Church board rejects PNJ’s preservation offer for 1st Presbyterian of Ewing; demolition to proceed
The Session of the First Presbyterian Church of Ewing, in a split vote, late tonight rejected Preservation New Jersey’s offer made early this week to acquire the historic church, preserve and restore it, thereby relieving the church congregation of responsibility for maintenance or rehabilitation and the cost of demolition.
Stating only that the Session recognized that, if transferred to Preservation New Jersey, the congregation would no longer be able to worship in the 1867 sanctuary, the decision made no other statements regarding the preservation proposal. Contracts have been signed with a project management firm and a demolition contractor, and Rev. Elizabeth Vandegrift stated after the decision was announced that pews and other furnishings would soon begin to be removed from the edifice in anticipation of its complete destruction. There are no plans to replace the building; the congregation continues to worship in the church hall across Scotch Road.
PNJ’s board president, John D.S. Hatch, had early this week sent a letter to the Session stating “a stated portion of our mission, as reflected in PNJ’s 501c3 nonprofit charter, is to own or hold historic properties in order to preserve and protect them. We believe, because of the broad level of public support in Ewing, in New Jersey and, indeed, across the country for the preservation of this landmark building, that our stewardship of the 1867 Sanctuary Building perfectly reflects that mission. The financial obligations PNJ will assume can be met, we believe, in trust for those many, many people who have come forward and asked to help preserve the sanctuary.”
The 142-year-old landmark church, anchoring the Ewing Church Cemetery, commands a highly visible site that has captured the fond attention of generations of Ewing and Mercer County residents and visitors. It’s stained glass windows, depicting the Apostles and figures from the Reformation, are particularly noteworthy features of a remarkably significant architectural and historic landmark. The church is named in PNJ’s 10 Most Endangered Historic Sites in New Jersey list for 2009.
PNJ’s online petition, developed in concert with a hand-circulated petition sponsored by Ewing historical groups, garnered hundreds of responses and offers for financial donations from all across the nation during the past two weeks, many with memories of families whose members for generations had been christened, married and buried at the sanctuary. Meanwhile, offers for assistance to Preservation New Jersey as we proposed to preserve the church were made by Ewing Township offcials, county, state and national organizations. Unprotected by any local, state or national designations or historic preservation regulations, the church is dirtectly subject to the decisions of the Session, the church’s governing body.
Donors to the recent fundraising drive, sponsored by members and friends of the congregation, that raised more than $240,000 toward preservation of the Ewing Church, will receive their contributions back, according to disappointed advocates for preservation.
August 21, 2009: See Commentary