First Congregational Church, Fall River, Mass

The First Congregational Church, seen looking up Cherry Street from the corner of June Street, around 1913-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The church in 2020:

The First Congregational Church of Fall River was established in 1816, and throughout most of the 19th century the church worshipped in a building at the northwest corner of North Main and Elm Streets. However, in 1913 the church moved into this new building, which was donated by one of its parishioners, Sarah S. Brayton. The building was designed by the prominent Boston architectural firm of Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, and it features a granite, Gothic Revival exterior. It was formally dedicated on January 9, 1913, on the 97th anniversary of the church’s founding. Among those in attendance was Sarah Brayton, who was 78 years old at the time, and the dedication sermon was delivered by the Rev. Nehemiah Boynton of the Clinton Avenue Congregational Church in Brooklyn.

The first photo was taken within a few years after the building was completed. It is a rather strange angle, because it shows the rear and side of the church, with the parish house in the foreground on the left. Further up in the distance, on the other side of Rock Street, is the B.M.C. Durfee High School, which was built in 1886. The three girls on the sidewalk are likely students at the school, and are apparently walking home at the end of the school day. During the early 20th century, the Durfee High School ended at 1:25 p.m., and the photo was taken ten minutes later at 1:35, according to the school’s clock tower.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, almost nothing has changed in this scene except for the trees, which now partially hide the buildings. The church is still an active congregation, and the exterior of the building has remained well-preserved. Further up the hill, the old high school building was converted into a family and probate courthouse in the 1990s, but it has retained its historic exterior appearance. The high school building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1981, and two years later both it and the church were designated as contributing properties in the Highlands Historic District.

Free Quaker Meetinghouse, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Free Quaker Meetinghouse at the corner of Fifth and Arch Streets in Philadelphia, in March 1859. Image courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia, Frederick De Bourg Richards Photograph Collection.

The scene in 2019:

Philadelphia was the national capital throughout most of the American Revolution, with the city serving as the meeting place of the Continental Congress. However, it also had a large population of Quakers, whose religious beliefs included a strong emphasis on pacifism. This caused significant tension between the colonial leaders here who favored independence, and the Quakers who opposed fighting the war. Far from simply refusing to serve in the military, many Quakers refused to pay taxes that would fund the military, and some even refused to use the currency issued by the Continental Congress, believing that the currency was also being used to pay for the war.

Even within the Quaker community, though, there was significant dissent regarding the war for independence. Here in Philadelphia, some were ultimately expelled for supporting the Revolution, and in 1781 they formed the Religious Society of Free Quakers. The group collected money to purchase a lot and build a meeting house, and among the contributors were George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. The design and construction of the building was largely done by Samuel Wetherill and Timothy Matlack, who were among the leaders of the Free Quakers. Matlack had been a delegate to the Continental Congress during the Revolution, but he is probably best remembered for his penmanship; he hand-wrote the official engrossed copy of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

The meeting house was completed in 1783, and the occasion was commemorated by a marble tablet under the gable on the Arch Street side of the building, which reads “By general subscription for the Free Quakers, erected in the Year of our Lord, 1783, of the Empire 8.” The last part of the inscription refers to the fact that it was the eight year of the American “empire,” with 1776 as its starting point. At the time, the term empire was a bit of an overstatement for a loosely-affiliated group of 13 states on the east coast, but it ultimately foreshadowed the country’s future expansion across the continent.

Aside from Matlack, several other notable Philadelphians were involved with the Free Quakers, including Betsy Ross, the heroine of the famous but likely apocryphal story about the first American flag. Another likely attendee was Dolley Payne, whose father appears to have joined the Free Quakers after being expelled from the Pine Street Meeting. However, Dolley herself was later expelled from the faith when, in 1794, she married a non-Quaker: future president James Madison.

The Free Quakers steadily dwindled in number during the early 19th century, as the original members either died or moved elsewhere. During this time, though, the building was used for a number of other purposes aside from religious gatherings. From 1788 to 1791, part of the building was the home of John Poor’s Academy for Young Ladies, and from 1791 to 1799 it was occupied by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania. Then, from 1800 to 1836 it housed the Philadelphia Select Academy.

