The First Presbyterian Church of Bridgeton is the product of a merger in 1945 of the original First Presbyterian Church and the West Presbyterian Church. The new congregation formed by the merger retained the name First Presbyterian Church. The “new FPC” began worshipping in the West Presbyterian Church’s building located at the corner of West Commerce and Giles Streets.
Presbyterians were the first Christians in Bridgeton to form a congregation and construct a house of worship. The congregation was chartered in 1792, and construction began on what is now called the Old Broad Street Church. The church was completed and dedicated in 1795. It was used for community meetings, as well as for worship. The building has been historically preserved. It is a pristine example of Georgian architecture. Our congregation still holds Sunday morning worship service in the Old Broad Street Church in August through Labor Day. FPC owns and maintains Old Broad Street Church and the cemetery surrounding it. A great deal of history resides in both this church and the cemetery.
In its earliest years, the Presbyterian Church in Greenwich shared the Rev. Jonathan Freeman with the congregation of FPC. In 1824, the Rev. Brogan Hoff became the first full-time pastor of the Bridgeton congregation. In 1836, the church dedicated a new building at Laurel Street and Church Lane, on the eastern side of the Cohansey River. This building was abandoned in the 1945 merger and later razed. It was there that the newly formed Presbytery of West Jersey held its first meeting.
The West Presbyterian Church suffered a split in 1936. The minister, the majority of the congregation and all of the session, except Chester Bonham, renounced the jurisdiction of West Jersey Presbytery. Then after a legal struggle, the presbytery returned the church building and the manse (parsonage) to the loyal members. The seceding group then formed Calvary Orthodox Presbyterian Church (now New Hope OPC).
Prior to the merger, the Rev. John W. Hutchinson had been serving as the pastor of West Presbyterian. He was installed as the pastor of the new First Presbyterian Church in 1945.
First Presbyterian Church
Jonathan Freeman, 1805-1822Brogan Hoff, 1824-1833John Kennedy, 1834-1838Samuel B. Jones, 1839-1863Caspar R. Gregory, 1864-1873J. Allen Maxwell, 1874-1881Augustus Brodhead, 1881-1887Sylvester W. Beach, 1887-1902Luther A. Oates, 1903-1909Addison B. Collins, 1910-1926Howard G. Wilkinson, 1927-1945
West Presbyterian Church
Leonidas E. Coyle, 1870-1883William H. Belden, 1884- 1890William J. Bridges, 1890-1903Joseph L. Ewing, 1903-1910Oscar G. Morton, 1911-1924James M. Eakins, 1924-1934Clifford S. Smith, 1934-1936John W. Hutchinson, 1939-1945
John W. Hutchinson, 1945-1964S. James Hughs, 1964-1967Richard S. Kaufman, 1968-1972Harry L. Holfelder, 1973-1985Richard E. Sindall, 1985-2012Cheni M. Khonje, 2014-2018Norlita J. Kaul, 2023-Present
Broad Street Church was the first
church erected in Bridge Town, later to be called Bridgeton. Until the 1790s,
Presbyterians in Bridge Town traveled to churches in Greenwich, Fairfield, or
Deerfield, several miles away. Bridge
Town grew. Presbyterians wanted their
own meeting place. In 1792, land along
King’s Highway, the main road from Bridgeton to Greenwich, was donated, and
construction began. Bricks were made in
the churchyard. The exterior walls and
roof were completed, and the cornerstone was laid in 1792. The building was not finished until 1795, utilizing
funds that were raised by a state-wide lottery.
Services were held in the Broad Street
Church until 1836. Bridge Town grew
rapidly on the east side of the Cohansey River. The Methodists and the Baptists erected churches on the east side of
town. The Presbyterians felt the need to follow suit. By 1835, the Presbyterians
erected a new church building. Because Broad Street Church was surrounded by its
cemetery, the congregation decided to maintain the Broad Street Church and
Cemetery rather than sell or abandon them.
The Broad Street Church has been
maintained without renovations. It has been
identified as one of the most pristine examples of 18th Century
church architecture in the United States.
The Broad Street Church is a
two-story brick structure similar to those built in Philadelphia during the
second half of the 18th Century. Its
design is one of a “meeting house,” almost square (40 feet by 50 feet), as
opposed to the more formal churches being built in the late 1700s, which were
Broad Street Church has box-style pews. Families paid an annual rental for their
space. The pews “upfront” cost the most. The only problem with being “up front” was the elevated pulpit caused
congregants constantly to look upward during the very long worship services. The
tall “wine glass” pulpit is accessed by a winding stair. Above the pulpit is
one of the most significant architectural features of the church. It is the Palladian window, with its central
window and semicircular arch flanked on each side by smaller windows. All are unified by an entablature supported by
columns. Above this window is the plaster “All-Seeing Eye of God.”
The second floor of the church creates
a balcony over the first floor on three sides. Records show us the boys sat on the eastern side, while the girls sat of
the western side of the church.
The ornamental plaster ceiling has
an entwined grape and grain design, possibly representing the bread and wine of
Communion. In the center of the ceiling,
a chandelier hook surrounded by acanthus leaves reveals that a candle
chandelier was used. The chandelier was
probably removed when stove pipes were installed around 1810. Woodstoves manufactured at Atsion Furnace were
used for heat. Congregants no longer had
to bring their own heat source (hot coals or hot potatoes) to warm their toes
and their “pew.” Astral whale oil lamps
were used for light at this time in history.
The Old Broad Street Church is still
used by First Presbyterian Church for morning worship services on Sundays in
August. The Old Broad Street Church is available for tours by appointment
only. Please call First Presbyterian
Church at (856) 455-0809 to make arrangements for a tour.
The Friends of Old Broad Street Church organization is open to anyone that is committed to the preserving/maintaining one of Bridgeton’s historic buildings. We desire to keep it active as a house of worship and location for community activities.
Donations are very much appreciated to continue this work. Donations can be sent to First Presbyterian Church, 119 W. Commerce St., Bridgeton NJ 08302
The Broad Street Cemetery covers an entire city block
around the Old Broad Street Church. It also
is a historic gem. By 2011, the cemetery
became a victim of vandalism. The Broad Street Cemetery Association was formed
in the summer of 2011 to help address the problem. The Association is open to anyone interested
in bringing the cemetery back to being a reverent/historical place to visit.
The BSCA works solely through volunteerism and monetary
donations. Local organizations and
businesses also contribute. Over the
years, numerous workdays have been held to care for the grounds for anything
that doesn’t fall under the cemetery’s “perpetual care.” Local scout groups, high school students, and
the local VFW all have stepped up to help with this work.
There are veterans from nine different wars, which are buried
in the Broad Street Cemetery. Fascinating
stories have been shared at the annual Memorial Day/ Decoration Day observance
at the cemetery. The public is invited
to bring a picnic lunch to enjoy on the lawn prior to the Memorial Day program. The program is held inside the Old Broad
Street Church. Every year brings
something different in music, displays, and stories told. The purpose is always to honor all
veterans. The program ends with an honor
guard which plays taps, followed by a gun salute. We hope you’ll be able to join us for this
119 West Commerce Street, Bridgeton, NJ 08302
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