Brief History of the Brick Church: Presbyterian Church In Manhattan

(Covenant, Yorkville, Park, First Union, Park Avenue)
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In 1765 the Wall Street Church witnessed a religious renaissance. The congregations grew until they were too large to be accommodated within its walls, and a few building was determined on. The Common Council of the city was petitioned for a grant of "an angular lot adjoining the ground lately called the Vineyard and to the Green."

This site bounded by the present Nassau and Beekman Streets and Park Row, being so far beyond the settled portion of the city, was freely granted to the church in February 1766. The building here erected was dedicated on New Year's day, 1768. It was called the New Church, and so described for thirty years more.

It was not a separate congregation, but a branch of the First Church on Wall Street, the two pastors of the united congregation alternating in their preaching appointments. This collegiate arrangement, in which later what is now the Rutgers Church shared, continued until 1809.

This church, as did the others in the city, suffered an eclipse during the time of the Revolution. The building was seized by the British and used first as a hospital. The interior was entirely stripped of its furnishings. While it was being repaired after the war, the congregation met for a time in St. Paul's Episcopal Church.

In 1811 a disastrous fire which did extensive damage in lower New York, threatened the Brick Church. Flying embers set fire to the steeple, threatening the entire structure. A sailor standing in the crowd of watchers, realizing the danger and climbing to the roof of the church put out the flames, thereby winning an award from the trustees.

In 1832 a two story brick chapel for the use of the Sunday school and other meetings was erected in the rear of the church, taking the place of what had been known as the "Old White Chapel" built in 1809. Much of the land around the church was used for burial purposes until the widening of Beekman Street by the City in 1853 caused the removal of the bodies.

By the middle of the nineteenth century the northward migration had taken away many of the people from what had changed from an uptown to a downtown location. The pastor lamented that the weekly lectures, the prayer meetings and the Sunday School had been abandoned, and only a single preaching service on Sunday maintained. In 1856 the Beekman Street property was sold for $200,000, and new lots were secured at the north-west corner of Fifth Avenue and 37th Street for $56,000. While the new building was erected, the congregation worshipped in a chapel on Broadway opposite Waverly Place. The dedication of the new church was on October 31, 1858.

On April 12, 1894 there was consummated a merger with the Church of the Covenant, which had been affiliated with the "New School" as the Brick Church had been with the "Old School". The union of these two branches of the Presbyterian Church having been consummated in 1870, there did not seem the necessity or these two churches to continue a separate existence. The Church of the Covenant had been organized in 1862 and shortly thereafter erected a church at the northwest corner of Park Avenue and 35th Street. One of the enterprises of this Church of the Covenant was the establishment of the Covenant Memorial Chapel at 310 East 42nd Street, which enterprise was taken over by the Brick Church at the time of the union.

The Brick Church had a remarkable succession of pastors, the longest in service being Gardiner Spring, who was installed in 1810 and continued as pastor for sixty-three years. He, with many of the members of his church, was largely instrumental in establishing many of the missionary organizations of the city and the denomination.

The Brick Church has for a long time fostered mission enterprises of its own, and its contribution in the development of the affiliated churches of Christ Church and the Church of the Covenant has been outstanding. Beginning in 1921 the church maintained a Neighborhood House at 28 W. 37th St. for business women.

In 1937 the church was faced with the same problem that confronted the congregation on Beekman Street. Should they remain a downtown church with members living at a great distance, or should they follow the trends of population? With recognition of the real losses involved, the church, with the approval of Presbytery, voted to move again to the north. At this time it was possible to arrange a happy merger with the Park Avenue Church at 85th Street and Park Avenue, and at this latter site services were held for two years until the combined congregations bearing still the name of the Brick Church moved to the new church building at the north-west corner of Park Avenue and 91st Street, with a Parish House on 92nd Street.

The Park Avenue Church brought to this merger some interesting traditions. In 1845 a theological student began preaching services in a room on Third Avenue South of 86th Street, in what was practically open country, but bore the name of Yorkville. Tradition states that the lumber for the first benches was carried on the back of James Peffers from 23rd Street and the East River, two benches on each trip. On April 16, 1846 the Presbytery of New York duly organized the First Presbyterian Church of Yorkville. This body had three places of worship. IN 1855 it removed from Third Avenue to 87th Street near Third Avenue. In 1858 the church was built at 145 East 86th Street. In 1867 a company of members of this church withdrew to form a separate organization, and were constituted as the Park Presbyterian Church, January 12, 1868. They worshipped at 116 East 85th Street. They had a separate existence for only two years, when they were reunited with their parent church, the Yorkville Church, at the time when the Old and New School bodies came together. To signify this union, the corporate name of the combined church became, in 1870, the First Union Presbyterian Church. They continued to meet in the edifice on 86th Street and Lexington Avenue until 1914 when it was possible for the Presbytery to buy the building of the South Reformed Church at 85th Street and Park Avenue, when this organization was dissolved. On their removal to this site the name of the congregation was changed to the Park Avenue Presbyterian Church.

The ministers of the Brick Church: John Rodgers, 1765-1811; Joseph Treat, 1762-1775; James Wilson, 1785-88; John McKnight, 1789-1809; Gardiner Spring, 1810-73; William J. Hoge, 1859-61; William G.T. Shedd, 1862-63; James O. Murray, 1865-75; L.D. Bevan, 1877-82; Henry van dyke, 1883-1900; Maltbie D. Babcock, 1900-01; Shepherd Knapp, 1902-08; William R.Richards 1902-1910; William P. Merrill, 1911-38; James McC.Farr, 1925-36; Paul A. Wolfe, 1938-.

The ministers of the Church of the Covenant: George L. Prentiss, 1862-73; Marvin R. Vincent, 1873-87; James H. McIlvaine, 1888-94.

The Ministers of the Yorkville-First Union-Park Avenue Church: Joshua Butts, 1845-52; Eli C. Botsford 1854-60; Alfred P. Botsford, 1861-67; Samuel Thomson Carter, 1867-68; Edward P. Payson, 1870-74; James Latimer, 1875-77; Albert Van Deusen, 1879-83; Wilbur F. Crafts, 183-88; William R. Harshaw, 1889-97; Milton S. Littlefield, 1898-1907; James H.Speer, 1908-09; Harvey G. Furbay, 1910-11; Charles W. Welch, 1911-17; Tertius van Dyke, 1918-26; Albert Parker Fitch, 1927-32; Edmund M. Wylie, 1933-38.

The minister of the Park Church: John H. Brodt, 1868-70.

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Website: The History
Article Name: Brief History of the Brick Church: Presbyterian Church In Manhattan
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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