Bensonhurst

Step inside New Utrecht Reformed Church with the Brooklyn Eagle

Last dose of cash needed to finish Bensonhurst landmark's restoration

September 19, 2016 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Welcome to Bensonhurst's New Utrecht Reformed Church, which was opened for tours on Saturday, Sept. 17. Eagle photos by Lore Croghan
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Here’s a privileged peek inside one of Brooklyn’s historic treasures.

The stones that built this church came over from Holland as ship ballast in the 1600s. It’s a nice slice of Colonial history, smack in the middle of Bensonhurst.

But the interior of New Utrecht Reformed Church is what wowed visitors on Saturday, Sept. 17.

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The individual city landmark at 8301-8323 18th Ave. was unlocked that afternoon for guided tours of the stunning sanctuary.

Tour-goers got an eyeful of painstaking restoration that has been completed — plus unfinished work that causes the church to remain closed. A rough estimate of the cost of repairing an organ alcove and fixing huge holes in sanctuary walls caused by scaffolding from earlier work is $200,000.

The Georgian-Gothic church, which was constructed in 1828, has been closed since late 2003 because of the repair project. Religious services are held in a nearby Parish House.

Don’t be confused by the date of the church’s construction. It’s a new building, relatively speaking, that was partly constructed with stones from the very first New Utrecht Dutch Reformed Church, as it was then called.

It was located down the road, on what is now 84th Street. It was demolished because the congregation needed a larger church.

The 1820s-vintage church that now stands on 18th Avenue has a lovely, light-filled sanctuary full of historic details. The pews are built into white-painted boxes with waist-high walls. The walls have doors with number plates tacked onto them.

These are the church’s original pews, Pam Ander, the church’s property chairperson, told the Brooklyn Eagle during a sanctuary tour. That means they’ve been in place since John Quincy Adams was president.

Susan Hanyen, vice president of consistory, which is the church’s governing board, also served as a tour guide.

Having walled-in pews cut down on drafts that chilled worshippers.

In the early days of the church, congregants could pay a pew fee and have a pew to call their own, Ander said.

On pew number 37, a commemorative plate on the door identifies it as the Van Pelt Pew, “endowed in perpetuity.”

The church’s original pulpit, which is made of hand-carved wood, is stored for safekeeping in the Parish House’s basement until the renovation project is finished. So are the original communion table and original baptismal font, also both made of wood.

Speaking of historic things, the church has a bell that has tolled for the funerals of every single U.S. president who has died, Ander said — including George Washington.

The last couple of times there was a presidential funeral, the bell had to be rung by hand because its cradle, meaning the wood frame that holds it, is weak.

Right after the Civil War, a balcony was added to the sanctuary to accommodate a growing congregation. Thanks to the balcony, there’s seating for at least 300 people, Ander said.

An organ alcove — which is awaiting repairs until money can be raised to pay for the work — was added probably in the 1870s.  

Stained-glass windows add a colorful glow. They were designed by Lamb Studios and built in 1915.

Overhead, a white barrel-vaulted ceiling looks good as new — as it should, because it is brand-new.

Its design is similar to that of the original ceiling.        

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Donations to help pay for the completion of the renovation project can be sent to New Utrecht Reformed Church Restoration Fund, P.O. Box 97, Brooklyn, NY 11214-0097

 


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