Built in 1870, St. John’s Episcopal Church is perhaps the city’s best example of Gothic Revival Architecture. Designed by John Remsen Overdonk II, the church’s design reflects the philosophy of “ecclesiology,” which played an important role in mid-nineteenth-century church design.
St. John’s was originally built as a church for a rural parish in the City of Bergen. As the community developed and grew, the Church became the largest Episcopal Congregation in the state of New Jersey. St. John’s became known as the “Millionaire’s Church,” as it catered to Hudson County’s wealthiest professionals.
Decades later, as the demographics of the Bergen Hill neighborhood in Jersey City started to change, the church began to minister to a largely minority working-class population. During this era, St. John’s was known for the political activism of its then-pastor Reverend Robert Castle.
Today, St. John’s still stands, but precariously. Vacated by the diocese in 1994, it has now been abandoned and left to the elements. Preservation New Jersey recognized the delicate situation of St. John’s, naming it to its 10 Most Endangered List in 2004. In 2006, the Episcopal Diocese of Newark allowed a salvage crew to brutally strip the church’s interior of its valuable artifacts and fixtures. To date, the Diocese has failed to take basic precautions against further damage or water infiltration.
The Conservancy has taken an active role in the fight to save St. John’s. In the face of continued neglect of the Church, the Conservancy and the Bergen Hill Neighborhood Association submitted a nomination of the Church and adjoining rectory house for Municipal Landmark status. Since the submission of the nomination, the Episcopal Diocese of Newark has expressed some interest in dialogue with the Conservancy. The Conservancy is willing to meet with the Diocese in a good faith effort to find a way to preserve the Church, though it is still prepared to take aggressive action if such efforts fail.