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Brick Church Headliners in History

Most of us who walk through Brick Church’s doors will not feature in tomorrow’s history books. But some of our fellow members and co-religionists have made a difference in history. Here are a few of them.


Celebrity Funeral

He wasn’t a Brick Church member. He grew up a rather casual Presbyterian in the Midwest. Recalling his childhood, he said, “We were good Presbyterian boys when the weather was doubtful; when it was fair, we did wander a little from the fold.” But he was a good friend of our multi-faceted Dr. Henry van Dyke and other clergy. And his name was Mark Twain. His funeral took place at Brick Church on Fifth Avenue on April 24, 1910. The New York Times headline captured the essentials.


Family of Revolutionaries

King George III called the American Revolution a “Presbyterian war.” He could have been referring to members of the large, prosperous Livingston family who risked their lives and property to support the revolution. Perhaps their exposure to Presbyterian committee work helped them organize the revolution and subsequent government. William Livingston was an organizer of the Sons of Liberty, member of the Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention, later General of Militia in New Jersey and then its first Governor. His brother Philip signed the Declaration of Independence. Another brother, Peter Van Brugh (PVB) Livingston, was a member of the Committee of One Hundred, President of the first Provincial Congress and Treasurer of New York, as was his kinsman and fellow church member Peter R. Livingston. Both PVB and Peter R were Trustees. Near the door to the chapel on Park Avenue is a stone from the Beekman St. church carved with PVB’s name and the date 1767.


Builders of Our Architectural Heritage

John McComb Sr. was the architect and builder of the first Brick Church on Beekman St. His son John McComb Jr. designed the New York City Hall, Alexander Hamilton’s country house, “The Grange,” in Harlem, and renovated and expanded the Beekman St. Church in 1822. McComb Jr. was a Brick Church member, Deacon and Trustee.


Leading 20th Century Diplomat and Statesman

John Foster Dulles, son of a Presbyterian minister, grandson and nephew of U.S. Secretaries of State, exerted global influence as lawyer, treaty negotiator, UN delegate, policymaker and Secretary of State under President Eisenhower. He also served Brick Church as Elder and Trustee. His resume is long indeed. After WWI, he opposed demands at the Versailles Peace Conference for punitive reparations from Germany. After WWII, he negotiated the Japanese peace treaty and was instrumental in organizing both NATO and SEATO to counter the threat of communist expansion. He also supported peace movements, helped draft the preamble to the UN Charter, and chaired the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.


IBM’s Watson – The Person, Not the AI Chess Master

He was not a natural salesman, and his career path did not follow a straight line, but Thomas J. Watson became the face of IBM and the force behind its long dominance. His name and IBM were synonymous – no wonder the company named its leading edge supercomputer for him. He led IBM from 1914 until 1956, the year of his death. At Brick Church, he was an Elder, Trustee and donor of Watson Hall, among many other philanthropies. There are also Watson Halls at Lafayette College and Elmira College, near the small NY town where he was born.

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