In the meantime, the Free Quakers continued to use the meeting house until the late 1830, and after this it was used purely for secular purposes. The next long-term occupant was the Apprentices’ Library Company, which moved into the building in 1841. The library made some changes to the building, including two additions in the 1850s and 1860s, and the organization remained here until 1897. The first photo was taken during this time, in 1859, and the photo shows signs for the Apprentices’ Library on both sides of the building.

Today, more than 160 years after the first photo was taken, and nearly 240 years after the building opened, the Free Quaker Meeting House still stands here as an important landmark at the corner of Arch and Fifth Streets. All of the other historic buildings nearby were demolished in the mid-20th century in order to create the Independence Mall, but the meeting house survived, likely because of its connection to Revolutionary-era Philadelphia. However, the building was relocated in 1961, in order to accommodate the widening of Fifth Street. It was moved 33 feet west and 8 feet south to its current location, and this project also included removing the 19th century additions and subsequently restoring the building to its 1780s appearance.

Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church, on the east side of Third Street just south of Walnut Street in Philadelphia, in April 1859. Image courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia, Frederick De Bourg Richards Photograph Collection.

The church in 2019:

St. Paul’s Church was established in 1760 by a group of parishioners from Christ Church, the city’s oldest Anglican church. They separated from Christ Church because of a controversy surrounding William McClenachan, a former Presbyterian minister who was associated with the evangelical beliefs of the Great Awakening. Some of the leaders within the church, along with the bishop of London, had blocked McClenachan from receiving a position at Christ Church, apparently because of concerns about his past affiliations and support among local Presbyterians. His followers responded by leaving and forming St. Paul’s Church, with McClenachan as their minister. They met for the first time at Independence Hall on June 22, 1760, and they soon began work on their own church building, which would be located here on Third Street.

To help fund the construction costs, the church organized a lottery. This was a common way of raising money during this time, both for public and private projects, and the church hoped to raise 3,000 pieces of eight through the lottery. An advertisement for the lottery appeared in the January 29, 1761 issue of Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette, with the following description:

As a new Church, called PAUL’s – CHURCH, has been thought necessary, for the Worship of ALMIGHTY GOD, to be erected in this City, by many well disposed Christians; who have, according to their Abilities, chearfully subscribed, and many of them paid considerable Sums of Money, towards carrying on this pious Work. In Consequence whereof, a very large and commodious Building hath been begun, and carried on to the full Height of the Brick Work: But it being judged that the Expence of completing and finishing this Church, will greatly exceed the Sums subscribed; therefore it is thought expedient to set up a LOTTERY, for the raising 3000 Pieces of Eight, which it is hoped will compleatly finish the said Church; and not doubted but all well Wishers to the true Worship of GOD, will favour and encourage this Undertaking.

A total of 5,000 tickets were to be issued, at four dollars each, and the advertisement promised that “This Scheme is the most favourable one heretofore calculated in this City to the Adventurers, the Blanks and Prizes being considerably less than two to one.” There were many tiers of prizes, ranging from 1,515 tickets that would win 8 pieces of eight each, to a single grand prize of 1,000 pieces of eight.

The church was ultimately completed later in the year, and the first services were held here on December 20, 1761. Reverend McClenachan was still the rector at the time, although he would only remain in the position for a few more years; he retired in 1765 and moved to Maryland, where he died a year later. His departure, however, may have helped to resolve the conflict between St. Paul’s and Christ Church, because in 1773 his successor, William Stringer, was ordained by the bishop of London.

Within a few years, though, Reverend Stringer himself would be a source of controversy within the church. During the American Revolution, Stringer remained loyal to the British crown, despite many parishioners with patriot sympathies. The division culminated in the fall of 1777, after the British army captured Philadelphia. On the next Sunday after the capture, Stringer preached from Ezekiel 20, which speaks of the rebelliousness of Israel, including a verse that was particularly incendiary given the context of the war: “And I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me.” Many of the church members interpreted this scripture selection as a thinly-veiled threat, and this sermon marked the end of Stringer’s tenure as rector; he soon left the church and returned to England.

