Saturday, January 24, 2009

First Baptist Church of Hightstown, NJ

This church, where I served as choir director/organist/bell choir director for four years, was founded in 1745. It was the seventh Baptist church in New Jersey, and the fortieth in the nation (which wasn't even a nation yet). It was founded in Cranbury, where it met in members' homes. The church moved to Hightstown (just about four miles down the road) in 1784, upon agreement with the Presbyterians that Hightstown would be Baptist and Cranbury would be Presbyterian. They first met in a member's barn, and eventually built a meetinghouse downtown. This artist's rendering shows a steeple on the meetinghouse, but I don't think that actually ever happened, as one is not visible in this 1895 photograph (the brick church is the vine-covered building directly behind them).

Growing too large, the church built in 1856-1857 the present sanctuary, which seated about 600. The place where the organ is (a 1914 Austin) was added on, I believe, in 1881 when a Roosevelt organ was given by Wilson G. Hunt. The addition is the perfect time for the inclusion of the proscenium arch, which was common in the period and focuses attention to the pulpit area. Although today the walls are a plain yellow, this photo from the 1910s shows the extensive decorative work that was there, as well as the large chandelier that is no longer present.

The original steeple was very tall, as seen here and here. It is a classic Wren-Gibbs style church. The steeple was struck by lightning during a Peddie school program, and so in 1920 (I believe it was) a second steeple was built. This one has a slightly more Federalist look than before, and almost overpowers the building. That steeple was condemned in the 1950s because of weakness caused by the swinging of the bell, and the current one was built.

The church has recently completed a renovation of the sanctuary, so I will leave you with some pictures of the new space. The pulpit was extended into the room, and it was brightened up a bit with new paint and lights.

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