South Bushwick Reformed Church
The South Bushwick Reformed Church building, on the corner of Bushwick Ave. and Himrod St., is nicknamed the "White Church." The wood-frame, two-story structure with a towering steeple was finished in 1853. The Classical Revival designs were drawn up by men with the surname Morgan in 1852, but their identity remains a mystery. The Sunday school building on Himrod St. was finished in 1881 and then connected to the rear of the church a couple years later. The church became a New York City landmark in 1968. The church complex was listed in the New York State and National Registers of Historic Places in 1982. The active congregation of "South Bushwick Church" has been meeting virtually since 2021 while the building slowly undergoes a multi-million-dollar renovation after a storm damaged the roof and steeple.
South Bushwick Reformed Church in 2009 photo taken from Bushwick Avenue (Jim.henderson)
South Bushwick Reformed Church Sunday School Building in 1981 photo, looking west across Himrod St. (Forster)
Reformed Church Ladies Guild President (left) and pastor's wife (right) in 1930 newspaper photos
Reformed Church and attached Sunday School on 1888 map; Parsonage (Dwelling) at #15 (Sanborn 1888 V. 9 p. 256)
Church, looking across intersection, facing north in 1981 (Carl Forster for NRHP)
Backstory and Context
A group of 20 local farmers and their families, who were mainly part of the congregation of the old Reformed Church of Bushwick, petitioned the North Classis of Long Island to form a new church in their area. In November 1851, the Reformed Dutch Church of South Bushwick was organized. Six lots were donated by brothers and parishioners Abraham and Andrew Stockholm to build a church; in the meantime, services were held in a local Methodist church. This church building was constructed beginning in September 1852; it was dedicated on Sunday, February 27, 1853. The building is a mixture of Classical Revival styles and features a double temple front. two giant fluted Ionic columns flanking the doorway, with the central, square tower topped by an octagonal lantern and spire. The building was 70 feet long on the sides and 55 feet wide on the front and rear. The interior fit about 500 worshipers. The first pastor of the church was the Reverend John S. Himrod, beginning in January 1854; the street along the side of the church was later named for him.
The Sunday School building facing Himrod St. was built as a free-standing structure in 1880 to 1881, designed by J.J. Buck. During expansion in the mid-1880s, the building was connected to the rear of the church. The building was a combination chapel and Sunday school.
The Rev. George D. Hulst later became the pastor and remained in the post for 33 years. He was followed by the Rev. Edward Niles from 1900 to 1910. The church saw an increase of 140 members between 1904 and 1905. A reception was held to welcome them in December 1905, where speeches were made by the pastor Niles and Sunday school superintendent F. Booth. The three hundred church members who also were in attendance were entertained by several recitations by Miss Myrtle Phillips, playing of the "latest and best" phonograph music, and live violin and mandolin solos. The Rev. Harry Nelson Pfeiffer became the new pastor in December 1910; he was a local and a graduate of Boys' High School, NYU, Dartmouth College, and the Oberlin Theological Seminary.
The Ladies Guild of the church split themselves into two teams - the Kings Division and the Queens Division - in 1929 for a friendly fund-raising competition for the church. The groups planned to hold bunco parties, bazaars, and luncheons. Time was almost up when the Kings and Queens met for a luncheon at the Eagle Home Guild in March 1930. Neither side knew how much money the other team had raised. The deadline was April 1st 1930; the losers had to throw a luncheon for the winners. Noone spilled the beans at the March luncheon, including the Ladies Guild president Mrs. Bertha Guscott and the pastor's wife, Mrs. A. J. Meyer (see their photos below). A magnificent pipe organ in the church dates to 1893 and was created by William B. Williams of New York City. The organ in the chapel (Sunday School) was built in 1887 by Hook & Hastings for a church in Brighton, Massachusetts. The South Bushwick congregation purchased the organ in 1930 for $1,600, probably thanks to the Kings and Queens fundraising.
The church parsonage on Himrod St. next to the Sunday school building is not part of the historic complex; the wood frame house has been covered with modern vinyl siding. A garage is in a rear corner of the rectory lot. The main church building was damaged by a storm several years ago. Volunteers have been working on renovating the building while funds are being raised. While closed for repair, the pastor and Brooklyn native, Rev. James E. Steward II, provides virtual sermons and Bible study sessions.
Anonymous. "This Week's Happenings...The South Bushwick Reformed Church 'The White Church'." Standard Union (Brooklyn) December 24th 1905. 10-10.
Anonymous. "The 'White Church' Will Install Its New Pastor." Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn) December 15th 1910. Picture sec, 21-21.
Anonymous. "Churchwomen Enthusiastic Over Guild Luncheons...'White Church' Divisions Show Friendly Rivalry...." Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn) March 21st 1930. 14-14.
Lewis, M. E. Restorations Underway at Historic Bushwick Church, Bushwick Daily. August 5th 2021. Accessed March 18th 2022. https://bushwickdaily.com/news/restorations-underway-at-historic-bushwick-church-but-7-5-million-needed-for-project-completion/.
NYC Chapter of American Guild of Organists. Reformed Church of South Bushwick, NYC Organ Project. Accessed March 18th 2022. http://www.nycago.org/organs/bkln/html/SouthBushwickRef.html.
NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission. Designation Report, Reformed Church of South Bushwick, Brooklyn, LP-0168. NYC landmarks. New York, NY. NYC Government, 1968.
Reformed Church Press. South Bushwick Reformed Church, Brooklyn, New York, USA, Reformed Church in America: Mission Trips. February 1st 2022. Accessed March 18th 2022. https://www.rca.org/global-mission/shorttermmission/trips/south-bushwick-reformed-church/.
Robins, Anthony. Covell, Anne. NRHP Nomination of Reformed Church of South Bushwick, Kings Co., N.Y. National Register. Washington, DC. National Park Service, 1982.
Spellen, Suzanne. A Country Church in Bushwick, Brownstoner. February 20th 2018. Accessed March 18th 2022. https://www.brownstoner.com/architecture/brooklyn-architecture-south-bushwick-reformed-church-855-bushwick-avenue/.
NYS CRIS: https://cris.parks.ny.gov/Default.aspx
Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn), March 21st 1930, p. 14
Library of Congress: https://www.loc.gov/item/sanborn05791_009/
New York State Cultural Resource Information System (NYS CRIS): https://cris.parks.ny.gov/Default.aspx