This is the twelvth in a series of excerpts from “A Journey of Faith for 150 years: A history of the Princeton United Methodist Church” by Ruth L. Woodward, Copyright 1997.
The Tiffany window to honor Eddie Durrell and many memorial gifts dedicated in 1911; the Ivy Caper
The new building was finished with Port Deposit granite laid in broken range, in a design referred to as perpendicular Gothic. The interior finish was of hard wood, with quartered oak pews and matching pulpit furniture. The light fixtures were a combination of gas and electricity, known as gasoliers, used in most public buildings of the time. A light bulb could be screwed into the bottom and there was a gas jet on top to be used in emergencies. One of these fixtures still remains in the Vandeventer Avenue entryway of the church (as of 1997). There was a lawn on the space now occupied by the education wing, and it was still considered necessary to build a row of horse sheds across the back of the lot.
The jewels of the building were, and are, the stained glass windows. The magnificent window in the facade of the sanctuary, depicting St. George and the dragon, was the gift of the Reverend Edward Hicks Durrell and his family, in memory of a deceased son and brother, William Edward Durrell, who was a Princeton graduate of 1889. Eddie Durrell died in Italy in 1891 and was buried in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome. Because he was the youngest member of his class, and the first to die, his classmates arranged for a flat marble slab to be erected on his grave as an expression of their love and esteem. The family was probably happy to have an opportunity to provide a memorial of their own.
This window was crafted by the Tiffany Studio of New York City, and the Tiffany signature can be found in the lower right corner. There are several Tiffany windows in campus buildings; however, the United Methodist Church is the only non-campus building in Princeton with a Tiffany window.
Can a Methodist minister afford a Tiffany window? In this case, yes. The elder Durrell spent most of his ministry in churches in the southern part of the state. While serving at Tuckahoe he bought his first cranberry bog. This was the start of a growing and successful business that he carried on as a sideline, and he eventually became one of the largest cranberry growers in the state.
The windows on the main floor of the sanctuary depicting the four Evangelists were gifts of members of the local congregation. There are two unusual things about this set of windows. First, the Evangelists are not shown in the usual sequence of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Instead Luke presides over the choir, with Matthew, Mark and John following. This order is said to have been insisted upon by the studio artists, because they felt this color sequence of the robes was preferable. (??)Second, John does not fit in with his contemporaries. The donor of the window refused to consider the design submitted by the studio, pointing out that John was a young man and she wanted him depicted as such. Though unsigned, these windows came from the Lederle Studios*, as did the one in the Sanford-Davis Room.
There were many individual memorial gifts, most of which have disappeared or been altered in the course of various redecorating projects. Plaques on the sanctuary walls commemorate individuals who gave unstintingly of their time to the building of the church. On the west wall we can read: “In Loving Memory of / Archer Brown / Charter Member of / The Advisory Committee I For the Building of / this Church / his sons: Archer Hitchcock Brown and / Lowell Huntington Brown by their I subscription have helped build this church.” There are two plaques on the east wall. One reads: “In Memory of ; Bishop Henry Spellmeyer, D.O. / Who Died While Presiding Over the / New Jersey Conference; in March 1910/ His last public address was an / Eloquent Plea in Behalf of this Church, / Followed by a Contribution towards; the Building Fund.”
The second honors the work of the pastor. “In Honor and Appreciation of / our Pastor / Rev. William W. Moffett, 0.0./ who, in the erection of this edifice,; witnesses the fruition of ; eight years of ceaseless effort I to advance the interests of the Master’s Kingdom; in this Community.”
The membership of the church placed two plaques in the narthex: “in honor and appreciation of M. Taylor Pyne who gave the westerly part of the lot upon which this edifice stands” and “in honor and appreciation of Mr. and Mrs. Charles H. Sanford whose generosity made possible the erection of the present edifice and who made a further gift of a special endowment for its permanent preservation.”
However, there was one gift of the Sanfords that not every member of the congregation appreciated. Returning from England one year, Mr. and Mrs. Sanford brought some shoots of ivy from John Wesley’s home at Epworth to present to the Princeton church. One member of the congregation obtained from the university some nails imported from France, especially designed with an L -shaped arm so that ivy could be trained along a wall without the necessity of tape or twine. Some people thought it quite appropriate, and indeed, very special, to have this direct connection with the founder of Methodism. Others thought that the ivy would harm the pointing between the stones.
A large portion of the membership lived close enough to walk to their jobs on Nassau Street or the campus each morning. A member of the anti-ivy constituency would take a moment on the way to work to pull the vines from the wall. A pro-ivyite following would carefully train them back up the wall. These actions were repeated at the end of the working day, and there were some people who went home for lunch, passing the church four times a day. The problem was soon solved when the ivy died from too much attention.
