Marble Collegiate Church, Manhattan

Marble Collegiate Church, Manhattan. Image 1

The Collegiate Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of the City of New York was organized in 1628 under Peter Minuit, Director General of the New Netherland, and has the distinction of being the oldest Protestant denomination with a continuous ministry, and was also the first corporation in the United States. The first church, officially named St. Nicholas but known as the Stone Church, was completed in 1642 on a dusty lane (now Pearl Street) in The Fort of New Amsterdam. In 1692 it was taken over by the British troops, used as a military garrison, and eventually burned. A new church was built on Garden Street (now Exchange Place) in 1693. Known as the Garden Street Church, it was later called the Old South Church because of its geographical location in relation to the other Collegiate churches. In 1696, William III King of England granted a Charter to the church, thus ensuring religious liberty in the new colony. Along with the charter, the crown presented the church with nearly 500 acres of land located in what is now part of the Bronx, in New York City, and a section of Bronxville just north of the present city limits in Westchester County. In 1723, John Harpending, a pioneer tanner and shoemaker, gave an irregular tract of rolling farmland known as Shoemaker's Meadow. This property, which stretches between Maiden Lane and Ann Street and Broadway and William Street, today provides substantial income for the Collegiate Corporation.

Marble Collegiate Church, Manhattan. Image 2

Recognizing the northward expansion of the population, which by the 1850s had swelled to more than one million, the Consistory decided to build a new church at the corner of Fifth Avenue and West 29th Street at a time when Fifth Avenue was a dirt road, and the city limit was six blocks south at 23rd Street. Architect Samuel A. Warner designed an Early Romanesque Revival church with Gothic trim, which was built between 1851-54 of Tuckahoe marble blocks quarried in Hastings-on-Hudson, floated down the Hudson River, and then carted across town on large horse-drawn wagons. The 215-foot Wren-like steeple is topped by a gilded weathercock, a symbolic reminder of Peter's denial of Christ. The bell tower originally contained a Seth Thomas clock that had to be hand-wound once a week; it was later converted to electricity. The church interior featured free-hanging galleries on three sides, possibly the first example of this architectural device in the country. Known at first as the Fifth Avenue Collegiate Church and later as the Twenty-ninth Street Church, its name was officially changed in 1906 for the material of which it is made.

During its first 18 years, the church relied on the rotating service of four ministers, a practice imported from Holland known as the "collegiate system". This system was discontinued in 1871 when the church called its first permanent minister. As the city expanded northward, the church benefited from being in the midst of a prosperous and fashionable residential neighborhood. By the 1930s, however, the city had moved further uptown, and the church was in a serious decline; this was abruptly reversed in 1932 with the beginning of Norman Vincent Peale's 52-year tenure as minister. Dr. Peale's books and televised services brought national fame to Marble Church.

Since its founding in 1628, the Collegiate Church built a total of 22 different churches and chapels on Manhattan Island. Today, there remain four Collegiate Churches: Marble, Middle, West End, and Fort Washington.

based on NYC AGO page
Contact info:
1 West 29th Street,
New York, NY 10001-4501