For many, the 1867 Sanctuary is a familiar and beloved community landmark, standing tall at “the bend of Scotch Road” in the heart of Ewing Township, New Jersey. For some, it is the place where many of life’s milestones have been marked.
For others, it has been an active, living house of worship surrounded by sacred ground marking those who have gone before. For still others, it is a historic architectural and cultural gem that is the cornerstone of an equally historic three century old cemetery located within the crossroads of the American Revolution and which includes the graves of 39 Revolutionary War veterans and other historically significant people from the region.
The current stone building is the fourth building built for worship by the First Presbyterian Church of Ewing, the congregation which has continually occupied this site since 1709. The tradition is that a log cabin was built on the site in 1712. It was replaced with a second, wood-frame building in 1726, then with a brick building completed in 1797 and remodeled in 1839.
The present stone building was constructed in 1867 to accommodate a growing congregation in the then rural township. Although some minor modifications have been made to the building in the past 150 years, it has remained largely unchanged.
Built of large, uncoursed local brownstone, this handsome and generally well preserved building is one of New Jersey’s few Romanesque Revival church sanctuaries. Its original steeple, significantly taller than the current one, was visible for miles around in the rural landscape. This steeple was blown over in a “violent wind storm” in 1890.
Although at first glance the building appears to be a gothic structure with its tall stained-glass windows, tower, and pinnacled buttresses, the round-arched windows and arcaded corbels represent an earlier medieval style – the Romanesque. Its “Romanesque Revival” style, designed by Philadelphia architect James C. Sidney, was a popular alternative to the Gothic Revival style in the 1850s and 1860s.
The side elevations consist of six bays with flat buttresses between tall round-arched stained-glass windows. The original, pastel-colored glass windows can still be seen on the front facade of the building, located on either side of the entrance, and above the door.
Twelve stained glass windows in the nave and narthex (lobby) were replaced for the building’s centennial in 1967 with stained and painted glass windows from the Willet Co. in Philadelphia. These windows depict the history of the Christian church from the calling of the disciples to the founding of the Ewing Presbyterian Church congregation in 1709.
The original interior of the Sanctuary boasted stenciled walls, pastel stained glass windows, kerosene lamps, a single, central pulpit on a raised chancel, with a central arch defining the apse. The Sanctuary was dedicated on November 20, 1867, with Reverend John Hall of the Trenton Presbyterian Church preaching. The cost of the new, state-of-the-art building? $21,609.70.
Relatively few modifications have been made to the building since 1867. Those that have been made include: