Brighton Heights Reformed Church in St. George, Staten Island

Brighton Heights Reformed Church in St. George, Staten Island. Image 1

The congregation known today as the Brighton Heights Reformed Church can trace its roots to 1817, when a series of weekly religious revival services were held in a large hall at the Fever Hospital in Quarantine, a walled-in thirty-acre plot on which immigrants debarked for physical examinations. Many of the immigrants were afflicted with what was called "ship's fever," a condition brought on after a long journey in which they were often crammed into unventilated and unsanitary holds without fresh food or water for periods of up to eight weeks.

Vice President Daniel D. Tompkins (under President James Monroe), who had moved to Staten Island in 1812 when he was Governor of New York State, became deeply concerned about the conditions and secured permission from the U. S. Health Service to conduct religious services in a large hall of the hospital. Mr. Tompkins's home was built on what is now the corner of Fort Place and Sherman Avenue, and Quarantine, a stark and barren area against the otherwise green landscape, stood between his home and his view of the bay. Vice President Tompkins, who was an active member of the Reformed Dutch Church on Staten Island, persuaded his pastor, the Rev. Peter I. Van Pelt, to conduct the services.

At that time, there were two Reformed churches: the mother church at Port Richmond (known as the North Church) and the church at Richmond (known as the South Church). Dr. Van Pelt's efforts were well attended, and Mr. Tompkins and his family were often among the audience. However, this arrangement soon proved inadequate and Dr. Van Pelt soon felt that another church should be built.

In May 1818, Vice President Tompkins donated five hundred dollars and a parcel of his Castleton farmland toward the construction of the new East Church. The triangular-shaped plot, located at what is now the area between Bay Street and VanDuzer Street fronting on Victory Boulevard, later became known as Tompkinsville upon the death of the statesman in 1825. Additional financial assistance was given by the U. S. Public Health Service, the Collegiate Church of New York City and others. The cornerstone for the new church was laid on October 18, 1818, and the building was dedicated two years later on Sunday, October 23, 1820. Dr. Van Pelt supplied the pulpit until the East Church was separated from the Port Richmond congregation and incorporated with the name, "Minister, Elders and Deacons of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church in Tompkinsville" on December 10, 1823. At the same time, the church established a school that was the beginning of the Tompkinsville school system.

Over the next decade, the Tompkinsville Church increased in financial strength, and on January 5, 1836, assets exceeded liabilities for the first time. During February and March of that year, the interior of the church was altered and an organ was purchased.

With the onset of the Civil War, the neighborhood around the Tompkinsville Church was becoming objectionable, and property for a new church was acquired in Brighton Heights, a short distance north of the old church. Architect John Correja of New York City was commissioned to design a stone structure, but when the cost of building the Gothic Revival design proved high, Correja eventually adapted his plans to allow for the construction of a less expensive wooden building in the same style. On October 27, 1863, the cornerstone was laid, and the completed structure was dedicated on November 3, 1864.

1864 Meneely bell With its prominent spire, the white clapboard church was highly visible along the northeast shore of Staten Island. In the tower was a noble bell cast in 1864 by the Meneely Bell Company of Troy, N.Y. The church interior featured vaulted ceilings over the nave and two side aisles, stained glass windows, a wide pulpit in the chancel and an organ loft in the rear gallery.

In 1867, the General Synod of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church in the U.S. voted to change the denomination's name to the Reformed Church in America. The Tompkinsville Church followed suit on March 23, 1870, when its corporate name was officially changed to "The Reformed Church, Brighton Heights, Staten Island."

In 1881, a church hall was erected with funds from the sale of the Tompkinsville property, the site of the earlier church. This addition formed a terminal transept at the rear of the church and conformed with the style and proportion of the original building.

The Brighton Heights Reformed Church was designated by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in October 1967, and was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on June 3, 1982. The church suffered a devastating fire on June 28, 1996, when a worker was removing paint with a heat gun. It was hoped that some stained glass and other fixtures could be salvaged, but the building was deemed unsafe and was ordered demolished early the next morning.

The present church was built in 1999. Designed in the Gothic Revival style and constructed of brick, the church features a steeple as tall as the one that burned in 1996.

based on Page at NYC AGO
Contact info:
320 St. Mark's Place at Fort Place
Staten Island, N.Y. 10301