But this was in the future, and everyone was jubilant on the day of dedication. Wednesday, October 11, 1911. District Superintendent Alfred Wagg presided, with Bishop Joseph F. Berry of Buffalo preaching at the morning service and dedicating the church. There was a reunion in the afternoon to which former pastors and members had been invited. Thomas O’Hanlon, who had served the church from 1861 to 1863, presided, and a number of the former pastors spoke. At the evening service both the Bishop and the District Superintendent gave addresses. On Saturday, October 14, Bishop John W. Hamilton lectured on “Some People of Quality at Boston.” On Sunday, with Moffett presiding, Bishop Hamilton spoke in the morning and the Reverend James M. Buckley, editor of The Christian Advocate, in the evening. Music for the services was provided by a chorus choir under the direction of William Christie, with solos by Miss Grace Robinson and Miss Ruth Tolson Mershon.
A recollection of these special events is that “general rejoicing filled the hearts of a grateful and naturally -and properly so proud people.”
*Later an expert said that the Gospel Writer windows were not by Louis Lederle. And, since the same windows can be seen in Germany in the Cathedral at Cologne, it is not likely that the donor could have dictated the aesthetics of the window of John).
This is the eleventh in a series of excerpts from “A Journey of Faith for 150 years: A history of the Princeton United Methodist Church” by Ruth L. Woodward, Copyright 1997.
Financier Charles Sanford contributes nearly one-fourth of construction costs, cornerstone was laid, first services in the new basement in December 1910.
In 1909 Reverend William Moffett announced that he had secured a pledge of $10,000 from Charles H. Sanford, given in memory of his late parents.
Charles Sanford, who had residences in Freehold, New Jersey, and London, England, was a Presbyterian, a member of Old Tennent Church in Freehold. Moffett secured Sanford’s interest by reminding him that he had once been his father’s pastor.
Once interested, Sanford became deeply involved with the building project. His original gift of $10,000 was designated for the construction of the bell tower and his wife donated the peal of bells, one of which is inscribed with her name.
The beautiful triple window depicting Christ blessing the children that faces Vandeventer Avenue, was given in memory of Sanford’s daughter, Ettie Sanford Porter. The windows in the Vandeventer Avenue entryway were given by his daughter Sarita and by his second wife. The Sanford-Davis Room next to the sanctuary honors Charles H. Sanford and B. Woodhull Davis, an active and faithful member of the church.
Charles Sanford, the son of a country doctor, had been sent to Cuba as a teenager in order to learn Spanish. He later returned to Cuba with his wife as a representative of an American firm. He traveled extensively in Central America and at the age of twenty-five was invited to join an American bank in Argentina.
The Republic of Argentina was still quite young and Sanford arrived on the scene as a banker in time to help finance the growth of both the country and the city of Buenos Aires, which was little more than a village when he arrived. He accumulated a vast fortune in the process, owning thousands of acres in the city. He was noted for his philanthropy in Buenos Aires, especially as the founder of a home for children. Able to retire at an early age, he spent most of his time in London, with several months of each year in Freehold.
With the generous gifts of Pyne and Sanford secured, a Building committee was appointed, which awarded a contract to William R. Matthews of Matthews Constructon Company of Princeton. Work was to proceed immediately and the price agreed upon was $39,451.
Even with an important building program on the agenda the church scheduled a series of revival services to be held on the Sunday evenings in January 1910. Guest speakers were provided with board and lodging at members’ homes.
The last services in the original building were held on April 3, 1910. The Reverend Moffett administered the sacrament of communion at the morning service. In the evening there was a commemoration service, with addresses by the pastor and the officers of the various departments of the church.
The Deacons of the First Presbyterian Church had graciously offered the use of their building, “in so far as such use will not interfere with the present appointments of the First Church.” However, the Board thought it best not to inconvenience the members of another congregation.
The following Sunday, April 10, the first services were held in a temporary structure erected on the rear of the lot at 25 Vandeventer Avenue, which came to be known as the Plank Chapel. Pews from the old church building had been arranged in a circle, and the Reverend Henry Belting, who had served the church from 1872 to 1874, preached at the evening service. On October 25, 1910, Mary Elizabeth Pierson and Van Buren Leigh became the only couple to be married in the Plank Chapel.
On April 20 workmen began to raze the former church building. At the same time the frame house on the corner lot was moved to 25 Vandeventer Avenue where, with an extra room and added exterior embellishments, it still stands today.
Work proceeded so quickly that the church’s cornerstone could be laid on June 18, 1910. Participating in “appropriate exercises” were Bishop Luther B. Wilson; District Superintendent Alfred Wagg; the Reverend Sylvester Beach, minister of the First Presbyterian Church of Princeton; former pastor Pennington Corson, and current pastor, Elwell Moffett.
The cornerstone contains names of all who contributed toward the building, a copy of the Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church, a copy of the Princeton Press, a list of members of the University faculty, and a history of the church.
