Brooklyn Structure: A Gothic Revival Church in Greenpoint

Editor’s Note: This post was originally run in 2012 and has been updated. You can read the previous post here.

This stone church at 127 Kent Street in Greenpoint is not as modern as it might seem at first glance. The Church of the Assumption was built in 1866 in the English Gothic style and designed by a well-known church architect who campaigned for a revival of the medieval Gothic.

The church was founded in 1846. Their first services took place in a meeting room of a nearby Dutch Reformed Church and in community salons. Land was given to the parish on what was then K Street in 1852, and a wooden classroom and Sunday school were built in 1853.

By the 1860s, Greenpoint’s population had increased rapidly, as had the number of bishops, and a larger church was needed. Funds were raised and, thanks to the generosity of local shipbuilders JW Valentine and Thomas Fitch Rowland, the building committee was able to hire architect Henry C. Dudley to design the new church.

The name Henry C. Dudley was new to me, and I learned that he was a major nineteenth-century church architect here in America. He was born in 1813 and educated in England, where he worked for the Gothic Revival architect John Heyward, referred to by his colleagues as “the chief architect in the west of England”. Under Heyward, Dudley became a member of the Ecclesiological Society, a group of architects who campaigned for a return to the architecture used in the medieval Gothic churches of England and France.

Brooklyn Architecture 127 Kent Street Church Ascent Greenpoint

Dudley emigrated to America in 1851 and, along with other English-born ecclesiologists such as Richard Upjohn and Frank Wills, founded the New York Ecclesiological Society, which published a journal. New York Ecclesiologist, the first American magazine to focus on architecture and design. The ecclesiologists were determined to set high standards for church architecture, if not quite as dogmatic as their counterparts in England.

Brooklyn Architecture 127 Kent Street Church of Ascension Greenpoint

The Church in 1958. Photo by John D. Morrell via the Brooklyn Historical Society

They insisted on what they termed “honest materials” in their churches – not cheap materials to replace better building materials, particularly plaster of paris, which disguises itself as marble in false ribs and supports, or is painted like stone. There would be no counterfeit in their buildings. They also believed in demarcating every interior portion of the church on the outside of the church so that the nave, baptistery, aisles, etc., could be clearly seen from the outside within the boundaries of the church’s approved property.

Brooklyn Architecture 127 Kent Street Church Ascent Greenpoint

Here in Greenpoint, Dudley designed a neo-Gothic style church with the central nave and side aisles clearly marked by the roof lines. The church is made of roughly cut granite that was laid according to a random pattern. It used to have a slate roof that has now been replaced by asphalt shingles. For reasons of space, Dudley opted for two side entrances instead of a central entrance, each with a pointed arched door and a round window above.

The result is a very charming English style Gothic parish church. The Victorian Gothic had impressed Dudley too, and he used very subtle polychrome stripes, a mainstay of the style, on this church, on the doors and around the lancet windows.

Brooklyn Architecture 127 Kent Street Church Ascent Greenpoint

As far as we know, this is Henry C. Dudley’s only Brooklyn church. He designed beautiful English-style neo-Gothic churches elsewhere in town: St. James Episcopal in the Fordham section of the Bronx, St. George’s Episcopal in Flushing, and St. Mary’s Episcopal on Staten Island.

All were built between 1852 and 1856. Dudley designed either with his partners Frank Wills or Frederick Diaper or alone more than 20 churches, which are now registered on the National Register. Its churches stretch from Troy, NY, to Alabama, one in Minnesota. He came around.

[Photos by Susan De Vries]

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