Old Bergen

Chapter XLI

Daniel Van Winkle

Published 1902

Web version, edited by GET NJ
Copyright 2002


CONSIDERABLE space has been devoted to matters connected with the old Dutch church at Bergen, not only because it was the first church organized, but likewise for the reason that under the old order of things it was so closely connected with the civic and social as well as religious conditions then existing. As has been stated, with the growth of the community came demands for other church accommodations, and to meet these, churches were established in rapid succession. Probably the first church organization in old Jersey City was St. Matthew's Protestant Episcopal Society. The first service was held in the upper room of the old Town Hall in I809 or '10, and on invitation New York clergymen occasionally officiated there. Dr. E. D. Barry afterward became rector, and the worship was continued regularly until the completion of their church building -- which is still standing-on Sussex Street near Warren.

The opportunity for the erection of this building came when the Jersey Associates offered a plot of ground 100 feet square, to such religious denominations as would erect a building thereon within a given time. This offer was taken advantage of by the Episcopal, Presbyterian, Catholic and Methodist persuasions, and if the map of Jersey City be examined, it will be seen that a strip of land extending from Sussex to York Streets was donated in accordance with such offer, and is still so occupied by the respective, denominations, with the exception of the Presbyterians, whose church passed into the hands of the Dutch Reformed, as related elsewhere.

St. Matthew's Society, having received a bequest of $500, was enabled to commence building, and on the 22d of October, 1831, Dr. Barry laid the corner-stone. Through all the changes that have occurred in lower Jersey City, St. Matthew's still survives, and services are regularly held in the venerable edifice.

September 10, 1851, the Church of the Holy Trinity was organized in old Hudson City, in the school building then standing at St. Paul's and Central Avenues. Gen. E. R. Wright was one of the moving spirits of this enterprise, and associated with him were Thomas Aldridge, Thomas Harrison, David H. Griffith, William Thomas, Jared W. Graves, John Aldridge and James Montgomery. Oct. 8th the first public service was held in the school-house above alluded to, and on Dec. loth the same year, the corner-stone of the present building was laid by Rt. Rev. Bishop Doane. In July, 1853, the building was duly consecrated, and Rev. W. R. Guis became temporary rector. At the present writing (1902) a modern and substantial edifice is being erected for this congregation on the corner of Summit and Pavonia Avenues, the present property having been disposed of.

A number of the communicants of Holy Trinity residing in what was known as South Bergen, that is, the region south of Montgomery Street, because of the increase of population in that territory, saw a favorable opportunity for the organization of a new church. Accordingly services were instituted in a small schoolhouse on Gardner Avenue, and in 1860 the congregation was organized as St. Paul's Protestant Episcopal Church. Jno. S. Sutphen and Elizur Ward were elected wardens, and S. D. Harrison, John M. Cornelison, Barberie Throckmorton, Thomas James, Christopher H. Fash, John Rudderow, William P. Bleecker, and Edmund Baldwin, vestrymen. Rev. F. C. Putnam entered upon his duties as rector, October, 1860. In 1861 a building was erected in Duncan Avenue, followed by the present enlarged and commodious church, which is still occupied by the congregation.

Although there were but few Catholics in old Jersey City at the time of the offer of the Jersey Associates, they determined if possible to secure the advantage of it. After obtaining pledges from the greater number of those residing there, they secured the ground and appealed to their brother Catholics in New York for assistance. Bishop Dubois, at a service held in St. Patrick's Cathedral in that city, urged that assistance be given to the "poor Catholics of Paulus Hook," and closed his appeal with the following words " Now all you that will go over there, and aid them to prepare the ground, and help them to begin in the erection of their church, hold up your right hands." Instantly the hand of every male member in the church was raised. The ferry company had promised to convey over without charge all those who would help in the work, and the next day between two and three hundred horses and carts and a large number of men with picks and shovels, wended their way over the ferry, and the filling in of the ground for old St. Peter's (now Aloysius Hall) was enthusiastically begun.

The corner-stone was laid by Bishop Dubois in 1831, but the difficulties encountered were so great that the first mass was not celebrated until 1837. The building was dedicated in 1839, and Rev. William Mahan was the first pastor, followed at short intervals by others until 1844, when Rev. Father Kelly was duly installed as pastor of St. Peter's, and continued as such up to the time of his death, April 28, 1866.

Father Kelly was very closely identified with the early growth of old Jersey City. Quiet and industrious in his habits, modest and unassuming in manner, and yet firm in his adherence to right, and at all times inculcating an honest, upright line of conduct, his name became a household word, and his memory is still fragrant in the minds of those who knew him.