During the 19th century, St. Paul’s had several rectors who achieved national prominence. Among these was Stephen H. Tyng, who served here from 1829 to 1833. He was a leader in the evangelical wing of the Episcopal Church, and much of his ministry was focused on providing social services and other outreach programs for the poor. During his time here in Philadelphia, he also focused some of his efforts on changing the physical church building. This included altering the interior to make space for Sunday school programs, along with removing elements that were considered old-fashioned by the 1830s, including the colonial-era high back pews. The project was overseen by prominent Philadelphia architect William Strickland, and the building was re-dedicated on New Year’s Day in 1831.

Aside from Reverend Tyng, the other notable 19th century rector here was R. Heber Newton. His father, Richard Newton, had served here from 1840 to 1862, and the younger Reverend Newton became rector in 1866 at the age of 26. He remained here for just three years, though, before leaving to accept the position of rector at All Souls’ Protestant Episcopal Church in New York City. While in New York, he became a leader in the Social Gospel movement. However, he also faced criticism from other Episcopalian clergy, and in 1883 he was charged with heresy for, among other things, supposedly denying essential doctrines such as the inerrancy of the Bible and the divinity of Jesus. He went on to face similar accusations in subsequent years, but retained his position within the church until 1902.

The first photo, which was taken in 1855, shows the exterior of the church as it appeared during Newton’s father’s time as rector. It would remain an active parish throughout the rest of the century, but in the later years it experienced a decline. This neighborhood, which had once been a fashionable residential area in the 18th and early 19th century, was no longer as desirable, and many of its affluent parishioners had relocated elsewhere in the city. Attendance in general dropped, as did church revenue, to the point where it could no longer support itself. As a result, in 1901 the church’s leaders requested that it be dissolved, with its property transferred to St. Peter’s Church, which is located just a few blocks south of here.

Despite this closure, the old St. Paul’s building ultimately remained in use by the Episcopal Church. Today, nearly 170 years after the first photo was taken, the building is still standing with few exterior alterations. It is no longer used for religious services, but since 1906 it has been the home of Episcopal Community Services, which offers assistance programs in areas such as food, housing, healthcare, and education. It seems only appropriate that the organization would be housed in this building, since in many ways it fulfills the Social Gospel-related ideals of its former ministers such as Tyng and Newton.

Old Dutch Church, Sleepy Hollow, New York

The Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow, around 1903. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The church in 2019:

This church was made famous by Washington Irving’s 1820 short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” but the building predates the story by more than a century, and it stands as the second-oldest existing church building in the state of New York. It was built in the late 1690s by Frederick Philipse I, a wealthy Dutch settler who owned a large tract of land along the Hudson River in Westchester County.

Philipse immigrated to New York in the 1650s, about a decade before England gained control of the colony from the Dutch. However, the Dutch landowners here were allowed to retain their property, and by the 1670s he had acquired a significant amount of land, including the modern-day municipalities of Yonkers, Greenburgh, and Mount Pleasant. At the time, there was a small community here in North Tarrytown, including a graveyard here on the left side of this scene. However, the people lacked a permanent church building, so in the late 1690s Philipse had this stone, Dutch Colonial-style church constructed at the southern end of the graveyard for his tenant farmers. By some accounts, Philipse designed the church himself, and he also may have personally assisted with the construction work, including carving the pulpit.

The church is located on the west side of the Albany Post Road, modern-day US Route 9, on a hillside about a hundred yards north of where the road crosses the Pocantico River. During the American Revolution, this area around Sleepy Hollow was a sort of neutral zone, located between British-occupied New York City and the areas to the north, which were controlled by the Continental Army.

One of the most important wartime incidents here occurred in 1780, when Major John André was captured by American forces less than a mile south of the church. He had been returning south after a secret meeting with Benedict Arnold, and upon searching him the Americans discovered documents that incriminated Arnold in a plot to surrender West Point to the British. Arnold was able to evade capture after the plot was exposed, but West Point remained secure and André was subsequently executed as a spy, since he had been behind enemy lines in civilian clothing.