When the basement was completed on December 11, 1910, the congregation began meeting there. The cornerstone from their old building had been placed in the stairwell entry to the basement, where they could view it as a reminder of their beginnings. The white marble stone which had been inscribed, “Methodist Episcopal Church, Founded A.D. 1847. ‘What hath God wrought,'” now bore the additional inscription, “TABLET FROM FRONT OF OLD CHURCH ORIGINALLY ON THIS SITE.”
Local philanthropist Moses Taylor Pyne and church hierarchy are eager to replace the modest ‘insignificant’ building with a grander structure than the members can afford.
This is the tenth in a series of excerpts from “A Journey of Faith for 150 years: A history of the Princeton United Methodist Church” by Ruth L. Woodward, Copyright 1997.
At the turn of the century, during the pastorate of the Reverend Pennington Corson, the first practical concern of the trustees was the construction of a parsonage adequate for the needs of the minister’s large family. But there was also growing sentiment for a new church building. There is no doubt that the local congregation worked hard to attain this goal.
Children of the members of that era relate the great pride that their parents took in their new church; it became a point of interest to show to out-at-town visitors in the community. It is also true that there is no way that the local membership could have raised sufficient funds on their own to erect such a building. We should truly be grateful, as a congregation, for all those who gave generously toward the building of our church.
However, much of the initiative for a building campaign came from outside the local church. Unfortunately, the major impetus for building, the type of architecture chosen, and the fund-raising efforts, all reflect an elitism that we like to think is foreign to Methodism. It was felt that a new building needed to reflect the grandeur of the campus buildings on the opposite side of Nassau Street. And much emphasis was put on the need to attract college students by having a handsome new edifice.
In 1902 a number of Methodist clergy, including two Bishops, visited Princeton to determine the feasibility of a building project. At the Annual Conference of 1903 a committee was formally appointed to determine whether a new church building was advisable and, if so, to develop plans for such a building.
Pennington Corson was appointed secretary of this committee, a position which he retained even when succeeded at the Princeton church by the Reverend William W. Moffett, who also had a seat on the committee. This was a high-powered comnittee; four of the twenty-three members were bishops, all but six were members of the clergy, and the local church was represented by only two members.
At its Sesquicentennial in 1896 the College of New Jersey had transformed itself into Princeton University. A growing student body and the wealth of Moses Taylor Pyne, an alumnus of the Class of 1877, had precipitated a spate of new buildings on the campus. Pyne, a wealthy philanthropist, who came to reside in Princeton in 1895, made his home at “Drumthwacket,” the present New Jersey Governor’s Mansion. As much as possible, he emulated the manner of living of the English county gentry.
His vision, however, encompassed more than his own residence. He envisioned Nassau Street as resembling the high street of an English village, and the collegiate Gothic buildings he endowed for the university resembled those on the campus at Oxford. In 1896 he erected two half-timbered buildings on Nassau Street, called Upper and Lower Pyne. With shops on the street level, the two upper floors originally held dormitory rooms. Upper Pyne was razed in 1963 to make room for the bank building at 76 Nassau Street. Lower Pyne is still standing at 92 Nassau Street, on the corner of Witherspoon Street.
A third Pyne building was envisioned for the corner of Nassau Street and Vandeventer Avenue, on the lot that would be needed for the proposed new and larger Methodist Episcopal Church. Pyne, interested in the development of the community as well as the university, had been made a member of the advisory committee appointed by the Conference.
Persuaded that it was in the best interests of both town and gown to have a new church building, Pyne donated the corner lot. By a Deed dated March 4, 1910, M. Taylor Pyne and Margaretta S. Pyne conveyed the property to the Princeton Methodist Episcopal Church with the express condition that the edifice to be erected be a church and not a parsonage.
The Deed also stated that if at any time the Methodist Episcopal Church should cease to occupy the property for religious purposes, then its value should be determined by a representative of the church and of Princeton University, and it be offered for sale to the Trustees of Princeton University. If this offer should be declined, then the value of the land alone must be paid to the University.
The Advisory Comittee published a booklet which included proposed plans for the new building, As well as their strong advocacy of such a project. Their report begins:
A large committee of ministers and laymen, chosen from New Jersey and adjoining States consider the condition of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Princeton, find the present building entirely unsuited to the needs of the situation and not in keeping with its’:environments. They find a congregation of devoted and faithful people, who are making great sacrifices to sustain the interests of our church, and, under the present conditions, with gratifying success; but they are unable, without assistance, to erect such church buildings as the increasing demands of this growing community require. And, further, in the student body of the University, from year to year, there are over one hundred young men from Methodist families, who have a just claim upon us, and for whom we desire to provide a comfortable and attractive church-home. The committee, therefore, have unanimously decided to appeal to the philanthropic people~f Methodism and other broad-minded and liberal citizens interested in the promotion of the cause of Christ to aid in erecting a church edifice that shall properly represent our denomination in this great educational center and do credit to the cause of religion.
(Several bishops agreed). Dr. James M. Buckley of the Christian Advocate was less tactful in expressing his agreement.
