Old Broad Street Presbyterian Church & Cemetery
54 West Avenue
South Bridgeton, NJ 08302
My review on TripAdvisor:
When I was traveling to Salem and Cumberland Counties to visit historical sites, this was the last one on my list the first day of exploring. The Old Broad Street Presbyterian Church sits in the middle of a declining downtown in Bridgeton, NJ like a ghost of its former self. This graceful and elegant church is not used much anymore and sits like a majestic building overlooking a city that has passed it by.
The church was built in 1792 for the growing Presbyterian congregation who was living in Bridgetown as it was called at the time. The brick walls and roof were completed but it would take another three years for the interior to be finished (Cumberland History.org).
The cemetery is extremely interesting as you visit the historic tombstones and the family plots and try to figure out the connections. The biggest problem with the cemetery is that is has gotten very overgrown in parts of it. It needs a good mowing and the gravestones need to be cleaned as they are wearing away with the elements. It was hard to follow the historical listing but many famous residents and leaders of the community are buried here as well as members of the armed forces from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars and earlier.
In some cases, when the families were buried together, it almost told the story of what happened within the family. I saw grave sites where the son or daughter either died in child birth or a disease or in battle and then the devastated parents followed a few years later which was a sad narrative. I saw this many times in the family plots. How many children died of diseases that today are solved by a pill.
Some of the notable people buried in the cemetery are Ebenezer Elmer, who represented New Jersey in the United States House of Representatives from 1801-1807 and Jonathan Elmer, who represented New Jersey in the United States Senate from 1789-1791. Lucius Elmer, who represented New Jersey’s First congressional district from 1843-1845. Eilas Seeley, who was the Eleventh Governor of New Jersey serving in 1833. William G. Whiteley, who represented Delaware in the United States House of Representative from 1857 to 1861. Joseph Archibald Clark and Clement Waters Shoemaker, who were two of the founders of Cumberland Glass Manufacturing Company (Wiki).
The Broad Street Church Cemetery
The history of the Broad Street Presbyterian Church and its cemetery:
(From Cumberland NJ Art.org)
For much of the 18th century in Bridgetown, which will eventually change its name to Bridgeton, there existed no church for Presbyterians, who were a large and growing segment of the local population. For church services, they were forced to conduct services in the Courthouse or travel to churches in Greenwich, Fairfield or Deerfield several miles away.
In 1792, about two acres of land were donated along King’s Highway, which was the main road from Bridgeton to Greenwich and ran along the south end of the church constuction site. In 1800, this main route was relocated to the north and is today Broad Street (Route 49).
The basic design of the Broad Street Presbyterian Church was set by it congregation and organizers who requested a masonry building with dimensions of at least forty by fifty feet. By December 1792, the brick walls and roof has been completed but it would take another three years for the interior to be finished.
The design of the Broad Street Presbyterian Church is that of a meeting house, almost square in proportion. In the 17th and early 18th centuries, many American houses of worship were built in the meeting house form. This design was in contrast to the more formal churches of the period, which were more rectangular than square with an alter and/or communion table and pulpit approached by a long nave and often divided from the congregation by a railing. Broad Street Presbyterian Church has a tall pulpit, accessed by a winding stair and surrounded on three sides by pews so as many congregations as possible could attend and sit as close as possible to the preacher.
Above the pulpit is one of the most significant architectural features of the church, the Palladian window with its central window and semicircular arch flanked on each side by smaller windows and all unified by an entablature supported by columns. The name “Palladian” comes from the Venetian architect who originated the design, Andrea Palladio, who worked in 16th century.
Architects in the 17th and 18th centuries would travel from other parts of Europe to Italy to study architecture and they brought the Palladian style back to England and the American Colonies. Thomas Jefferson acquired an intense appreciation of Palladian architecture and used it extensively in his desing for Monticello.
By 1835, the congregation had erected a new church but because the Broad Street church was surrounded by the cemetery, the congregation did not abandon or sell it but rather maintained it exactly as they left it, which is why today it is identified as one of the most pristine and unaltered examples of 18th century church architecture in the United States.
Today the Broad Street Presbyterian Church is used for special services and opened to the pubic by appointment. It is carefully maintained by the Presbyterian congregation of First Presbyterian Church located on Commerce Street in Bridgeton, NJ.