Inside the First Presbyterian Church of Newtown

    by

    Over on Queens Boulevard, in Elmhurst, you’ll notice the First Presbyterian Church of Newtown at the corner of 54th Avenue. It’s the Gothic structure which is incongruous with its surroundings, which are mainly retail shops, a diner, and a medium sized shopping mall. The First Presbyterian Church of Newtown is one of the oldest congregations in the entire city, and certainly the oldest in Queens. Pictured above is the latest building to serve the organization, erected in 1895, the first iteration having been built in 1652.

    In 1652, men dressed like this.

    The exterior shots in this post are from a couple of weeks ago, from when the missus and I went couch shopping. A few years ago, I had an opportunity to set up a tripod inside the church, so there are lots of interior shots after the jump.

    bsQ_012915_1stpresnwtwn_003


    The church’s website offers a concise and thorough history of the place, which can accessed here. Both Kevin Walsh and myself likely know the fellow who wrote this history, and I for one would not even attempt to do better. It’s a fascinating read, evoking a neat picture of the rural incarnation which Queens enjoyed right up until the first few decades of the 20th century.

    From fpcn.org:

    Newtown remained a small town with farms until the late 19th century, when developer Cord Meyer started building several one-family houses in the heart of Newtown. Meyer used his political connections to change Newtown’s name to Elmhurst. Many local institutions, such as Newtown High School, the First Presbyterian Church of Newtown, and the Grand Ave.-Newtown subway station (odd since the station was built well after the name change), still use the old name.

    Twentieth-Century Change

    In the 1920s, FPCN’s sanctuary was moved back 125 feet to accommodate New York City’s plans to widen Queens Boulevard. This was an engineering marvel, since the church building weighed five million pounds. During the widening, the sanctuary lost its steeple. In 1931, a church house was built behind the sanctuary. This new building had an auditorium with a stage, several classrooms, and a full kitchen. It is still used today.

    bsQ_012915_1stpresnwtwn_004

    Inside, there’s a really fantastic esthetic to the place, with a network of carved wooden flying buttresses above. As mentioned, this is the 1895 version of the First Presbyterian Church of Newtown.

    In 1895, men dressed like this.

    This wasn’t a church service, incidentally. This gathering was all about the Newtown Pippin, the native apple of Queens. It seems that Queens’ cultivar died out in the new world, but is still a big hit in Europe, and the Newtown Historical Society was working with the pippin people to bring them back to the borough.

    Incidentally, the First Presbyterian Church of Newtown is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

    From nps.gov:

    The First Presbyterian Church of Newtown is a Gothic Revival church located on the south side of Queens Boulevard, near the corner of 54th Avenue. The church is located in the northern quadrant of the block and oriented on a northeast-southwest axis, with its main entrance and a tower on the northeastern façade. The church—the fifth home of the congregation, founded in 1652—was completed in 1895, on a site some 125 feet to the northeast. It was moved to its current site in 1924 when the city widened Queens Boulevard. The church’s original steeple and a smaller attached building containing a lecture hall were lost in the move. Sitting on a concrete foundation laid for the moved building, the church is constructed of granite and brownstone bearing walls, with a slate roof. The building was designed by Queens architect Frank A. Collins, following the instructions of the donor that it replicate the First Presbyterian Church of Cherry Valley, New York, completed in 1873.

    bsQ_012915_1stpresnwtwn_005

    The First Presbyterian Church of Newtown is dominated by a pipe organ just behind the pulpit. I’m told it’s a 1940 vintage Opus 2186, built to order by the Wicks Organ Company of Highland, Illinois.

    In 1940, men dressed like this.

    Nycago.org is the site of authority for me on the subject of church organs, so I’d advise you to check out their page on the instrument.

    bsQ_012915_1stpresnwtwn_006

    This balcony was where most of these shots were gathered from.

    bsQ_012915_1stpresnwtwn_007

    The stained glass is beyond beautiful in here, and really worth a look.

    Also from nps.gov:

    Among the prominent architectural features of the Newtown Presbyterian Church are its stained-glass windows. The memorial window on the main façade — a large pointed-arch window depicting the Ascension of Christ and flanked by two smaller windows — is a departure from the Cherry Valley model, which has a round window over a trio of blind arches on its façade. Church accounting records and correspondence indicate that the windows in the church were furnished by the firm of Sellers & Ashley and maintained for some years after by Benjamin Sellers, following the dissolution of that partnership in October 1895, months after the completion of the Newtown church. Relatively little is known about the firm or about the details of the artists’ individual tenures as employees of Tiffany & Co. However, their work in the opalescent glass popular in the US in the late 19th century has been recognized as particularly fine, with Sellers’s work having gained widespread contemporary praise.

    bsQ_012915_1stpresnwtwn_008

    That’s the First Presbyterian Church of Newtown for you, Queensicans.

    Incidentally, the missus and I did score a couch in the end, so the trip to Elmhurst was a double win.

    Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman lives in Astoria and blogs at Newtown Pentacle.

    What's Happening