Our Old Dutch Church in the 20th Century
Fortunes Gained and Lost
Postcard ca. 1906
Our September 1907 Consistory Minutes note that after an informal conversation about the color of the columns,
"The color was changed to white and remains so to this day."
Port Richmond had been a Commercial Hub since Colonial Times
A well-populated port town, lumber and coal yards clustered around the waterfront. Freight and passenger boats originating in New Brunswick stopped off in Port Richmond on the way to New York City. Mills and artisanal trades were eclipsed by large scale industrial manufacturing in the mid 1800s. Maritime trades were also major employers until the 1920s: fishing, whaling, oyster cultivation, ship construction and repair. These firms employed British, Irish, German, Polish and Scandinavian immigrants.
Reformed Women Get the Vote in Church Matters
The women of the Congregation had been working to pay the mortgage on the Sunday School Annex since it had been built in 1898. When their request for a vote in Church affairs was repeatedly rebuffed; they stopped paying. By 1914 it was "Resolved that hereafter the female members of this Church in regular standing shall be entitled to vote at any meeting of the Congregation at which a vote may be required." It would be another six years before US women got the vote.
Surviving the Crash of 1929
John M. Braisted Jr. served as the church's choir director and organist for over 65 years. He was hired in 1929 with a salary of $1 every Sunday, including choir rehearsal. Not long after that, the Great Depression caused the Church to eliminate his salary. Mr Braisted remained faithful to his call for over 65 years, even though the salary was never reinstated
Port Richmond Thrives
By the 1940s post-war prosperity brought popular high end shopping, movie theaters, and restaurants to Port Richmond Avenue. It became known as the "Fifth Avenue of Staten Island." Merchants actively promoted their Avenue with parades, family events, and holiday lighting. Port Richmond Avenue was a lively commercial street that served a neighborhood of businessmen, workers and tradespeople; shoppers from New Jersey; and residents - among them endearing eccentrics. The Bayonne Bridge, the longest steel arch bridge in the world when it was completed in 1931, provided a beautiful backdrop.
In 1953 the North Shore's Staten Island Rapid Transit was closed down for low ridership due to the automobile's increased dominance. The aging railroad infrastructure remains in place in many spots.
In the 1970s the opening of the Staten Island Mall, along with subsequent retail development elsewhere, drew a large portion of commercial activity away from Port Richmond. Immigration accelerated the neighborhood's tradition of diversity: 1960s Cuban. 1990s Filipino, Mexican, and Syrian.
Changes in Fortune
1928-1931 Bayonne Bridge under construction
Photo courtesy of the Staten Island Borough President's Office/Michael Falco
Nine Ministers Served Our 20th Century Congregation
Rev. J. Frederic Berg 1902-1911
Rev. Otto L.H. Mohn 1911-1928
Rev. Frank S. Fry 1929-1946
Rev. Cornelius Vander Naald 1948-1958
Rev. Jack H. Hascup 1959-1967
Rev. Fred W. Diekman 1968-1988
Rev. Debra L. Jameson 1989-1994
Rev. Ian S. Todd 1996-1998
Rev. Ruth Robbins 1999-2000