Princeton is one of the most beautiful places in the.land. Presbyterians have poured out their money until, including the buildings of the Theological Seminary and the University, the town contains the finest assembly of educational buildings in the land. It was a great grief to me to look upon the little Methodist church, in a most. conspicuous place, not because it is a Methodist church, but because of its insignificance and entire inadequacy to represent the denomination in that classic town. All this becomes more significant when we remember that the President of the University expects to secure $12,550,000 for additional buildings and endowments…. When this vast sum becomes operative in the work of the Institution, Princeton will be one of the greatest educational centers of the world.
President of the University Woodrow Wilson added his encouragement.
I learn with a great deal of interest that you are hoping and planning to secure a new. house of worship for your congregation in Princeton, and I wish to express to you my very sincere hope that the movement may succeed. Certainly it would gratify us all very much to see this influential congregation properly housed and the Methodist communion worthily equipped in Princeton.
The proposed floor plan in the booklet shows the sanctuary on the corner section of the lot, with an entrance on Nassau Street opening into a vestibule, and an entrance on Vandeventer Avenue opening directly into the sanctuary. Two large rooms on the east side would provide space for Sunday School, prayer meetings and class meetings.
A picture of the exterior shows a short, rather squatty, tower at the rear of the building. A second picture and floor plan are pasted in the booklet, both of which more closely resemble the building that was actually built. The main difference on the exterior is a set of four spires on the bell tower. It is far more attractive than the building originally proposed.
The booklet invited subscriptions, but the committee had to report at the 1906 Conference that only about $15,000 in cash and reliable pledges had been received. The members of the congregation had responded liberally with pledges, and there was some evidence of community interest. In 1909 a subscription was taken among the ministers attending the Annual Conference and nearly $3,000 was pledged. However, it was not considered safe to consider building until a few months later, when the Reverend William Moffett announced that he had secured a pledge of $10,000 from Charles H. Sanford, given in memory of his late parents.
‘Unheralded’ Reverend Charles H. McAnney, proves to be an ‘evangelistic preacher of great power,’ serving 1885-1888 when Eddie Durrell was a university student, (Eddie was later commemorated by the Tiffany St. George window)
This is the ninth in a series of excerpts from “A Journey of Faith for 150 years: A history of the Princeton United Methodist Church” by Ruth L. Woodward, Copyright 1997.
(Part 9 of “A Journey of Faith for 150 years” by Ruth L. Woodward)
The Reverend Joseph G. Reed came to Princeton in the spring of 1881 and left within a year because of illness. He was replaced by Samuel F. Gaskill who, according to an undated resolution in the church archives, was unable to meet the needs of the church.
Resolved, That the members of the Princeton Quarterly Conference feel it incumbent upon them to declare, in view of the approaching annual conference, that during the past year our Church has suffered in a very marked degree by the sickness and consequent withdrawal of the Pastor appointed by the last annual conference: -We also acknowledge that the selection of Bro. S. F. Gaskell [sic] to fill the vacancy thus created was probably the best that could have been done under the circumstances, and we further bear testimony that both he and his estimable wife have done everything it was possible for them to do to revive the drooping interests of the church: -they have been earnest, devoted, and self-sacrificing -yet, we must confess, their devotion and labor have availed but little in overcoming the unfavorable circumstances surrounding them: We feel therefore that in justice to them, they ought not to be subject to another year of similar trial and forbearance in this charge.
And further, in view of our weakened condition, we most respectfully and yet earnestly ask for the appointment of a single man for the coming year.
Gaskill was followed in 1883 by John S. Parker, who had been married for three years. The appointment may have been at Parker’s request. While serving in Princeton he matriculated at the College of New Jersey, receiving his degree in 1886 while pastor of the church in nearby Windsor.
He was granted the A.M. degree in 1889. His successor in 1885, the Reverend Charles H. McAnney, was said to be an evangelistic preacher of great power. At the end of his tenure, in March 1888, the Official had a resolution of approbation added to the minutes of the Quarterly Conference.
Resolved, That the members of the Quarterly Conference of the Princeton Methodist Episcopal Church, in Conference assembled, cannot let this opportunity pass, without giving expression to their opinion of the Pastorate of Rev. Charles H. McAnney for the 3 years now about to end, and to express their cordial approbation of most of the methods adopted by him during his entire term. He came to us unheralded and unknown, and by the force of his wonderful ability in the pulpit, his boldness and sincerity in dealing with sinners whether in or outside the church, and his enthusiasm for the cause of Methodism which was not abated or affected by the staid conservatism of his surroundings, he has raised up the Princeton Methodist Church to a position never before attained by the labors of any of his predecessors. And while we are conscious that at time errors have been committed, because to “err is human,” yet we recognize the fact that God has blessed his labors in a most wonderful way. We also deeply regret that the policy of the Methodist Church requires his removal from us at this time and we most cordially and heartily commend him to’ his new charge as one worthy of the love, esteem and affection of good people every where.