The Methodist persuasion likewise initiated proceedings to secure their share of the offered gift of the Associates.

At this time the whole territory now known as Bergen and Hudson Counties was included in one circuit, and as was customary, missionary work was done by "circuit riders," faithful men who were ready to endure any privation in order to advance the interests of their faith. The old hymn aptly describes their condition:

No foot of land do I possess,
No cottage in the wilderness:
A poor wayfaring man,
I lodge awhile in tents below.
And gladly wander to and fro,
Till I my Canaan gain.

A nucleus was gathered, and the property on the south side of York Street adjoining in the rear the plot mentioned above as occupied by the Catholics, was secured. A building was erected in 1835, and Dr. McClintoclc became the first pastor. Like its neighbor, St. Matthew's, it has withstood all the changes in its neighborhood, and continues regular services at this date.

Elder George Banghart, long a presiding elder of the Philadelphia Conference, was the first to promulgate the doctrines of Methodism in old Hudson City. He is described as a "short, broad-shouldered and deepchested man, with a loud, clear voice," and was well calculated from a physical standpoint to withstand the persecution and opposition to which he was subjected. He preached at stated times in the old school-house on Bergenwood Avenue, and the first class was formed in 1841, with James Jacobus as leader. The Simpson Methodist Episcopal Church was organized, and meetings continued in this place for three years, when a plot of ground on Cook Street was purchased, and a building erected, which was used until the present building in Central Avenue was finished in 1857. This was then occupied, and still remains the church home of the congregation. The property on Cook Street was sold to the city, and was for some tune occupied as a City Hall.

In 1809 a Presbyterian Society was formed in old Jersey City, and held services in the Town Hall alternately with the Episcopal congregation for some years. A Presbyterian church was organized Dec. 15, 1825, and in 1828 a frame building was erected on the plot of ground on the south side of Grand Street, allotted to them by the Associates under the terms before mentioned, which was occupied by them until it became the property of the Dutch Reformed Church as already stated.

Presbyterianism appears to have languished in this section for some years, for there seems to have been no movement in this direction until about 1840. April 22, 1844, the "First Presbyterian Church of Jersey City" was organized, and the first services held in the First Reformed Church building above alluded to. Shortly afterward the First Presbyterian Church was erected on the corner of Sussex and Washington Streets. This building was composed of the identical stone taken from the "stone steepled meeting house" that stood on the north side of Wall Street, New York City. The material of this building was so carefully marked and removed, that, when brought over, it was replaced so that the church was rebuilt on the exact model of, and presented the same appearance as, the original building. The Rev. Jno. Johnston was the first pastor. The old congregation has long since dispersed ; many have died, others moved away, and those remaining in the vicinity have united with other churches, the majority of those remaining with the First Presbyterian Church on Emory Street. In 1885 the building was torn down to make room for modern improvements, so that all traces have been obliterated.

In 1855 the need was felt for a Presbyterian church on what is now Jersey City Heights, which, through the energy of John G. Parker and those associated with him, soon crystallized into a movement for the organization of a new society. A number gathered in response to Mr. Parker's invitation, and the first meeting was held in a school building on Storm Avenue. September 16, 1856, Rev. Jas. B. Bonar preached. October 13, 1856, John G. Parker and Orrin H. Crosby applied to the Presbytery of New York for permission to organize a Presbyterian church. Their request was granted, and October 24th the congregation met in the school-house, when twenty-four persons were duly constituted the " First Presbyterian Church of Bergen." Rev. J. G. Craighead, Alexander Bonnell, Henry Dusenberry, and Orrin H. Crosby, were the incorporators.

Rev. J. G. Craighead, John G. Parker, Jacob M. Merseles, John Raymond, Alexander Bonnell, James C. McBirney, and Elisha Bliss, Jr., constituted the board of trustees, and Messrs. Parker and Crosby were elected elders, and Richard H. Westervelt and Robert D. Wynkoop, deacons.

Edward W. French preached as a supply from September 28, 1856, to November 19, 1856, when he accepted a call as regular pastor and was installed by the Presbytery in the school-house January 15, 1857. September 16, 1857, the corner stone of the building was laid on property acquired on Emory Street east of Bergen Avenue, and Oct. 28, 1858, the church was dedicated.

Owing to the growth of the congregation through the disbandment of the old church in lower Jersey City, and increase of population, the need of greater accommodation was felt, and the building was enlarged; it has recently been redecorated and improved, and is to-day one of the most attractive church buildings in the city.