Another significant local event in the war was the Battle of White Plains, which was fought a few miles to the southeast of here in 1776. During the battle, a Hessian soldier was decapitated by an American cannonball, and this is said to have been the inspiration for the Headless Horseman of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” In the story, the narrator describes how, according to legend, the ghostly apparition had lost his head in “some nameless battle” during the war. He was buried here in the graveyard next to this church in Sleepy Hollow, but he would leave every night and travel to the battlefield in search of his head, although he always needed to return to the graveyard by dawn.

By the time Washington Irving published his story in 1820, this church was already over 120 years old. In the story, he emphasized the eerie, isolated location of the church, particularly in this passage:

The sequestered situation of this church seems always to have made it a favorite haunt of troubled spirits. It stands on a knoll, surrounded by locust-trees and lofty elms, from among which its decent, whitewashed walls shine modestly forth, like Christian purity beaming through the shades of retirement. A gentle slope descends from it to a silver sheet of water, bordered by high trees, between which, peeps may be caught at the blue hills of the Hudson. To look upon its grass-grown yard, where the sunbeams seem to sleep so quietly, one would think that there at least the dead might rest in peace. On one side of the church extends a wide woody dell, along which raves a large brook among broken rocks and trunks of fallen trees.

The first photo shows the church as it appeared nearly a century later, around 1903. By this point, both the church and its surroundings had undergone changes. The church was damaged by a fire after a lightning strike in 1837, and the repairs included alterations to the building. It was partially restored to its original appearance in the late 19th century, but by then it was no longer in regular use. The congregation had moved to a new building in Tarrytown during the mid-19th century, and the old one here in Sleepy Hollow was subsequently used only for special events.

Also during this period, the land around the church became a new cemetery. Originally named the Tarrytown Cemetery, it was later renamed Sleepy Hollow Cemetery at the request of Washington Irving, who was interred here after his death in 1859. Unlike the much older graveyard next to the church, this new cemetery reflected the mid-19th century trend of rural cemeteries. These were typically well-landscaped, with plenty of trees and winding footpaths that followed the contours of the ground, making cemeteries feel more like a park. Aside from Irving, many other prominent people have been buried here in Sleepy Hollow, including industrialist Andrew Carnegie after his death in 1919.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, the 320-year-old church is still standing here alongside US Route 9. Remarkably little has changed in the scene during this time, and the building is still owned by the Reformed Church of the Tarrytowns, which continues to hold events and services here on occasion. Because of its historical significance, along with its literary associations with “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” the church was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1961.

St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Albany, NY

St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, at the corner of State and Lodge Streets in Albany, around 1908. Image from Views of Albany (1908).

The church in 2019:

This church is one of Albany’s most important architectural landmarks. It was designed by prominent architect Richard Upjohn, who specialized in Gothic Revival-style churches, and it was consecrated in 1860. However, the parish itself is much older, dating back to 1708, when Anglican services were first held in Albany. The first church building was constructed in 1715, at what is now the corner of State and Chapel Streets, and it was used throughout the rest of the 18th century, aside from a temporary closure during the American Revolution.

Then, in 1803 the church moved into a new building here at the corner of State and Lodge Streets. Its architect, Philip Hooker, was responsible for many of Albany’s important public buildings of the era, including the First Church in Albany on North Pearl Street. That church is still standing more than two centuries later, but his work here at St. Peter’s Church did not have the same longevity. The building, barely 50 years old, was declared structurally unsound in 1857, and the church temporarily held its services in the Geological Hall until a new church could be built.

The old church was demolished in early 1859, and work soon followed on the new building here on the same site. It was completed about a year and a half later, and formally consecrated on October 4, 1860. The ceremony was attended by a variety of prominent Episcopal clergymen in the area, including Bishop Horatio Potter of the Diocese of New York. Albany was familiar territory for Potter, who had previously served as rector here at St. Peter’s Church from 1833 to 1854, before he was elevated to bishop. He would go on to serve as bishop of the diocese for more than 30 years, until his death in 1887.