For some time the ministers, as well as the sexton, had been paid regularly each month. However, by March 1895, when the Reverend Joseph Dilks arrived, it was deemed necessary to secure a note from the Princeton Bank in the amount of $175, $144 of which would care for the pastor’s salary for April and May. In spite of this, there must have been money in reserve, for in June it was decided to paint and paper the interior of the church, to put in new seats and carpeting, and to alter the galleries.
In September 1895 eight young men were appointed to act as ushers and take up collections. The collections were probably the basket collections received at church services, since there are many earlier references to class leaders getting collections from members, and also mention of a salaried Collector. At the beginning of 1896 it was voted to use the envelope and pledge card system, which is still being used today. ‘One member needed to be informed that his pledge of I¢ per week was unacceptable; no amount less than 5¢ per week would be allowed.
In 1897 there was some informal talk about the possibility of observing the semi-centennial of the church, but nothing seems to have come of this. Within a few years the church was involved first in the building of a new parsonage, and then in the major project of building and paying for a beautiful new building. A sense of commitment and cooperation was apparent as members worked to accomplish these goals.
This is the eighth in a series of excerpts from “A Journey of Faith for 150 years: A history of the Princeton United Methodist Church” by Ruth L. Woodward, Copyright 1997.
First Congregational Meeting, Preachers Henry Westwood, Henry Baker, and Josephus Sooy.
On May 2, 1867, after due legal notice having been given, the annual meeting of the male members of the congregation was held in order to elect trustees. This is the first mention of such a congregational meeting, probably a Quarterly Conference.
In February 1868 the church observed Conference Sunday, as a day to make a special effort to raise money to liquidate the debt of the church. The pastor was requested to collect “Centenary contributions.” A special speaker was desirable, and the choice was Brother Halsted of the Brooklyn Praying Band.
On April 9, 1868 Henry Westwood was appointed by the Bishop to serve a church in Omaha, Nebraska. A committee was immediately set up to find supply preachers to fill the pulpit, but by June 5 the Reverend Henry Baker had been assigned to the Princeton church.
The Committee on Assessment reported that Collectors had again been appointed who had “cheerfully agreed” to perform their duties. However, ”there was not a proper disposition manifested by the members of the congregation towards the payment of the amount assessed.”
In March 1869 the Treasurer reported that $948 had been paid to Baker. With the usual juggling of monies to make ends meet, $42.00 of this sum had been borrowed from a member of the congregation, who was to be paid out of the money collected for the coal bill. In June Baker asked for a leave of absence for health reasons for the month of August and part of September; this was unanimously granted.
Josephus Sooy, who would later become pastor of the church, was a member of the Class of 1871 at the College of New Jersey. On October 2, 1868 he was licensed as an Exhorter and on June 8, 1869 the Quarterly Conference recommended that he be licensed as a Local Preacher. After attending Drew Theological Seminary he became a member of Conference in 1875 and Princeton was his first appointment.
The book containing the Trustees’ Minutes ends on October 4, 1869, when the trustees made provisions for having the rear of the church repaired and sanctioned whatever the Sunday School might do about replenishing the Library. The detailed minutes give us a sense of intimacy with the small group of men who labored so faithfully to guide the church through its infancy. They gave not only many hours of their time, but sometimes took impromptu collections at their meetings in order to augment the always slender treasury. We are indebted to their dedication and perseverance.
This is the sixth in a series of excerpts from “A Journey of Faith for 150 years: A history of the Princeton United Methodist Church” by Ruth L. Woodward, Copyright 1997.
Thomas O’Hanlon’s preaching results in “the greatest outpouring of grace” but trustees can’t meet payroll
In November 1859 a committee was again appointed to investigate a course of Lectures for the benefit of the church. In February 1860 it was announced that $50 had been netted from the lecture series. In December an application was granted for a Singing School to hold sessions in the Lecture Room; however, permission was soon revoked as the school failed to comply with whatever conditions had been set.
In 1860 the Annual Conference appointed the Reverend John W. Kramer to the Princeton charge. However, he resigned after five weeks to take a position with the Seaman’s Friend Society and the Reverend Isaac Wiley was appointed in his place.
Wiley had spent three years as a medical missionary in China; at a time when few people travelled very far from home he must have had many interesting anecdotes. He spent the usual two year tenure in Princeton. In 1872 he was elected a Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church. A committee had been appointed to find housing for Kramer, but since Wiley was a widower the need for a parsonage could be postponed.
In December 1860, in anticipation of the spring meeting of the Annual Conference the Trustees “suggested” that they be provided with an unmarried man “as will suit our wants.” When notified that there was no unmarried man in the Conference who would be suitable for their needs, they requested, if possible, the appointment of Thomas O’Hanlon, then serving in New Brunswick. Since O’Hanlon received a bachelor’s degree from the College of New Jersey in 1863 he must have been attending classes during his ministry in Princeton.
