By Bill Parry
The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously voted to designate the Old St. James Episcopal Church in Elmhurst as a New York City Individual Landmark. The church, located at 86-02 Broadway, was built in 1735 and 1736 in what was called Newtown Village.
It is historically significant as the city’s second-oldest religious building and oldest remaining Church of England mission church in the five boroughs.
Retaining both 18th and 19th century historic design, workmanship and materials, it is an architecturally significant example of the Colonial Meetinghouse form, combined with 19th century Gothic Revival and Stick style decorative details.
“The commission is proud to designate this historic church, significant for its association with the early colonial settlement of Queens and with the beginning of the Protestant Episcopal Church in New York,” Landmarks Preservation Commission Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan said. “As the second-oldest church building in the city, pre-dating St. Paul’s Chapel in Manhattan, it is a site well-deserving of the protection landmark status provides.”
Newtown Village, established in 1658 as Middleburgh by the Dutch, is one of the first five towns established in Queens County and one of the oldest European settlements on Long Island. In 1735, the Church of England built Old St. James Church for the Anglican community in Newtown. The church was spared by the British during the Revolutionary War, and its parish became one of the earliest members of the New York Episcopal Diocese.
“I have been a proud supporter of efforts to designate the Old St. James Episcopal Church as a New York City Individual Landmark and I’m thrilled that the Landmarks Preservation Commission has voted to do so,” U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) said. “Although this historic church is already on the National Register of Historic Places, the designation as an individual New York City Landmark will allow for further preservation of this structure, and greater awareness of the early history of our great city. It will also ensure that future generations are able to share in the story of this wonderful facility.”
As originally constructed, the church was a simple rectangular building clad in shingles, with round-arch windows and a tower at the west end facing a graveyard. In 1848 the congregation built a larger church a block away, and it became a parish hall and chapel. In 1883 the parish updated the building’s style with Gothic Revival and Stick Style decorative details and constructed a small rear addition where the original tower once stood.
“The Old St. James Church is an American treasure,” City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) said. “It is a beautiful work of art and an important part of our history. The Old St. James Church tells the story of how our nation came to be. I am pleased to have joined Elmhurst residents, the church leadership and my colleagues in government to have Old St. James Church landmarked so that future generations can enjoy and learn from this remarkable structure. This is a great day for New York City.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr