Source: Pamphlet from Teaneck Collection at Teaneck Public Library
What's in a name? Certainly, the name "The Presbyterian Church of Teaneck" signifies more than a structure--beautiful as it is. As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of The Presbyterian Church of Teaneck, we share the story of building a structure that grew over the years to meet our members' needs. More Importantly, however, we also share the story of building a community of faith that grew over the years, striving to meet the needs of all of God's children. Ours is a story rich in service and praise to God through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
In the Beginning: Our Building
As the oldest church in the Township of Teaneck, The Presbyterian Church of Teaneck's history goes back some forty years before its organization in 1906. Not long after the close of the Civil War, a group of like-minded Teaneck residents, under the leadership of Lebbeus Chapman, organized to form the Washington Avenue Union Sunday School Association for the purpose of providing a place for Christian worship for its constituents. They elected to rent a little one-room wooden schoolhouse of 1841 vintage, located on the southeast corner of Washington Avenue and Railroad Avenue (now Teaneck Road and Forest Avenue). The Sunday School Association held its first service there on May 17, 1866.
As the "union" in its title suggests, the Association was initially nonsectarian. However, its leadership was strongly Presbyterian, which attracted more and more Presbyterian adherents into its fold. In any case, it was not long before the fledgling congregation outgrew its quarters, so it moved in 1869 to a new two-story Victorian wood frame building with an elegant mansard-style roof. This was located diagonally across the street on property which eventually become the site of Teaneck's School No. 2, or the Washington Irving School. At that time, a public day school met on the first floor and the Association provided Sunday School and worship services on the second floor. The Sunday School Association remained there until 1894, holding services in the afternoon or evening.
The Sunday School Association prospered in faith, growth, and financial resources. It also had the good fortune to do business with Teaneck resident William Walter Phelps, a wealthy philanthropist with vast holdings of real estate in the Teaneck-Englewood area. On June 8, 1890, he and his wife, Ellen Sheffield Phelps, sold a plot of ground measuring 100x200 feet to the Sunday School Association for the sum of $1.00. This property was north of the day school and was separated from the school property by a dirt road which later became Church Street.
Shortly thereafter, Captain Frank de Ronde, one of the Association's most enthusiastic and energetic members, organized a series of concerts and other money-making events to accumulate building funds. In addition to the funds raised by these events, Captain de Ronde, Marvin S. Coe (another prominent Association member), and Mr. Phelps each contributed $200. The new church was completed in 1894. A brown shingled structure over a native stone foundation, it was the first building to be completely owned by the Sunday School Association.
All of this occurred before the Township of Teaneck was legally organized in 1895! The Sunday School building that had been vacated in 1894 became office space for the township. The building was subsequently moved two more times to accomodate expanding municipal and school board needs. It ultimately ended up on the corner of Teaneck Road and Bedford Avenue as the clubhouse for the Capt. Stephen T. Schoonmaker Post, Veterans of Foreign Wars. Years later, The Presbyterian Church of Teaneck used this clubhouse to house its large Sunday School classes until completion of the building that we occupy today.
Actual formation of The Presbyterian Church of Teaneck began in 1905 when Mr. and Mrs. Thomas H. Oliver gathered a group of Presbyterians in their home on Forest Avenue. They wanted to explore the possibility of organizing a church since, at that time, there were no churches of any denomination in Teaneck.
On May 24, 1906, the Presbyterian Church of Teaneck was formally organized and accepted into the Presbytery of Jersey City. The Presbytery Committee met in the 1894 building of the Washington Avenue Union Sunday School with the 32 original members to form "The Presbyterian Church of Teaneck" with the Reverend George H. Roberts, Jr. as its first minister. He was formally ordained and installed on November 2, 1906, and served until the end of 1908. During his ministry the congregation grew to 50 members and became self-supporting.
By 1911, the burgeoning congregation had outgrown its building, prompting a fund-raising campaign to construct an addition to its west end. With funds pledged and a mortgage obtained by the still-existent Sunday School Association, the new wing became a reality. However, it was not until 1915-1916 that the membership of the Presbyterian Church of Teaneck obtained title to its property from the Sunday School Association and became incorporated. At the time of incorporation the church had a newly-expanded building but lacked a manse. It also used stated supply, rather than resident, ministers.
Unter the Reverend Thorton P. Penfield and with church member Carl R. Franke (father to long-time member Lita Franke Bower) as builder, the church building once more underwent renovation in 1922. The building now had a full basement that housed a kitchen, heating plant, bathroom facilities, and a Fellowship Hall.
By 1923, under the pastorate of the Reverend Reginald Rowland, the church membership acquired the adjoining lot west of the church building and the adjoining to the north as well. Carl R. Franke erected a manse on the western lot. The northern lot was reserved for future growth. Starting on Easter Sunday in 1923, the church service moved to an 11AM time period. Sunday School classes moved to a morning session as well.
During the next twenty years the church membership once again faced severe space constraints, but a ban during World War II on anything except essential construction postponed all action except the beginning of a building fund subscription in 1944. The church's building and finance committees worked tirelessly during the next ten years to compaign for funds for a new structure.
During those years the Sunday School operated in three separate locations and there was a need for two Sunday morning worship services. With financial assistance from The Church Extension Division of The Board of National Missions and the Jersey City Presbytery, work began August 2, 1948 on plans that the Reverend Willenberg had drawn for a new sanctuary.
The north wall of the existing sanctuary was torn down and a new sanctuary was constructed to the north, running parallel to Teaneck Road. The sanctuary was completed for use by December 12, 1949 and dedicated April 30, 1950 as the first stage of a completely new building once additional funds became available. On the lower floor was a new kitchen, equipped by the church women's World Service Association. A large Fellowship Hall took its place under the new sanctuary.
Since the seating capacity of 288 in the new addition could not accommodate a church membership that exceeded 600, work began immediately to plan the next phase of expansion. The plan also took into consideration that the church not only served children of members but also served children from the surrounding community. Weekly Sunday School classes that often attracted over 300 students reinforced the need for the second state of construction.
Work on stage two finally started in 1955 when the remaining portion of the old building was torn down immediately after the Easter services. With Richard Sadlier as head of the building committee, member Emile Gorham as the architect, and many other members as builders, a graceful New England Georgian Colonial-type church arose, whose architectural style matched other Teaneck township buildings. Only the rose window at the front of the sanctuary and the stained glass windows that are displayed at the back of the sanctuary and narthex remain from the previous structure.
The new building, dedicated on February 26, 1956, in the church's 50th anniversary year, extended the sanctuary by adding a narthex in the area south of the sanctuary in the space that have been occupied by the old building. The columned portico at the entrance was as wide as the old church once was long. A Christian Education wing with a large Fellowship Hall (now named Huse Hall in memory of the late Grosvenor "Pete" Huse) took shape along Teaneck Road. It was connected to the sanctuary wing by a cupola-crowned structure housing a new kitchen, offices, and a parlor.
There have been no major building or expansion efforts since completion of the large building project in 1956. The story continues with the creation of our community of faith through the rich contributions of its people trhough the years.
A Pictorial History Of Our Church Building