The Reformed Dutch Churches of Paterson


By William H. Rauchfuss
Chaplain – Captain Abraham Godwin Chapter Sons of the American Revolution
Passaic County Historical Publication – September 1, 1930

One Hundred Years Ago

Where are the graves where dead men slept
A hundred years ago?
Who, when they were living, wept
A hundred years ago?
By other men
Who knew not them

Their lands are tilled,
Their graves are filled;
Yet Nature then was just as gay,
And bright the sun shone as today, –
A hundred years ago

Our Reformed Churches
The first settlers in what is now Passaic County were, more or less, Dutch people, and the first religious organizations in the country were of the Reformed Dutch denomination.  For more than half a century the people attended the Acquackanonk church, but in the course of time, as the population of the several neighborhoods increased, there was a demand for additional accommodations.  The residents in and about Paterson took measures to secure preaching in this vicinity, and it is probable that for some years the Dominie who settled at Acquackanonk, was accustomed to hold service and to catechize and baptize at the houses of those who were able to accommodate the people.

In 1735 the church members in the neighborhood mentioned appeared to have secured leave to erect a church edifice on land belonging to Henry Brockhost of Pompton, the lots being situated on what is now Water Street near Matlock Street; that is, about one hundred feet near this.

It was a quaint stone building, the roof rising steeply from all four sides to a point in the center, whereon was perched a square cupola, this being in turn surmounted by a gilded weathercock.

Both churches were under the one pastorate, but in 1756 the Rev. Dominie Marinus came.  He preached half the time at Acquackanonk for which Acquackanonk was to pay him $48 and each of the other places $29, besides a house, barn, well, garden, and six acres of land near the Acquackanonk Church, probably the parsonage of the first Church at Acquackanonk.  Previous to this time Marinus had lived on what is now Totowa Avenue near Jasper Street.

Building of the Church
The members of the first consistory of the Totowa church were as follows:  Simeon Van Winkle, Jacob Van Houten, Johannis Ryerson, and Jacobus Post, elders; Dierck Van Gieson, Helmich Van Houten, Johannis Van Houten, and Frans Post, deacons.

Although the church was erected in 1755, it was not until 1762 that the trustees got a deed for the property from Henry Brockholst, the only consideration being “the good will I owe and the regard I have for the progress of the Christian religious, and especially the Manner of worship of the low Dutch Reformed Church of Holland,” and in consideration of four seats in pew number 1; by the way, has always been reserved for the accommodation of Mr. Brockholst and his legal representatives in the three different edifices in which the congregation has worshipped in the last one hundred and fifty years but not within the memory of man has it been occupied by any of its rightful owners.

The trustees of the church to whom the deed was made out, were:  Cornelius Kip, Robert Van Houten, Cornelius Westervelt, Johannis Van Blarcom and Cornelius Gerritse.

The lot was an acre in extent:  about 1795 a plot on the southwest side of Water Street was added for a burying-ground, wherein at one time laid the ashes of many of Paterson’s best citizens.

This old church was burned through an accident March 27th, 1827.  However, I would have more to say about the old “Town Clock Church” an offspring of the First Dutch Church of Totowa.

The Old Town Clock Church
Five days after the fire the consistory called a meeting of the congregation to get their views “relative to the building of a new church, when and where.”  The congregation has met, resolved to proceed at once with the erection of a new structure, to be fifty by sixty feet, with a steeple at one end, the front wall and steeple to be of brick, the rest of stone.

There was a strenuous opposition to the removal of the church from its ancient site, but on June 23, the male members of the congregation voted, twenty to eighteen, to build at the corner of Ellison and Hamilton Streets.  Whereupon the dissatisfied members decided to withdraw and organize a new church.  This embarrassed the others for a while, but on November 12th, 1827, the old congregation voted to build on Main Street near Ellison, and in February 1828, gave out a contract to Peter A. Merselis for the carpenter work for $2,400, and decided to have the masonry done by day’s work.

On March 15th, 1829, the new church was opened and dedicated by Rev. Mr. Eltinge, who preached from Psalm 84:1: “How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of Hosts!”  The next day pews were sold to the amount of $8,000.  The site of the old church on Water Street was disposed of, but the old burying-ground was not, and unfortunately, it was sadly neglected so that for many years it was an eyesore.  Dominie Eltinge remained with the Totowa Church until December 10th, 1822, when he withdrew, and thereafter devoted his time to the Paramus Church until his death in 1862, having been a pastor for Paramus for fifty-one years.

He was succeeded in the Church at Paterson by the Rev. John C. Vandervoort, who remained from 1834 to 1837, when he was called to Kinderhook, N.Y.  He was greatly esteemed, and gratifyingly successful while in Paterson.

The Rev. Ebenezer Wiggins, who had just been graduated from the New Brunswick Theological Seminary, was called to Paterson in 1837 and remained here for nineteen years.  He was of the straightest sect of orthodox preachers, and therein was highly acceptable to the old people

His successor was Rev. Philip Pelts, who came here in 1857, and labored with excellent success for three years when he was chosen the corresponding secretary of the Foreign Mission of the denomination.

In the summer of 1860 the Rev. Alexander McKelvey was called, who remained until 1865, and soon after went to Coxachie, N.Y.

The next pastor was the Rev. John Steele, who was called in the fall of the same year, and who for twelve years filled the pulpit to the entire satisfaction of the congregation.  It was during his ministry that fire for the second time visited the society, and on the night of December 14th, 1871, once more destroyed their place of worship.

