By Chris Fuchs
Recognizing its centuries of service as an ecclesiastical icon of Flushing, the Landmarks Preservation Commission Friday designated the church of St. George's on Main Street a landmark, carving out its own little nook among the more than a thousand sites citywide that have been bestowed with such honors.
“With this plaque, St. George's Church proudly declares its landmark status,” said Jennifer Raab, chairwoman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. “For years, St. George has served as an icon in the Flushing neighborhood. With support of Queens Borough President Claire Shulman, we landmarked the church, an honor it rightly deserves.”
The vestry had petitioned the city twice before to landmark the church, a 147-year-old Gothic edifice which borders Main Street, 38th Avenue and 39th Avenue. It first came up for a hearing in 1966, and then again in 1979. But it was not until Dec. 14, 1999, that the commission held a hearing to decide whether the church should be landmarked, a status granted to only 1,150 other sites around the city.
The landmarking status extends to the church, the old parish house and the graveyard.
The history of the Episcopalian Church in Flushing is expansive in its own right. In 1702, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, an Episcopalian order, dispatched a missionary to Flushing to test the religious waters. By 1761, a congregation had settled on a tract of land on Main Street, the present site of St. George's, that was donated to them by a merchant. Soon after, a small frame church was built, and St. George's was incorporated.
St. George served as a springboard for young ministers who would eventually move on to positions at other Episcopalian parishes. And in 1847, only years before the newly landmarked church was built, Rev. John Carpenter Smith was appointed minister. He presided over the parish for some 50 years, during which his congregation grew from 140 to 770. In addition, chapels were built in Bayside, Whitestone, College Point and Murray Hill.
The church that stands on Main Street today was consecrated on June 1, 1854. Other structures were added on to the main one in the years to come, complementing the Gothic Revival aesthete of steeply pitched roofs, a tapered spire and arched entrances peculiar to the church. Having determined that the interior was outmoded, the church reconstructed the chancel in 1894, also in a Gothic Revival style, with granite and brownstone. A parish house was added in 1907.
The church's congregation has undergone changes as well, adapting to ethnic shifts within the surrounding neighborhood. Flushing is commonly referred to as the city's “second Chinatown,” and over the past few years St. George's has done its best to welcome the area's Asian-American community and Hispanic population.
It offers services and study classes in English, Spanish and Chinese. Trilingual services, which are broken up into Chinese, Spanish and English, are also held about seven times a year at St. George's in celebration of major holy days like Christmas Eve, Easter and All Soul's Day.
The changes have made St. George's a haven for brand-new immigrants and a place where relative newcomers who have lived in the country for a while come to feel more part of the community.