice and self-denial. Notwithstanding its spiritual prosperity it did not develop much pecuniary strength. For a time the pastor's salary and other expenses were borne by missionary contributions of the stronger churches of the Presbytery. Aid was promised under the newly formed plan of Church Extension of the Presbytery, but financial difficulties in the country made it impossible to render all the assistance that had been expected. Nevertheless the church carried on its work and for a time maintained a Mission Sunday School on Eighth Avenue near 23rd Street. It cooperated also with the Home for the Friendless in carrying on an industrial school on week-days.

In 1889 there was a merger of the West 23rd Street and the Westminster churches in the building of the former, and the name was changed to the Westminster Church of West 23rd Street. The church building was enlarged to provide better facilities for the Sunday School.

The Westminster Presbyterian Church was organized by Presbytery in April 1852. The pastor was the Rev. John Little, who had severed his connection with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church shortly before because of "differences with his Presbytery on the subject of civil government and praying at funerals." The church was located at 151 West 22nd Street. it was not long, however, before financial difficulties came over this organization, and Presbytery, through its Committee on Church Extension, had to secure contributions from other churches in the city to meet the interest on the mortgage. In 1856 an Associate Reformed Church from West 12th Street was merged with this congregation.

In 1905 there began a long and a tragic interlude of dissension. There was a quarrel between the trustees and the congregation, and soon there developed a crucial question of law into which the trustees of the Presbytery entered. So important was this for the determination of the rights of the Presbytery as against the rights of the trustees of the local church, that the matter was carried to the higher courts, and the final decision in what is known as the Westminster Church Case delivered by the New York Court of Appeals in 1924 has become ecclesiastical law for the country. While all this legal matter was being carried on, the poor congregation suffered tragically. Presbytery legally dissolved the church in 1908, although the continuing group for some time held possession of the property. A new church was organized by the Presbytery with one hundred members as the Westminster Church, and when the courts gave permission, moved back to the old building after having worshipped for a time on 24th Street east of Ninth Avenue. The name of the church was changed to the Chelsea Presbyterian Church because of the increasing use of this locality name. This is not to be confused with another Chelsea Church (1843-1870.

In 1926 the Presbytery made the venture of replacing the antiquated church building with a modern hotel building including a church auditorium and other facilities, but this venture did not meet with the expected financial success because of general business conditions.

In 1946 the church lost possession of its building and the congregation voted to consolidate with the Greenwich Church on West 13th Street under the name Village Church.

The ministers: John C. Edwards, 1834-35; Henry A. Riley, 1835-39; Robert C. Brisbin, 1839-41; James I. Ostrom, 1841-52; Frederick G. Clark, 1852-67; Henry D. Northrop, 1867-74; Erskine Norman White, 1874-86; Robert F. Sample, 1887-1901; John Lloyd Lee, 1901-06; Harlan G. Mendenhall, 1907-15; William N. Ross, 1915-23; Paul Barackman, 1924-26; Thomas H. Whelpley, 1925-46.

The ministers of Westminster Church: John Little, 1853-55; David Kennedy, 1855-57; David McCartee, 1856-62; Chauncy D. Murray, 1864-65; George E. Archilbald, 1865-68; George M. McEckron, 1868-71; John K. Demarest, 1872-74; George D. Matthews, 1874-79; Edward M. Deems, 1880-89.

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Website: The History
Article Name: Chelsea Church: Presbyterian
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: From my collection of books: The Presbyterian Church in New York City by Theodore Fiske Savage; published by The Presbytery of New York 1949
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