GVSHP African American History Month Series: Revisiting Spring Street Presbyterian Church

Old Spring Street Presbyterian Church. New York Public Library Collection. Exterior (1927).

In celebration of Black History Month, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation will host several public programs this month with specific focus on the history of the African-American community in Greenwich Village.

On Monday, February 9, archivist David Pultz will give an illustrated lecture at the First Presbyterian Church on the unique history of the former Spring Street Presbyterian Church.

Erected in 1810 on the corner of Spring Street and Varick, the Spring Street Presbyterian Church was a formidable presence in the working class neighborhood of Greenwich Village. From its inception, the Church assembled a diverse congregation that advocated for the abolition of slavery and accepted free African-Americans into full membership well before slavery was abolished in New York. Exactly seven years after New York declared emancipation in 1827, anti-abolitionist mobs rioted in downtown Manhattan, taking over the city’s streets and invading pro-abolitionist and African-American community spaces, including the Spring Street Presbyterian Church. Rioters entered the church, damaging its interior and destroying its contents. Although it was later rebuilt and the burial grounds remained, the Spring Street Presbyterian Church was never entirely the same. Many members began migrating uptown to wealthier neighborhoods, leaving the congregation behind and forever changing its diverse makeup. Economic strife and other problems continued to plague the church, and in 1963, the Spring Street Presbyterian Church was forced to close its doors. Three years later, the church building was destroyed by fire and subsequently razed.

In December 2006, construction crews began working on the Trump Soho 46-story “condo-hotel”, to be located on the site of the former Spring Street church, when they uncovered what appeared to be human remains.  The discovery halted the construction process until the bones could be further investigated by engineering firms AKRF and URS Corporation. Although the investigation was not open to the public, the discovery furthered historical revelations about the Spring Street Presbyterian Church and its congregation.

Archaeological analysis on former Spring Street Presbyterian Church site. Photo from the New York Foundation for the Arts.

Archaeological analysis on former Spring Street Presbyterian Church site. Photo from the New York Foundation for the Arts.

The artifacts and human remains were sent to the bioarchaeology laboratory at Syracuse University for further investigation. To learn more about this fascinating piece of Greenwich Village History, please join us at The First Presbyterian Church on Monday, February 9th at 6:30pm.

You can RSVP for this program by email or call (212) 475-9585 ext. 35.

And for more on African American History in Greenwich Village:

GVSHP’s original South Village Historic District proposal, written by Andrew Dolkart, contains extensive information about the African-American history of the South Village here and here.

Read more about “Little Africa” here.

Read the New York City landmark designation report and the State and National Registers of Historic Places report on the East Village’s Charlie Parker House here.

And you can read about the Village roots of the Martin Luther King national holiday here.

 

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