Monday, February 26, 2024

The Lost Hamilton Grange Church - 149th Street and Convent Avenue


The New York Architect, August 1907 (copyright expired)

In 1802, Alexander Hamilton's 18-room mansion was completed at approximately what would become Convent Avenue and West 143rd Street.  Designed by the eminent architect John McComb, Jr., the Federal style residence was named The Grange.  Eight decades later, in 1887, the newly-formed Hamilton Grange Church was formed.  The New York Times would later explain, "The name of the church is derived not merely from the locality, but from the fact that the congregation at first worshipped in the old Hamilton mansion."

Before long a "graystone Gothic Church," as described by the Inventory of the Church Archives of New York City, was erected at the corner of Convent Avenue and 145th Street.  But in 1906 The New York Times reported, "The old Hamilton Grange now too small for the needs of the congregation."  That spring the architectural firm of Bannister & Schell began plans for a new church building and parish house four blocks to the north at 149th Street and Convent Avenue.  Interestingly, the corner property was owned by the Collegiate Church, which had purchased the four building lots several years earlier.  The New-York Tribune stressed, "Although the property is owned by the Collegiate Church, that corporation exercised no ecclesiastical control over the congregation."

In reporting on the cornerstone laying on June 24, 1906, the New-York Tribune noted, "the new church...will be modern in its appointments, with ample facilities for Sunday school and neighborhood work."  Construction was completed in less than a year and the dedication services were held on April 26, 1907.  The New-York Tribune described the structure was "one of the handsomest and most complete church homes on the Heights."

The side-by-side church and three-story parish house were designed in the English Gothic style.  Clad in red brick, the church's design was dominated by a square corner tower, which the New-York Tribune called on April 27, "a feature particularly pleasing because [it is] so generally lacking in recent church architecture."  Gothic pinnacles rose from each corner and ornate crosses topped each gable.

The interior was finished "throughout in dark wood," said the article.  The two-story "Sabbath school" was cleverly designed.  The article said it was "surrounded at the second story by a horseshoe shaped gallery, in which are little classrooms, like boxes in a theatre."

The configuration lent itself to public meetings as well as Sunday school purposes.  On December 23, 1909, for instance, a meeting was held here headed by Postmaster Edward M. Morgan and Congressman William S. Bennett.  They spoke "on the question of retiring superannuated and disabled United States Government employees."  To date, there was no retirement plan for Federal employees.  Morgan, who had been connected with the Post Office for nearly four decades, urged that a retirement plan would, for one thing, "do away with the present humiliating of the old clerks by gradually reducing their salary in proportion to the quality and quantity of work they are able to perform."

In 1913 the handsome Bloomingdale Reformed Church on West End Avenue between 106th and 107th Streets was demolished.  Five magnificent stained glass memorial windows, two of which were the work of John LaFarge, were salvaged and installed in the Hamilton Grange Church.  The Yearbook of the (Collegiate) Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of the City of New York noted, "These windows have served to beautify and enrich the Hamilton Grange Church."

The New-York Tribune, April 27, 1907 (copyright expired)

The congregation merged with the Fort Washington Collegiate Church in 1937.  The demographics of the neighborhood had greatly changed since 1906.  The inherent racism of the early 20th century was evident in newspaper reports on the sale of the property to a mostly Black congregation.

In reporting on the first service of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the Crucifixion in the building on December 20, 1937, The New York Times explained, "The church, whose congregation includes many Negroes, has been acquired from the Hamilton Grange Reformed Church."  A massive crowd attended the opening service, celebrated by Bishop William T. Manning.  The New York Times wrote, "In his address delivered to nearly 1,000 persons, many of whom could not get closer than the church door, Bishop Manning paid tribute to the Negro rector, the Rev. Dr. Egerton E. Hall."   

During the initial service, a marble altar was dedicated, "given by the congregation 'as an expression of their affection for the Bishop of the Diocese,'" reported The New York Times.

Edward Henry Margetson had been the organist and choir master of the Church of the Crucifixion since 1920.  He was, as well, the composer of sacred and concert music and had founded the Schubert Choral Society in 1927.

Edward Henry Margetson, from the collection of the St. Kitts National Archives.

Born in St. Kitts in 1892, Margetson's father, Henry Francis, was a choral director and his mother, Marie Thomas, was an accomplished pianist.  A musical prodigy, he mastered the piano early on.  According to The New York Age, he was five years old when his mother's funeral was held in the family's living room.  As the mourners sang the first hymn, "At first it was thought that Edward's father was playing the piano, but upon investigation, the player proved to be Edward himself, whose feet were barely able to reach the pedals."

Margetson strove to bring sacred music to the Black community.  On June 27, 1992, the New York Amsterdam News recalled, "the existence of the [Schubert] society is believed to have helped open the door for black classical musicians, who at the time may have been denied the opportunity to sit as members of established orchestras in this city and state."

On November 13, 1954, The New York Age reported, "A committee of organists, headed by Hugo Bornn, organist of St. Andrews church, will pay a musical tribute to Edward Margetson on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 21."  The article noted that Margetson was "now very ill."  He had suffered what The New York Age had described in 1953 as "a severe stroke," adding, "little hope was held for his recovery."  His condition necessarily resulted in his retirement from the Church of the Crucifixion.

The following year, on December 31, 1955, the newspaper updated its readers, saying that Margetson was "making remarkable progress" under the therapists of Bellevue Rehabilitation center.  "In spite of the loss of the use of his right side and his speech, great hopes are held for a recovery."

Deemed by The New York Age as a "music maestro" and "one of the most distinguished musicians of our time," Margetson was at the apartment of a relative in January 1962 when a fire broke out.  He died on January 22, 1962 in Mother Cabrini Hospital from "smoke poisoning," as reported by The New York Times.

A year later, fire destroyed the Church of the Crucifixion.  Architect Costa Machlaouzarides was commissioned to design the replacement structure, completed in 1967.  It is widely compared to Le Corbusier's 1954 church at Ronchamp, France.

photo by Jim Henderson has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

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