The South Congregation Church of Brooklyn originated in the year 1851. In the previous year the building site had been purchased at the corner of Court and President Streets. The first building erected upon the site was the present chapel, containing a lecture room, Sabbath school and pastor’s rooms. This building was finished the last week in January 1851, and on the first Sabbath in February it was opened for public worship.
The New England Congregationalist built so much of nineteenth-century Brooklyn, and it is said that the idea for this church was that of Henry Ward Beecher, the colorful pastor of Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights. Francis Morrone in his book An Architectural Guidebook to Brooklyn says that Richard Upjohn had introduced the Romanesque Revival to New York church design in his Church of the Pilgrims (now the Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church in Brooklyn Heights).
The main church edifice was erected and dedicated in 1857 and is a splendid example of the genre. It was remodeled with the addition of galleries in 1864. The gabled front of the church features a fine receding round arch to either side of this gabled front are the twin towers, which are marvelous. Built with four stages featuring stepped sloping setoffs, the towers terminate in corbels and merlons and, pointing high in the sky and visible all up and down court street, finials that rise from pinnacles at the four corners of the square towers.
The Ladies’ Parlor is also Romanesque Rivival. It is faced in brick with extensive terra-cotta trim, all in rusty red. There is “Ruskinian” polychromy in the voussoirs of the entrance arch, an asymmetrically placed and vertically accentuated projecting bay rising a story above the rest of the building, and lush bands of terra-cotta ornament along the top of the building. The architect, F. Carles Merry, designed in the same year a group of wonderful row houses on Lenox Avenue (nos. 220 to 228) between 121st and 122nd Streets in Harlem.
The rectory, just to the west of the Ladies’ Parlor, is yet another fine work, built thirty-six years after the main church and in a different style. The architect was Woodruff Leeming. It is in a Gothic Style with a basement and parlor floor of rock-faced brownstone; above is red brick with brownstone trim. The stoop is on the left and leads to a doorway set within a pointed-arch molding. On the right is a round bay. Two gables, both set with pointed arches, top the house. Leeming was born in Illinois, but came to Brooklyn as a lad to attend the prestigious Polytechnic Institute, following which he went on to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Ecole des Beauz-Arts in Paris. He worked for Heins & La Farge at the time they won the competition to design the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Leeming struck out on his own, establishing his office in Brooklyn in the very year he designed the rectory, which may have been the first commission of his private practice. Twenty-one years later, he designed the very large parish house of Plymouth Church on Orange Street.
The South Congregational Church Complex was designated a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1982, and was put on the National Register of Historic Places on November 4, 1982.
South Congregational Church Complex, Northwest corner of Court and President
Chapel. 1851, architect unknown
Church, 1857, architect unknown
Ladies Parlor, 257 President Street, 1889, Frederick Carles Merry, Architect
Rectory, 255 President Street, 1893, Woodruff Leeming, Architect