On December 14th, 1963, the Presbytery of the City of New York officially voted that the historic Spring Street Presbyterian Church would close its doors at the end of the month of December, with the last service to be held on December 29, 1963. Why is this important to us today? For so many reasons, not the least of which is the recent headline grabbing news of the Trump Soho. We thought it important today to give some contextual history to the significance of the closure of this sanctuary and the subsequent destruction of the grounds and all that remained there.
The Spring Street Presbyterian Church was founded in 1809 with prayer meetings held in residences and business locations. A plot of land was purchased in 1809 with the intention of building a sanctuary on the property. The design was described as a shingled wood frame structure, crowned by a cupula. Many of the materials that were used were salvaged from the recently dissolved Wall Street Presbyterian Church, including timbers, pews, and the pulpit. The cornerstone was laid on July 5, 1810, and the completed church was opened on May 5, 1811.
The church was renowned for its abolitionist activities. It had a multi-racial Sunday school, one of the first in the city, and welcomed African-Americans to full communion. Racial tolerance was radically preached here and it was rumored that Reverend Dr. Henry G. Ludlow conducted interracial marriage ceremonies.
Full emancipation in New York had taken effect on July 4, 1827, however abolitionists were regarded by many with contempt, fear, and hatred. Racial animosity played a big part in the riots of 1834. Both the church and the homes of Reverend Ludlow and Reverend Cox of the Laight Street Presbyterian Church, an off-shoot of the Spring Street Church, were attacked and sacked by a riled-up mob in July of that year. At the Spring Street Church, the rioters entered the building through smashed windows, took the remnants of the organ, pews, and galleries they had destroyed and used them to create a barricade outside against the approaching National Guard, who had been called out to control the crowd. Both churches were almost completely demolished and the mob went on to wreck havoc throughout New York.
The Spring Street congregation built anew in 1836, erecting a glorious Greek Revival sanctuary that boasted a new organ built by the venerable M.P. Möller, Inc, of Hagerstown, MD.
The congregation flourished for a good 156 years. However by 1963, the nature of the area had drastically changed to become more industrial and far less residential. The congregation had dwindled to less than 49 members and the Presbytery decided to dissolve the church. When the church closed, the hope was that funds would be raised to refurbish and reopen but the reality was that the need for a church in the area diminished further and the abandoned building eventually suffered a fire in 1966. The structure was razed and a parking lot was subsequently built over the site.
Which brings us to the Trump Soho saga. In the year 1820 two burial vaults were in-use at Spring Street Presbyterian Church. Another two were added in 1831. These burial vaults housed the remains of approximately 200 deceased congregants of the church. The vaults were permanently closed in 1843. After that, the burial vaults seemed to have fallen out of memory. Until December 2006, when construction of the Trump Soho building began at the site and the remains of the burial vaults were uncovered.
Construction was halted for a time until further investigation. The developers promised a proper re-burial, but when the building officially opened in 2010, the SoHo Alliance published a statement saying: “Trump and his wealthy partners at Bayrock/Sapir so far have not come up with the funding for a proper burial of the graves he dug up, if they even know where the remains are!” It wasn’t until 2014 that the remains were finally placed in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.
Today, we honor the brave congregants of the Spring Street Church and the history of the venerable institution on this, the 54th anniversary of its closing.