Some Presbyterian churches in New York are named for their seniority: First and Second. Others for their location: Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue. But only Brick Church is named for its building material. Why was a brick building so startling?
In the years before the American Revolution, Presbyterians worshipped in a modest wooden building on Wall St. The congregation lived nearby and walked to church. As the city grew, the Wooden, or Wall Street, Church congregation outgrew its building. So the session decided to build a second church for those who had moved northward to the edge of the city. They chose a small lot on the corner of Beekman and Nassau and erected a glorious brick structure in 1767. The first service probably took place on New Year’s Day, 1768.
Today a Pace University building sits on that land, just south of where the Brooklyn Bridge empties into Manhattan. It’s across the street from City Hall Park.
Eventually the two congregations under a single session split up. The Wall St. Church was the antecedent of First Presbyterian Church and The Brick Church became the official name of the Beekman/Nassau St. congregation. So you could say that First is either our mother or sister church.
Of course we didn’t stay in that location. When the neighborhood around City Hall Park changed, the leaders decided to remain a parish church that people could walk to. They built the next church on 5th Avenue and 37th St., then a residential area popular with the congregation. Once again the session chose bricks. This second building was completed just before the Civil War. Today Lord & Taylor occupies that site.
But Presbyterians kept moving. In the 1930s, the corner of Park Ave. and 91st St. was an appealing location in an area where many members lived. The third brick building for The Brick Church – our present church – was completed in 1940.
There have been two constants throughout this history that are likely to continue far into the future: dedication to serving the membership where they live, and doing so in fine brick buildings.