The only part of the church that was not completed in 1860 was the tower. It would not be finished for another 16 years, and in the meantime it rose to a height of just 56 feet, with a temporary roof atop it. The rest of the building measured 136 feet in length, 68 feet in width, and 64 feet in height. The exterior consisted of Schenectady bluestone, with New Jersey sandstone for the trim. The design was inspired by French Gothic architecture, and although it is generally credited to Richard Upjohn, his son Richard M. Upjohn was also involved in the project. The younger Upjohn would go on to have a successful career in his own right, and he was responsible for designing the rest of the 180-foot tower that was added to the church in 1876.

The first photo was taken shortly after the turn of the 20th century, and by this point the church was joined by a number of other newer buildings. Immediately to the left is the Tudor-style Potts Memorial Rectory, which was completed in 1896 and named in honor of Jesse and Eunice Potts, whose children donated the money for its construction. Beyond the church on the far right side of the scene is the Albany Masonic Temple. It was also built in 1896, although the land itself has been owned by the Masons since 1766, making it the oldest continuously-owned Masonic property in the country. The other late 19th century building in the scene is Albany City Hall, which was completed in 1883 and stands in the distance on the left side. It is one of the few buildings in Albany that rival St. Peter’s Church in architectural importance, having been designed by famed architect Henry H. Richardson.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, much has changed along State Street in Albany, as seen in the photos of an earlier post showing the view from a few blocks east of the church. However, the buildings in the first photo here have remained remarkably well-preserved during this time, and all four are still standing, with few significant exterior alterations. The church itself is still an active Episcopal parish, and in 1980 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark for its architectural significance. The other nearby buildings have likewise received federal recognition; both the parish house and the Masonic Temple are now part of the Downtown Albany Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places, and City Hall is individually listed on the National Register.

First Church in Albany, Albany, New York

The First Church in Albany, located at the corner of North Pearl and Orange Streets in Albany, around 1907. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The church in 2019:

The First Church in Albany was established in 1642, back when New York was still the Dutch colony of New Netherland. The British took control of the colony in 1664, renaming it New York, but the Dutch inhabitants continued to live here, and they continued to influence the region’s culture for several centuries. During this time, the members of the First Church met in several different buildings before the completion of the current one in 1799, at what is now the corner of North Pearl and Orange Streets.

The building was designed by Philip Hooker, a young Albany architect who would later go on to design other important buildings in the city, including Albany Academy, the old state capitol, and the old city hall. His design for the church featured a symmetrical main facade, with a columned portico that was flanked on either side by identical towers. In many ways its original appearance bore a strong resemblance to Charles Bulfinch’s Hollis Street Church in Boston, and Hooker may have drawn inspiration from it. However, Bulfinch’s church was built of wood and lasted barely 20 years before being replaced, while Hooker’s brick church has remained in use for more than two centuries.

The church here in Albany has seen some alterations over the years, though. The first major renovation came in 1830, with an addition to the rear of the church. This was late in Hooker’s career, and he was involved in the design process. A second renovation occurred in the late 1850s, which included removing the original Greek-style portico and replacing it with a new Romanesque-style entryway.

The first photo was taken around 1907, showing the view of the church from the southeast. A few years later, another renovation added Tiffany stained glass windows, along with other interior changes. Then, in 1939 the old addition on the rear of the building was demolished, and a new parish house was built in its place. Other more minor exterior changes have included the addition of small oval windows near the tops of the towers, and the removal of the ornate cornice above the front gable.

Throughout its history, perhaps the most famous parishioner of this church was Theodore Roosevelt, who attended services here during his time as governor. Another notable guest was Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, who visited here as part of the church’s 300th anniversary celebration in 1942. Today, the church is still in use, and its congregation is one of the oldest in New York. The building itself is also the oldest church in the city, and it is one of Philip Hooker’s few surviving works. Because of its significance, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.