New York City churches have played a critical role in American history. With some of the oldest dating back to the 1700s, they have been host to George Washington, runaway slaves, Boss Tweed, and 9/11 workers. New York City churches have also adapted to the changing neighborhoods and communities around them, serving as hospitals, meetinghouses, comfort stations, museums, and even synagogues. However, the buildings themselves remain largely unchanged from when they were built, complete with secret rooms and passageways that are all but forgotten today. Below, discover the ten oldest churches still standing in New York City, starting with the most recent.
10. St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church (1829)
St. Augustine Episcopal Church on 290 Henry Street, built 1828-29.
St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church was built on Henry Street in 1829 using stone that was quarried at Mount Pitt. Even though the church was not finished until 1829, it was consecrated by the third bishop of New York in 1828. The wooden belfry that used to be on top of the church’s tower was removed in the early 1960s, but the bell that it housed used to serve as the local fire alarm.
One notable feature of the church is the hidden slave galleries. There were two of these cramped, dark rooms, one on either side of the organ on the balcony at the back of the church. Slavery in New York State became illegal in 1827––the end of a gradual emancipation process started in 1799––but New York continued to recognize the slave status of those who came with their masters from other states. When Eliza Magear Tweed died in 1876, Boss Tweed, who was a fugitive at the time, hid in one of these slave galleries so he could see his mother’s funeral, which was held at St. Augustine’s. Later, these rooms were used as a place to hold Sunday school for children. While most churches have covered up or gotten rid of their slave galleries, St. Augustine’s calls attention to theirs with art exhibits and tours that honor the memory of those who once sat in them.