Whether the special needs of the church were a revival of spiritual life, the raising of funds, or both, Thomas O’Hanlon seems to have been the right man. O’Hanlon was a warm and gifted speaker, and the Princeton church is said to have experienced the greatest outpouring of grace in its history during his pastorate. Hundreds of people are said to have responded to his call and “bowed the knee” at his meetings. Church records do not reflect that great an influx of new members; perhaps many united with other churches and for others it may have been only a temporary enthusiasm.
O’Hanlon apparently also had ideas about fund raising. In the spring of 1862, when funds were very low, he set forth a financial plan that listed amounts to assesseach member, presumably based on estimates of income. Assesments ranged from $1.00 to $50.00, with the average ranging between $5.00 and $8.00. If this method had worked it would have been possible to pay the pastor’s salary of $500 and parsonage rent of $135, as well as salaries for the sexton, presiding elder, and collectors. Class leaders were to inform members of their assessments and make collections. These monies were over and above pew rents, which members were urged to pay in advance, if possible. A list is available showing which pews rented for $5, $6, $8, $10, $15, and $20 respectively, but it is impossible to determine what factors determined desirability. Size may have been a factor, as well as closeness to the preacher, distance from a draft, etc. Besides the assessments and the pew rents, members were asked to contribute to a penny collection to help pay for light and fuel.
The trustees still had to grapple with other day-to-day problems. In July 1862 a committee was appointed to select the proper site for a privy in the rear of the church; the privy was completed by September. Later in the fall four tons of coal had to be purchased and a committee was appointed to solicit. subscriptions to pay for this necessity.
That year the church received some unwelcome notoriety when, on the evening of November 13, Charles Lewis, a drifter in town, temporarily left his horse and wagon in the church’s horse sheds. Lewis was later convicted of the murder and robbery of James Rowand, a jeweler and watchmaker. As Rowand walked from his shop on Nassau Street to his home, just beyond the cemetery on Witherspoon Street, he received a blow from a heavy club which fractured his skull.
On January 2, 1863 it was resolved to make Bro. O’Hanlon a “Donation visit.” It is not known whether this was to solicit a donation or to pay a portion of the’ pastor’s salary, but funds were very low. The following month the Treasurer, who showed a balance of $24.24, was ordered to pay the Sexton $25 on account of his salary. In March it was noted that insufficient money had been collected from pew rents to pay the minister’s salary, and in May, at a congregational meeting held after the Sabbath service, it was resolved, that in the future pew rents would be collected monthly in advance.
This is the fifth in a series of excerpts from “A Journey of Faith for 150 years: A history of the Princeton United Methodist Church” by Ruth L. Woodward, Copyright 1997.
The first African American woman joins, gas lights are added, the young Rev. George Batchelder attracts large crowds.
Times were changing fast, the Princeton Gas Light Company was organized in 1849, and in March 1852 it was determined to have gas in the church “if Practicable.” In September 1855 the street commissioners were asking that the trustees pave the walk in front of the church. An appeal to the Common Council managed to delay this action, since it was not until June 1857 that a committee was appointed to supervise the laying of the pavement, and the work was not actually done until September 1858.
The fall of 1855 also saw a decision to purchase a furnace for the purpose of warming the church and to purchase shades for the gas lights. When Susan Voorhees was admitted as a probational member in 1855 it was an unusual event for that time and it was considered necessary for membership records to describe her as “Colored.” She was admitted to full membership on January 2, 1856.
Pew rents were difficult to collect and there was a constant need for extra money. In May 1856 there was a plan to secure speakers to lecture for the benefit of the church, and in July of that year it was decided to rent out a room in the basement of the church. In October receipts from a Harvest Home helped to replenish the treasury. The following spring $200 was due on a $1,000 mortgage, and the treasury was $7.00 short of meeting the required amount. A committee was appointed to borrow this amount.
In 1857 horse sheds were to be built in the rear of the church lot for all members who wanted them and were willing to pay for them. Two years later Dr. Bartine was given permission to cut a gate in the fence between the church and his property, he having purchased one of the sheds to use during the week, the church to have the use of it on the Sabbath.
The Reverend George Batchelder, who served the Princeton church from 1857 to 1859 seems to ‘have been a particularly charismatic young man. Only twenty-one when he was appointed to this church, he was described as “one of the most eloquent men of American Methodism,” attracting large crowds whenever he preached. Always in frail health, he became ill enough in 1862 to be granted the superannuated relationship by Conference. After travelling west in the hope of improving his health he returned to Princeton with his wife, the sister of Oliver Bartine. He died the following year, probably of tuberculosis.
In spite of a constant scarcity of funds the trustees did their best to keep the church building in good condition. In 1858 the basement was painted and whitewashed and new curtains procured for its windows. The upper floor of the church was painted and a railing and platform built for the front of the pulpit. The following year a second bridge was built in front of the church; i.e. , a connection from the sidewalk to one ‘of the lower entries.
