Standing before the white Federal-style church at 81 Christopher Street, it does not take much imagination to envision it as a country church surrounded by grass and trees. And when it was built between 1821 and 1822, it was exactly that. What was then the 8th Presbyterian Church faced mostly undeveloped land punctuated with an occasional home. It would be almost a decade before the grand home of Samuel Whittemore would be built on Grove Street one block to the south, with his stables and carriage house almost directly across the street from the church.
There seems to be no record of the architect, however he was no beginner. The symmetrical facade is separated into two main horizonal sections by a protruding stone course. Above, a pediment sits on a beautiful frieze with delicate Federal decoration. Three arched windows surmount three arched doorways. A set of three stone stairs run the length of the structure, giving the Village church a very old-world feel.
The Presbyterians worshipped here for only two decades before selling the building to St. Matthew's Episopal Church in 1842. From the pulpit here in February 1847 St. Matthew's priest delivered an impassioned plea to his congregation to assist in the relief drive for the Irish Catholics devasted by the potato famine.
During this period, the German Lutheran population in New York was quickly expanding. The first Lutherans arrived in America around 1620, settling along the Hudson River. By the middle of the 18th Century for reasons both logistical and financial, they allied themselves with the Episcopalians. But by the 1850s the German Lutheran population had quadrupled and, rather than share buildings with the Episopalians as some congregations had been doing, they needed their own churches.
It was probably this Episcopal-Lutheran friendship that initiated the sale of the Christopher Street church to the congregation of St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1858 for $13,000. The church that had changed hands three times in only 36 years had finally found a lasting owner.
Photograph St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Today the exterior of St. John's is relatively unchanged since its completion in 1822. Inside, the simple Federal design remains, albeit with the Victorian updating and some 20th Century additions (like the unfortunate choice in ceiling lighting).
|photograph St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church|