St. Philip's Episcopal Church (Manhattan)

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St. Philip's Episcopal Church
St. Philip's Church 204 West 134th Street.jpg
St. Philip's Episcopal Church (Manhattan) is located in New York City
St. Philip's Episcopal Church (Manhattan)
St. Philip's Episcopal Church (Manhattan) is located in New York
St. Philip's Episcopal Church (Manhattan)
St. Philip's Episcopal Church (Manhattan) is located in the United States
St. Philip's Episcopal Church (Manhattan)
Location210-216 West 134th Street
Manhattan, New York City
Coordinates40°48′53″N 73°56′43″W / 40.81472°N 73.94528°W / 40.81472; -73.94528Coordinates: 40°48′53″N 73°56′43″W / 40.81472°N 73.94528°W / 40.81472; -73.94528
ArchitectTandy & Foster:
Vertner W. Tandy
George W. Foster, Jr.
Architectural styleGothic Revival
NRHP reference No.08000933[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHPSeptember 25, 2008
Designated NYCLJuly 13, 1993

St. Philip's Episcopal Church is a historic Episcopal church located at 204 West 134th Street, between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Frederick Douglass Boulevard in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. Its congregation was founded in 1809 by free African Americans worshiping at Trinity Church, Wall Street as the Free African Church of St. Philip. First located in the notorious Five Points neighborhood,[2] it is the oldest black Episcopal parish in New York City.[3] Historically, it was extremely influential both while located in lower Manhattan and as an institution in Harlem, and many of its members have been leaders in the black community.[3] In 2020, it reported 188 members, 111 average attendance, and plate and pledge income of $224,827.


Previous buildings[edit]

The first church foundation stone was laid in 1819, and the first rector, serving from 1826 to 1840, was the Rev. Peter Williams, Jr., a leading abolitionist and the first African-American Episcopal priest in New York. He was one of three blacks who served on the first executive committee of the American Anti-Slavery Society.[4] In the 1820s other men in the church were also upwardly mobile, beginning to gain financial success primarily in the service industry and joining abolitionist and other reform groups. They stressed education and promoted "character, respectability, and uplift."[5] In the following decades Black Episcopalians continued to build on their church connections, with some creating a niche in marine trades, where white Episcopalians owned ships and served as captains. Some achieved professional status as teachers and doctors, and others had businesses as grocers and restaurateurs.[4]

The first two sites were located on 122 Centre Street. In 1822, a brick building replaced the original wood frame church, which had been damaged by fire. It was renovated twice[when?] because of damage suffered in social unrest. In 1834 the church was vandalized by whites. During the American Civil War, it suffered damage by New York City police using it as a barracks for militia and police during the 1863 New York City draft riots.[6] Many ethnic Irish attacked blacks on the street and their institutions during this riot.

Demographic changes continued as New York expanded and the city developed uptown. New waves of immigrants settled in the oldest housing, and more established residents moved north along the island. Along with its congregation, St. Philip's relocated uptown, by 1886 having a site on 25th Street.[6] It sold this property c.1909 for $600,000. With this money it bought the site of the current church, as well as 10 apartment buildings on West 135th Street in Harlem. This area had previously been restricted to whites only. Some moved beyond the city limits into the developing railroad suburbs.[2] The reredos of the current church came from the church on 25th Street.[3]

Like many other churches, St. Philip's had considerable stability in its leadership through the mid-20th century. Rev. Hutchens C. Bishop was rector for 47 years, from 1886 until 1933. Bishop's son, Shelton Hale Bishop, served as rector from 1933-1957.[7]

Current building[edit]

The present church building was designed by architects Vertner Woodson Tandy and George Washington Foster of the firm Tandy & Foster. Both were prominent African-American architects: Tandy was the first African-American architect licensed to practice in New York State and Foster was among the first licensed by the State of New Jersey. The church was built in 1910-1911 in the Neo-Gothic style.[8]

The church was designated as a New York City Landmark in 1993,[9] and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.[1]


Notable parishioners of St. Philip's include, in the 19th century: Thomas Jennings, Thomas Downing, his son George T. Downing, Dr. James McCune Smith, and Alexander Crummell.[10] In the 20th century, such political and cultural leaders as professor and public intellectual W. E. B. Du Bois; Thurgood Marshall, NAACP Legal Defense Fund attorney and Supreme Court Justice; and poet and playwright Langston Hughes were also members of the church.[3]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. March 13, 2009.
  2. ^ a b c White, Norval; Willensky, Elliot; Leadon, Fran (2010). AIA Guide to New York City (5th ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19538-386-7. p.541
  3. ^ a b c d Dunlap, David W. (2004). From Abyssinian to Zion: A Guide to Manhattan's Houses of Worship. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-12543-7., pp. 242-43
  4. ^ a b Kyle T. Bulthuis. Four Steeples over the City Streets: Religion and Society in New York’s Early Republic Congregations, NYU Press, 2014, pp. 151-152
  5. ^ Balthius (2014), Four Steeples, p. 148
  6. ^ a b Church History, St. Philip's Harlem (Accessed 2 August 2010)
  7. ^ "Bishop, Shelton Hale, 1889-1962". SNAC. Retrieved 1 August 2017.
  8. ^ Shaver, Peter D. (July 1997). "National Register of Historic Places Registration: St. Philip's Church". New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Retrieved 2011-03-25. See also: "Accompanying seven photos".
  9. ^ New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission; Dolkart, Andrew S.; Postal, Matthew A. (2009). Postal, Matthew A. (ed.). Guide to New York City Landmarks (4th ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0-470-28963-1. p.203
  10. ^ Bulthius (2014), Four Steeples, p. 152

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]