This is the fourth in a series of excerpts from “A Journey of Faith for 150 years: A history of the Princeton United Methodist Church” by Ruth L. Woodward, Copyright 1997.
With a full-time minister in Princeton, a number of the Cedar Grove Methodists had joined this congregation. On May 30, 1856 their chapel was purchased for $400 by the philanthropist Paul Tulane, the founder of Tulane University, who had been born and raised in the Cedar Grove community. He maintained the building as a community chapel for thirty years, with ministers from the Princeton Methodist and Presbyterian Churches, the Dutch Reformed Church of Blawenburg, and the Baptist Church of Hopewell alternating in conducting Sunday afternoon services. Eventually Tulane conveyed the property to the First Presbyterian Church of Princeton. It later passed through the hands of several private owners, before being razed so that the glass and lumber could be used in renovating the old schoolhouse into a residence.
Joseph Ashbrook was succeeded by Israel Saunders Corbit, who was thirty-two at the time of his appointment to Princeton. Corbit’s oratory was said to have been brilliant enough to attract not only townspeople to the Methodist services, but a number of the seminary students as well. He increased the membership with more than 150 new members and probationers, including over fifty adult baptisms. However, he must also have been an extremely strict disciplinarian. Several members were removed from the church rolls because of their failure to attend class meetings regularly, including Dr. Bartine who was the president of the Board of Trustees(editor’s note, he had purchased the land for the building as the ‘shell buyer’ and was the son of a previous pastor of this church!). Apparently a doctor’s busy and unpredictable schedule was not sufficient excuse for the Reverend Corbit. Bartine joined the Methodists who were meeting at Cedar Grove, and with true Christian forgiveness transferred his membership back to Princeton when Corbit was succeeded by the Reverend Samuel Monroe.
Corbit began the systematic keeping of church records. The first infant baptism that he performed was for six-year-old Louise Marion Mershon in June 1849. The first adult baptisms on September 23, 1849, were fourteen-year-old William Vandewater, and Catherine Leggett, the wife of William Leggett, who served faithfully as church sexton for many years, in spite of seldom receiving his salary on time. The first wedding Corbit recorded is that of Dr. Oliver Bartine and Mary Cottrell on May 21, 1850. Miss Cotrell lived on Cottrell Lane, which has since become Moore Street. That year Corbit also presided at the wedding of Emily Young and the Reverend Aaron E. Ballard, who was to become pastor of the Princeton church in 1852.
The trustees held many of their meetings at Dr. Bartine’s office and were kept busy checking proposals for carpentry work and plastering the interior of the church. Apparently there was no general-contractor and payments were made for bricks, stone, sand, etc. as work progressed. In May 1849 the trustees resolved to “proceed to finish the Church as soon as practicable.” Decisions were made that the seats were to be continued against the walls on each side and the walls would be wainscoted; iron columns would support the galleries if the cost were not too much. Everything needed to be in good order for the dedication of the building on October 17, 1849,
Corbit aimed high in seeking a speaker for the dedication service (in 1849). On September 24 he wrote to the Reverend Stephen Olin, President of Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, inviting him to be present for the occasion. Olin had previously taught at Franklin College in Athens, Georgia, and had served as president of Randolph-Macon College in Virginia. A noted orator and one of the well-known Methodists of his time, he was instrumental in organizing the Evangelical Alliance, one of the earliest ecumenical organizations. As president of two Methodist colleges he tried to arouse the denomination, both clergy and laity, to the importance of higher education. He was one of the few Methodist ministers of his time who believed in theological training for the clergy.
Excerpt’s from Corbit’s invitation read:
For more than 20 years, efforts were made to establish Methodism in this town, but without success: the great difficulty in the way was the want of a suitable place in which to hold public services; for so great was the prejudice existing against our church, that no such accommodations could be procured. However, that difficulty has been finally overcome. Our Conference at its Annual Session held in April 1847 Resolved to build a House here, and pledged itself to raise by the personal efforts of its members the sum of $3000 toward the enterprise. After tailing hard from that time until the present, we have succeeded in the erection of a neat brick edifice 48 by 65 feet at a cost of $6000. Our debt on the day of dedication will be about $1600; the greater part of which we hope to raise on that day. . . .
Princeton is one of the most beautiful and flourishing towns in our state: occupies a central position on the line of the Rail Road between New York and Philadelphia. It Contains a population of 4000 souls. For more than one hundred years, this Community has been controlled by Calvinistic influence. The Presbyterians have laboured zealously to exclude all other denominations, and especially have their efforts been directed against Methodism: they have represented our beloved Church as being a compound of ignorance and enthusiasm; but by the blessing of God we have overcome these prejudices to some extent, although we have much even now with which to contend.
You are doubtless aware of the high Literary Character of this place, and this fact renders it very desirable that a Man of Renown and acknowledged Literary acquirements should dedicate our Church.
