South Presbyterian Church
Backstory and Context
Whether to raise money for freedmen in the south during reconstruction, to support gay rights through raising money for AIDS-related causes, or to host their annual Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast, the South Presbyterian Church in Dobbs Ferry has remained relevant to social causes from the moment it was built.
Known as the South Church, the building has been serving as the group’s home since 1869.
Due to a lack of a church within Dobbs Ferry, the first congregation met in the barn on Peter Van Brugh Livingston’s estate. In 1823, the congregation registered itself as the South Presbyterian Church in Greenburgh, to distinguish itself from the North Presbyterian Church in Halls Corners. In 1825, the Presbytery of New York would receive the church, making it official.
In August 1823, six members of the group purchased one acre triangular piece of land next to the free burial ground on the corner of Storm Street and Ashford Road. Paying $35 for it, they erected the first house of worship in Dobbs Ferry.
In 1860, following a few moves, the consensus of its 140 members was that another move was necessary. One member, James Wilde, Jr., found a site on Broadway atop a hill that looked over the rest of the village. He also helped with the purchase of the property.
Wilde also acquired the property next door, intending to turn into a retirement house. Failing to use it for that purpose, it would later serve as the first home of the Masters School before they’d move across town. In 1916, the school would give the building to the church, where it would serve as a parish hall.
Plans for the church were drawn up by Julius Munckowitz, who later became Supervising Architect of the New York City Department of Public Parks.
Modeled after medieval English churches, the South Church has a Gothic Revival style. However, what distinguishes this church from an architecturally is its bell tower. An uncommon feature of this style, this places it more toward the High Victorian Gothic style than the early Gothic Revival, which became more common following the Civil War.
Following a sizable effort from the community of Dobbs Ferry, and in the presence of a sizable crowd including Rev. Thornton M. Niven, the cornerstone for the new building was laid on June 8, 1868.
On the last Sunday of 1869, they moved into the new building, which has remained in use to this day.
Nowadays, much of the church’s space is rented to an art school for children. The first floor of the Wilde House is home to the Days of Wonder Child Care Program.
On May 26, 2000, the South Presbyterian Church was added to the National Register of Historic Sites.
Jennett, Jacque. History, http://www.southpres.org/. Accessed March 11th 2020. http://www.southpres.org/about/.
Williams, Gray. Picturing Our Past. Elmsford, New York. Westchester County Historical Society, 2003.
Westchester County Historical Society. Photo by Gray Williams.
Westchester County Historical Society.