Saint Barnabas Church occupies the entire triangular block bordered by West Market Street (formerly known as Warren Street), Sussex Avenue and Roseville Avenue. The first service was held near its present location in a private dwelling on September 12, 1852.
On October 1, 1853, Cyrus Peck ( a wealthy Roseville resident) and his wife deeded the triangular piece of land to the church. The deed stipulated: “that the land must be devoted forever to the service of Almighty God”. In addition, the church, once built, was ” required to adhere to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Protestant Episcopal Church”. Peck also donated the land the Roseville Presbyterian Church currently stands on.
Having received such a beautiful piece of land to construct their permanent church on , the parish continued to grow. On October 9, 1852 the church Sunday school was organized. Their first church was built of wood and was consecrated, in 1855, by Bishop George W. Doane. In 1862, The New York Times reported that the church had been destroyed by fire.
After the fire, the present brownstone church was constructed, without the transepts, and was consecrated on Saint Barnabas Day, June 11,1864. The transepts were added in 1869. The rectory was also constructed in 1869, and the parish house in 1889. The small vestibule that faces West Market Street and serves as the main entrance was added in 1913. The rectory no longer stands.
Saint Barnabas had a succession of rectors over the course of its 160 year history. Reverend Robert Laughlin Pierson , who served during the turbulent sixties was especially noteworthy and will be discussed in greater detail shortly. The last full time Rector was the Rev. Mildred J. Solomon. From 2003 until the church closed in 2012 the congregation was served by what the Episcopal Church calls Supply Clergy. Supply Clergy are defined below:
Supply Clergy are defined as a priest employed on a per diem basis, to officiate at liturgies and to provide limited, specified pastoral care. A priest who serves as a Supply Clergy during an interim period is not eligible to become rector.
In 1865, a group of women known as The Ladies Society of Saint Barnabas established Saint Barnabas Hospital (now Saint Barnabus Medical Center) in a private home. When Eliza Titus , who was the first patient, left her small estate to the fledgling hospital they established their first hospital building on McWhorter Street in the Ironbound. Needing more space the hospital moved to High Street in 1869. Saint Barnabas stayed on High Street almost 100 years. On November 29,1964 Saint Barnabas Hospital relocated to Livingston where it remains to this day. When the cornerstone for the High Street Hospital was laid on Saint Barnabus Day, June 11,1869 the Rector of Saint Barnabas Church , Reverend McCurdy and John Suydam a Warden of the church were elected to the Board of Managers of the Saint Barnabas Hospital Association.
Saint Barnabas Church was a thriving congregation for many years. During the Great Depression the church had over five hundred members and two priests. In the 1960’s, a priest , who I had mentioned earlier, Rev. Robert Laughlin was arrested with a group of 15 Episcopalian priests during the Freedom Rides of 1961 in Jackson, Mississippi. Father Pierson and 11 other white priests were placed in one cell and the African American clergymen were placed in another cell. He was later sentenced to four months in jail. Following is a short history of the Freedom Rides:
The Freedom Rides were organized in 1961 by The Congress of Racial Equality (commonly known as CORE) to test the 1960 Supreme Court decision that banned segregation along interstate bus and train routes.
Groups of white and African American Civil rights activist participated in trips through the South to protest segregated bus terminals. Freedom Riders tried to use “White’s Only” restrooms and lunch counters at bus stations in Virginia, South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama and other Southern States. The groups were confronted by arresting police officers – as well as horrific violence from white protestors along their routes, but also drew international attention to their cause.
Father Pierson continued his activism along with his wife Ann , whose father was Nelson A. Rockefeller. The Pierson’s shared an interest in social causes, like racial equality, women’s rights and the welfare of migrant workers. They also subsidized James Baldwin’s Blues for Mister Charlie at the ANTA Theater and an African American dance troupe in Brooklyn.
After the Pierson’s departure , Saint Barnabas continued to be a positive force in the neighborhood. In the 1970’s the basement of the Parish Hall was utilized for a coffee house called ” The Edge” that brought in many of the neighborhood youth. North Porch Women and Infants Center began its existence at Saint Barnabas also in the 1970s. The AIDS Resource Center opened in 1990 and resided there until 2007. The basement of the Parish Hall also housed The Jamar Carter Operation Turnaround boxing gym. The parishioners continued to operate their food pantry even after the church closed.
Until I started to write this post I knew nothing of the importance of this lovely little brownstone church that had its own city block. I did not even know it has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1972 ! As is often the case , while researching Newark, yet another treasure has been revealed. The writer of the post card illustrating this post wrote: ” Just a card from the famous City of Newark” Indeed!