Unfortunately, no records are available to tell us what happened at the dedication, but it seems certain that Olin did not participate. His 1849-50 Annual Report states that he had become ill shortly after the 1849 commencement, making it impossible for him to attend to his duties until the end of the fall term. We can only hope that Corbit was able to obtain the services of an equally eloquent orator and that it was a beautiful autumn day in Princeton, with the trees a riot of color. The only traffic noise from Nassau Street would have been the sounds of a few horses’ hooves. The congregation had already chosen “What hath God wrought,” as the inscription on the cornerstone, and this thought must have been much in their minds that day.
Corbit’s optimism about raising enough money to payoff the final construction costs was ill founded. In the spring of 1850 it was resolved that “the trustees approve of the females get up a fair to help in Liquidating debt of church.” The fair was apparently a success since part of the proceeds helped to payoff an outstanding note, and the remainder of the proceeds were left at the disposal of the fair committee to be used for the benefit of the church. In April of that year Conference removed Princeton from the status of Circuit and it became the Princeton Station.
This is the third in a series of excerpts from “A Journey of Faith for 150 years: A history of the Princeton United Methodist Church” by Ruth L. Woodward, Copyright 1997.
A local historian paid tribute to the ”tact, energy and enterprise” of Joseph Ashbrook as he set about his daunting task of building both a congregation and a church structure. His congregation was small and certainly not wealthy. Most lived within walking distance of the plot where the new church was to be built, with some members driving wagons or buggies from outlying farms. For many years the membership was comprised mainly of small businessmen or artisans, with the addition of a few professional men and a small number of farmers. With the exception of some teachers, the women remained at home to care for households and children.
Joseph Ashbrook took advantage of a unique opportunity to establish rapport with members of the college administration. In October of 1846 the College of New Jersey had been established for one hundred years; however the actual anniversary would have conflicted with sessions of the Presbyterian synods. The Centennial was therefore celebrated at the June 29th commencement of 1847, when the members of the one hundredth Senior Class received their degrees.
Although the college had rooms large enough to hold the meetings scheduled for the special event, there was no space large enough to comfortably seat such a large crowd while serving a meal. When Ashbrook learned of this dilemma he offered to procure a large tent, actually a camp meeting tent belonging to one of the Philadelphia Methodist churches. When the tent arrived in town Ashbrook supervised the raising of the tent, and he later oversaw the men who took it down and repacked it for its return to Philadelphia. He refused any payment for this, except for the cost of transporting the tent. However, when work was started on his church Ashbrook did not hesitate to approach the members of the College’s Centennial Committee to solicit pledges for the building fund.
At the centennial celebration, dinner was served to over 700 people “under a spacious and beautiful tent, on a verdant lawn, behind the old College edifice.” Newspaper accounts of the Centennial Celebration emphasize that all of the toasts that day were drunk in either “clear, cold water” or lemonade. This was probably not so much a bow to Methodism’s strong stand on temperance, as the great popularity of temperance societies at that time. In any case, it was fortuitous that the drinks were not any stronger, since thirteen formal toasts were proposed, followed by ten informal toasts.
The new brick church building, consisting of two stories and a basement, measured 66 by 48 feet. With a gallery, it could seat about 600 people. The lecture room in the basement could seat 225, and there were two large class rooms and a library adjoining the lecture room. The total cost of construction was $6,000 and it would serve the congregation for more than half a century.
When first constructed the church had two front entrances, one step above ground level, which led into separate vestibules. From each of these there were three steps down to the lecture room, which was used for Sunday School, prayer meetings, church suppers and various types of entertainment. Winding stairs led up to the church vestibule on the main floor. These winding stairs at each end continued up to side galleries on the second floor and the choir loft in back. At a later date a flight of outdoor stairs was added, with a central door leading directly into the sanctuary vestibule. At some time the side galleries on the top floor were removed and eventually the choir loft was moved to the northwest corner of the main floor of the sanctuary, just west of the pulpit.
After the new main entrance to the church was built only the west door to the basement was used, and the vestibule on the eastern end became a storeroom. The back entrance to the basement led to a room that may have been originally intended for the library, but for a number of years this room was rented to a private day school. Horse and carriage sheds ran along the back and part of the east side of the church lot, with an outdoor storage room in the corner where the two rows of sheds met. And, of course, there was a privy in the back of the lot.
Services were held in the new structure as soon as the basement could be utilized; however, the Reverend Ashbrook was required to leave before the interior was completed. Methodist ministers at that time were not allowed more than a two-year tenure in one church, and when Conference met in the spring of 1849 Ashbrook was assigned to his next charge in Flemington. The building that his efforts had helped to raise was dedicated the following fall. A junior preacher, C. Rutherford, assisted Ashbrook during his first year, and A. K. Street, during his second. Since these men were not members of the New Jersey Conference and since seminary training was not a requirement at that time, they were probably serving an apprenticeship under Ashbrook. They would have been assigned most of the preaching in the outlying areas of the Princeton Circuit.