The Division Street Church
Again there was dissension among the members as to the expediency of changing the location, but at last the party of removal carried the day, and the present fine edifice was erected on Division Street (Hamilton Avenue), north side, between Straight and Auburn Streets, at a cost of about $70,000, most of which was defrayed by the receipts of the sale of the old site on Main Street and the insurance on the burned building.

There was a commodious lecture-room and Sunday School building on the corner of Main and Ellison Streets, which was raised by the new owner and converted into a fine house.

Dr. Steele having accepted a call to Cohoes, N.U., with the utmost reluctance the congregation agreed on June 25th, 1877, to the dissolution of the pastoral relations.  The pulpit was vacant until 1879 when the Rev. A. a. Raymond, a young man of marked eloquence, was called, who filed it acceptable until the spring of 1881, when he accepted a call to Plainfield, N.J.

The Rev. J. Le Moyne Danner was installed as pastor November lst, 1881.  About one hundred fifty members were enrolled at that time.  The Rev. Thomas Powel Vernol came next, and he did excellent work there for a long time.  He was succeeded by the Rev. Simon Blocker.

The Second Dutch Reformed Church
When the congregation of the old Totowa Church voted to build on the south side of the Passaic River, those who preferred the former location decided to organize a new church, and Messrs. G. Van Houten, John J. Blauvelt, Martinus I. Hogencamp, Adrian R. Van Houten, Cornelius S. Van Wagoner, David Benson, and Cornelius G. Hopper, notified the Consistory that they would apply to the next meeting of the Classis of Paramus for that purpose.  This was done, and October 14th, 1827, the Classis agreed to organize the Second Reformed Dutch Church of Totowa.

The new society at once set about the erection of a suitable place of worship at the northwest corner of Water and Temple Streets, which was opened Sunday, June 8th, 1821, the Rev. Jacob T. Field having been called from Pompton to the pastorate in the preceding April.  There were forty-eight members in the congregation, and they worshiped meantime in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.  The ministers who succeeded Mr. Field were the Rev. Isaac Cole in 1822; the Rev. John Liddell 1824; the Rev. John H. Duryea, who came to the pulpit of this church in February 1839.

The Rev. John H. Duryea served his people for a lifetime and was for years the patriarch among the Paterson clergy, none being more generally esteemed and loved than he.  During his pastorate, the church grew and succeeded in every way.

Those who followed were the Revs. Miliken, Theodore Welles, W. H. Mains, William Lonsdale and the present pastor, H. Sluyter.

The Broadway Reformed Church
In November 1854, fifty-five members of the First Reformed Church were, at their request, organized into a separate society by the Classis of Paramus, and having decided to build on Broadway, the new congregation was called the Broadway Reformed Church.  They worshiped for some time in Odd Fellows’ Hall.  The first pastor was Rev. William W. Holloway, under whose ministry they grew apace, and in July 1867, they erected their present neat chapel near the corner of Broadway and Paterson Street at a cost of about $8,000.

The expectation was that a fine church edifice would be built in a few years immediately adjoining the chapel on the west, but unforeseen circumstances prevented that for some years.

Mr. Holloway was succeeded in 1872 by the Rev. William H. Clark, who soon became one of the best known and generally liked pastors in this city.  His departure in the summer of 1881 for a field that promised greater results in the future was deeply regretted in Paterson.

The Rev. Nathaniel Hicks Van Arsdale was installed as his successor on November 5, 1881.  The church was successful under him.  Its growth was at one time hampered by the location in the immediate neighborhood of the First Church.  His successors were the Rev. E. W. Thompson, George H. Payson, James Martin and Simon Blocker.

In 1883 the present fine church building was erected which has served until very recently when the members affiliated with the other branch of the family.  And the two are called the Central Reformed Church

Church of the Covenant
In 1915, a number of the “Dutch Reformed” people met and considered it a becoming thing to establish a church of their denomination on the East Side “For” said they, “there are so many living here from the different Reformed churches of the city that if we have a nice church there is no doubt they will all come together.”  So it came to pass that the Church of the Covenant was organized in May 1915.

It was the late Peter Quackenbush who had the idea deep down in his heart and he was the chief among them interested, giving his time, money and prayers.  And he had the honor of naming the church, it was said.

The Rev. Dr. William H. Vroom had charge of the preaching; later a student supply.  Mr. Putnam officiated; after him, the Rev. J. Collins Caton was called and he preached there until the World War when he left for “over there.”  Rev. F. J. Shields was the assistant pastor there for a while, then came the Rev. Ferdinand Wilson, who is still there.  The church is in a thriving condition, spiritually, financially and socially.  They recently dedicated a bronze war tablet to their boys of the church who went to war; a new organ was installed last year, and $18,000 was raised.

The Riverside Reformed Church
The Riverside Reformed Church was organized in 1887, to take care of the residents thereabouts who would join together in a church of their own.  The first pastor was the Rev. A. A. King, who preached from 1887 to 1891; then came the Rev. John B. Church, in 1892, and preached until 1921.  He was followed by the Rev. A. C. Dykema, then the present pastor, the Rev. Philip Jonken.

Other Reformed Churches
We would also mention the other churches functioning faithfully.  There is the Sixth Holland, whose pastor has recently been called to another parish.

The Union Reformed, whose pastor died recently.

People Park; pastor, the Rev. Titis Hager.

The First Reformed on North First Street; pastor, Rev. A. W. De Jone.

The North Paterson Reformed, whose pastor is the Rev. Elias Van Arsdale.