On Tuesday, New York City’s Landmarks Commission designated Old St James Episcopal Church in Queens as its newest landmark building. Old St James is the second oldest church in the city, having been built in 1735-1736.
In a statement Landmarks Preservation Commission Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan said; “The Commission is proud to designate this historic church, significant for its association with the early colonial settlement of Queens and with the beginnings of the Protestant Episcopal Church in New York. As the second-oldest church building in the City, pre-dating St. Paul’s Chapel in Manhattan, it is a site well-deserving of the protection landmark status provides.”
The diocese of Long Island supported the designation despite the possibility of higher costs associated with maintaining a designated building. To defray those future costs, the diocese is proposing to build a structure behind the existing church building and to create gardens open to the public. They’ve hired CWB Architects to design the new building and the gardens. In addition, the architecture firm will also work to restore the church building, which in recent years has been used as a community center. Plans for these additions to the sites adjacent to the church have yet to be unveiled, and won’t be part of the current landmarking application.
The church was a Church of England mission built to serve the village of Newtown. The village, established in 1658 as Middleburgh by the Dutch, is one of the first five towns established in Queens County and one of the oldest European settlements on Long Island. The church was spared by the British during the Revolutionary War, and its parish became one of the earliest members of the New York Episcopal Diocese.
“The Old St. James Church is an American treasure,” said Council Member Daniel Dromm, who wrote a letter in support of landmark status to the Commission. “It is a beautiful work of art and an important part of our history. The Old St. James Church tells the story of how our nation came to be. I am pleased to have joined Elmhurst residents, the church leadership and my colleagues in government to have Old St. James Church landmarked so that future generations can enjoy and learn from this remarkable structure. This is a great day for NYC.”
As originally constructed, the church was a simple rectangular building clad in shingles, with round-arch windows and a tower at the west end facing a graveyard. In 1848 the congregation built a larger church a block away, and it became a parish hall and chapel. In 1883 the parish updated the building’s style with Gothic Revival and Stick Style decorative details and constructed a small rear addition where the original tower once stood. A renovation was completed in 2004 to restore the building to its 1883 appearance.