The History of Grace Church
A Brief History of Our Founding
Only 50 years after the Revolutionary War Battle of Long Island, which took place in Brooklyn Heights and the surrounding area, Brooklyn Heights was already established as the first “suburb” of New York. The grant of a franchise for ferry service between Manhattan and Brooklyn to Robert Fulton, the inventor of the steamboat, lead to the transformation of farmlands into blocks of Greek Revival townhouses. Manhattan professionals moved to Brooklyn Heights and commuted by ferry. Shippers and traders established new businesses along the waterfront. Many among them were parishioners of Grace Church in Manhattan.
In the early part of the last century, certain families affiliated with the Episcopal Church lived in Brooklyn Heights on open farm lands, near the waterfront of the East River. The land then stretched gently down from the high plateau, now obscured by buildings and highways, to the water’s edge. On Sunday mornings, members of Grace Church would go to the waterfront and blow a horn. A boatman would row across the river and take churchgoers to Grace Church in downtown Manhattan.
When Grace Church moved to Broadway and Tenth Street (its present location) in Manhattan, the churchgoers from Brooklyn found the journey too difficult, and they planned to build a church in Brooklyn Heights. A small Episcopal congregation, called Emmanuel, already existed on Sidney Place. The rapid growth of this congregation, 120 members in one year alone, was too much for Emmanuel to assimilate, and in 1847 a new parish, called Grace Church, was incorporated.
A building committee was appointed under the leadership of the newly elected Wardens, Colonel Tunis Craven and Henry E. Pierrepont, and the parish’s first rector, the Rev. Francis Vinton. Richard Upjohn, a distinguished architect known for his contributions to the Gothic Revival, was chosen to design the new church building. A lot was purchased on the corner of Hicks Street and Grace Court for $15,000. The church’s cornerstone was laid on June 29, 1847, and the first service in the completed building was held on December 10, 1848. The total cost for the structure was $46,737.52.
Built of red-gray New Jersey sandstone, the building has many vertical projections in the form of pinnacles and finials, gables and parapets. An enormous and beautiful traceried window dominates the eastern wall behind the altar. The alabaster altar, stained glass windows, mosaic tile floors and stone columns create an interior of rich design. Grace is set among large trees, with a charming courtyard, giving the impression of an English parish church within the city.
Grace Church, now a landmark building, remains one of the most beautiful churches in New York City. Over the years, the parish’s upkeep and renovation of the building has witnessed to our understanding of the church’s role to worship God with beauty and dignity.