History of 232 West 11 Street
The congregation which built the church located at 232 West 11th Street has a long history in Greenwich Village. The society was organized in 1827 by twelve members, who first met in a school- house on Amos (now West Tenth) Street. In 1828 they erected a church for $ 3,700 at 120 Christopher Street on the corner of Bedford Street. Known as the North Baptist Church, this congregation was one of the first fifteen Baptist churches in New York City in existence by 1835 (the earliest was that of the First Baptist Church of 1762). The pastor of the North Baptist Church the Rev. Jacob H. Brouner, raised much of the construction funds himself, as well as assisting with the actual erection of the building. He served the congregation from 1828 until 1848, when he was stricken in the pulpit on a Sunday morning, dying two days later without regaining consciousness.
Several pastors followed in the footsteps of the Rev. Brouner (a total of six over twenty years), but none were as loved and respected as Rev. John J. Brouner, the son of the earlier pastor, who was called in 1869 from his first pastorate of four years on Staten Island to head the North Baptist Church. Under the Rev. John Brouner, the congregation considered a move from Christopher Street, finally purchasing the land on West Eleventh Street in 1880.
The cornerstone of the new building was laid on Sept. 29, 1881. The New York Times reported that “the services were well attended and several clergymen of this and other cities delivered short addresses.” The Rev. Brouner made remarks and read a chapter from the scriptures and the Sunday School Choir sand a hymn. The contents of the cornerstone included the Articles of Faith and Covenant of the Church, a church history, a “semi- centennial sermon”, lists of church officers, an album with the autographs of the congregation, copies of New York daily papers and Baptist weeklies, coins of the day and portraits of President and Mrs. Garfield. The Times account spoke approvingly of the plans for the first floor Sunday School rooms and the adjacent “Lecture-room”. The account continued: “The main body of the church will be on the second floor, and will be reached by two flights of stairs, one on either side. It will have a gallery reaching half-way round the front part of the building. The structure when completed, will seat 600, and will, exclusive of the ground, cost about $ 44,000.”
The brick building with brownstone trim was designed in the then-fashionable Queen Anne style by architect Lawrence B. Valk. Although information about Valk is limited, city records indicate that he was in practice in New York City from 1859 until 1900; he was eventually joined by his son, Arthur, and the firm was then known as Lawrence B. Valk & Son. In 1869 Valk published a book, Architecture for the Country: Valk’s Cottages and Villas. A number of Valk’s other designs were published in several volumes of The American Builder during 1874; these included country houses in Barrytown, Rhinebeck, Nyack and Auburn, NY; two seaside cottages in New Jersey; a Congregational Church in Germantown, PA; an Episcopal Church near Baltimore; the Park Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia; and a Presbyterian Church, location unspecified. Around the turn of the century it seems likely that Volk moved to the West Coast as the firm published two broadsides c. 1900: Southern California Cottages and Southern California Dwellings with Patios, The Ideal Home.
Construction moved rapidly on West Eleventh Street and the new Baptist Church was consecrated on June 25, 1882 during morning, afternoon and evening services. The final cost, which apparently included the land, was given as $ 77,239.50. In reporting the services, The New York Times, noted that all the building expenses had been paid “with the exception of $ 30,000.”
The church’s “greatest benefactor” in 1882 (as its 1947 year- book states) was millionaire philanthropist John D. Rockefeller. Rockefeller was a lifelong self-disciplined Baptist who by the 1880’s “had given millions” to Baptist causes (Peter Collier and David Horowitz, The Rockefellers – An American Dynasty). As The National Encyclopedia of American Biography has stated: “The Baptist church for years had the first claim on his generosity and he never grew weary of its service.” According to James Lynch, a church historian at the American Baptist Historical Society in Rochester, NY, records show that Rockefeller, a personal friend of the Rev. Brouner, contributed the final $ 5,000 needed to pay off the construction debt. “The Prince of Philanthropy” - - as the Church yearbook gratefully called him – also gave the “beautiful grand organ” and most of the funds for the stained glass memorial windows.
The last decades of the 19th century saw a great period of growth for the Baptist faith. An 1888 Guidebook, How to Know New York, noted that there were close to fifty different Baptist churches in the metropolis, “including those for the French, Swedes, Germans, Africans and other nationalities.” Before the 'turn-of- the-century', the congregation of the MacDougal Street Baptist Church (which has been organized in 1813 as the North Beriah Baptist Church) merged with the West Eleventh Street congregation.
Despite such mergers, the 20th century brought unfortunate changes for many city churches, including dwindling resources and memberships. In 1945, the last year it reported such figures, the North Baptist Church had only 112 members. In March 1947 the congregation sold their Eleventh Street building for $ 80,000 to the Seventh -day Adventist Church to serve as its new Manhattan home.
The congregation of the North Baptist Church, under the direction of their pastor, Rev. Francis K. Shephard, moved to nearby 213-215 West Eleventh Street. The first floor of this building was converted for use as an auditorium in 1948 and the congregation worshipped there until 1961. According to Mr. Lynch at the American Baptist Historical Society in Rochester, NY, the congregation was no longer listed in church directories after 1961, and it cannot be ascertained if they withdrew from the American Baptist Convention to begin life as an independent church or whether they simply disbanded.
232 West Eleventh Street Today
Today 232 West Eleventh Street still retains many of its significant original exterior and interior features such as “band courses of decorative tile work, diamond-lighted window sash and decorative pointed gablets above arched doorways . . . The entrance doors, which flank the large arched central window, are of interest as they are segmental-arched but set in higher semi-circular arches, with the tympanum filled in by decorative tiles. Above this are semi- circular lunettes set below the all-enframing gablets.”
The church sanctuary is particularly notable for its unusual piano nobile plan with the worship space on the second floor. It is important to remember that Judson Memorial Church – also designed with a piano nobile plan – was built approximately ten years after the North Baptist Church. In addition, the sanctuary itself is unusual; King’s Handbook of New York in 1893 described it succinctly as a “large pleasant auditorium,” as opposed to the usual church plan. Notable interior features today include the original pews, and other woodwork, the large organ dominating the south wall, the vaulted ceiling supported by four large columns and the balcony supported by slender cast-iron colonettes. Concealed inside the floor of the “stage” is a 1,000 gallon baptism tank, which is still used by the Seventh-day Adventist congregation. The door to the right of the organ is a false door, designed solely to balance the flanking door to the left.
The stained glass windows are though by current church members to be by Tiffany Studios; although documentation has not yet established their designers, these exquisite windows are in the style of that studio, as well as of the style of John LaFarge and Maitland Armstrong, other prominent designers of the day in that medium. Although only two of the pictorial windows (most portraying scenes from the life of Christ) bear inscriptions, records at the American Baptist Historical Society explain that all the windows were memorial ones. Both for members of the congregation and for influential figures in the history of the North Baptist Church.
A final point of interest: in the downstairs hall, sections of wooden doors mounted in the walls appear to be fragments of the original doors that once opened into West Eleventh Street, preserved in this novel manner by admiring former church members.
Researched and written by
Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation
Bibliography (major sources)
The New York Times, September 30, 1881, page 8
The New York Times, June 26, 1886, page 2
Reminiscences of Baptist Churches and Baptist Leaders in NYC from 1835 – 1898
By George H. Hansell (1899)
King’s Handbook of New York City, 1893
Greenwich Village Historic District Designation report (1969)
Seventh-day Adventists accept the Bible as their only creed and hold certain fundamental beliefs to be the teaching of the Holy Scriptures.
To serve Christ and encourage others to know Him and receive His gift of salvation.