Welcome, and thanks for your interest.
This is an experiment. The purpose is to see if the 'net can provide a means of drawing on the local knowledge of people living in a geographic area to develop an authoritative guide to the old churches, synagogues and meetinghouses of one county in New Jersey—in this case, Cumberland. You probably came here by way of my website, NJChurchscape.com, ( or by an e-mail invitation I sent to a score of people I knew were affiliated with an active congregation or historical society). You are likely familiar with my New Jersey Churchscape project. Over the last 11 years I have photographed more than 1,250 buildings erected for religious services before 1900. I have researched about one-third of them and have written eight books—one on each of seven counties in the state and an overview published by Rutgers University Press in 2001.
I have found 75 old churches, synagogues and meetinghouses in Cumberland County, and most are presented here, along with the information I have so far. I believe there are at least several more buildings I haven't located (or don't know about) yet. That's where you come in. I've created this site in the hope that it will stimulate readers to share what they know about the religious architecture of the county. This wiki, like the Wikipedia, was designed to make it easy for you to bring your knowledge to our attention.
Local knowledge is essential.
Previously I have spent hours in libraries trying to find accurate information about the early religious architecture of the state—specifically the builders, contractors and architects, as well as information about the ethnic makeup of the congregation and anything else that seemed to be relevant to an analysis of why the buildings look the way they do and why they are located where they are. Much of the information on the early churches here was obtained from Thomas Cushing's 1883 History of Gloucester, Salem and Cumberland, New Jersey, and Lucius Elmer's 1869 book, History of the Early Settlement & Progress of Cumberland County, New Jersey & of the Currency of This & Adjoining Colonies. That book was no help, obviously, for anything erected after 1869, and Elmer's dates often conflicted with Cushing's. Much of the information I found in the printed sources was contradictory—founding and building dates were occasionally at odds even with the dates chiseled in the churches cornerstone. Mostly there was a dearth of information.
So I constructed this wiki in the manner of the Wikipedia, hoping that there will be enough interested people—mostly the members of historical societies and the congregations of Cumberland County, I assume—to corroborate, refine or provide better information about the religious architecture of their county. I have posted here a photo of each existing church, synagogue and meetinghouse erected before 1900 in my database, along with the basic information—essentially what I have been able to glean from printed sources, the 'net and from personal observation. I am sure that some of that information is not correct, based on my experience in the seven other counties where my research has been extensive (Hunterdon, Morris, Mercer, Monmouth, Somerset, Sussex, and Warren). Equally important, I expect there is considerable additional information about design and construction—assumptions and decisions made by the congregation's building committee or minister that shaped the plan and style of the building. That is what I am after.
I want this wiki to be omnivorous—almost anything that pertains to one of the old synagogues or meetinghouses of the county is likely to be of interest to someone, even if it does not relate directly to my much narrower architectural and cultural history orientation. If you have childhood recollections of a particular church, I expect there will be readers who are interested. In that sense, you might think of this as a community website organized around the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century religious architecture of the county.
For my previous books I have tried writing to ministers, attempted to gain the cooperation of local historical societies and sometimes county planning boards and historical commissions. All of that yielded useful information, but not enough to satisfy me. Now I'm going to try another tack—the use of a wiki that permits any reader with information or even a suggestion to contribute to the work. Just a close reading by a member of the congregation may contribute. An email or posted comment telling me I have the facts correct is valuable. I don't expect to be overwhelmed by activity here, so I appreciate any effort readers make to communicate with me and to call attention to this wiki. I've tried to make it as easy as possible to do so. The more people who come here the more likely we'll add something of interest and/or improve the accuracy.
The wiki is organized by municipality, so if you want to check on the buildings of Bridgeton or Bivalve, for example, you can use the index on the left to go to that section. You may find I've missed a church in your area; please, please, please let me know. I want to include every building erected for religious services before 1900, even if it has been sold off and converted into a firehouse or senior citizens center.
Most of the articles can be edited or supplemented by anyone with a free GMail account simply by clicking on the Comments section at the bottom of a page. (If you don't see the Comments and Attachments sections, you have not signed in with your GMail account name.) Even if you have an e-mail account that gives you no problems, A GMail account (from Google) is a very good thing to have. It's free and it can handle much larger files than most e-mail clients. I have six e-mail accounts, and use GMail almost as much as my favored account. Clink on the link above to learn more, or sign up for a free GMail acocunt.
For more extensive additions or changes you should click on the Editing link at the bottom of this page. Anyone is welcome to add information, cross-references, or citations. We hope that you will do so within our editing guidelines. This is not the place to offer your personal testimony, rant against a church, or advertise an upcoming pancake supper sponsored by your church. Substandard or disputed information is subject to removal. Users need not worry about accidentally damaging this website when adding or improving information, as someone is always going to review the content and correct obvious errors; the wiki software was designed to allow easy reversal of editorial mistakes.
Since I cannot monitor this site every day I have to have some means of controlling what is posted here—there are people out there who seem to gain satisfaction by trashing the work of others. Here's my initial approach: Anyone can add or modify anything here, but only after he/she is signed in. That requires that they send me an e-mail with their name and e-mail address. I will then send them an invitation to come to this site, and when they confirm the invitation, they will be able to sign in. I may change that to allow any visitor, signed in or not to edit the material here, but I need to get confident that will work before I open it up to all.
I will try to show all edits, additional information, comments and questions in a manner so they are credited to their author. This does two things: (1) acknowledges people who add to the information here, and (2) may inhibit someone from posting information they know to be wrong. If you've had much experience with the Wikipedia you know how some persist in errors when there is more reliable/authoritative information available.
In contrast to the NJChurchscape website, I encourage links here to a church's website. I don't want to see announcements of coming events, etc. This site, like the NJChurchscape website is a scholarly activity dedicated to enlarging and enriching our understanding of the religious architecture of the state. As such, it is not to be used for promoting a particular denomination or religious institution. If inappropriate material is posted I will take it down. I'm likely to be fairly tolerant, however, as I hope to encourage people to add information or simply comment on what is here.
I welcome old pictures, postcards, etc. of these buildings. They can contribute significantly to our understanding, especially when they show a steeple or porte-cochere that has since been removed. Often they show the building's original colors instead of the almost universal white that we see today. If you are unsure how to post an image here, attach it to an e-mail and send it to me at email@example.com. If you have taken a good photograph of a church yourself, I would be pleased to have that appear here also, but I will exercise some editorial control. Unless it is a particularly good image (sharp focus, good composition) I will not clutter up this wiki with pictures that, in my judgment, add very marginal value.
Before uploading images make sure you read and follow the preparing images for upload instructions. Please note that most images you might find on the Internet are copyrighted and not appropriate for uploading here. If you did not create the image, or if you are unable or unwilling to verify its copyright status, do not upload the image.
What happens next?
At some point in the next year I expect to begin serious work on the book on Cumberland's religious architecture. I have three books well along now, and at least two of them are likely to be published in 2009. Cumberland, Burlington or Essex will probably be next in line. Information that is gathered here will certainly find its way into print in that book, along with an acknowledgement of every contribution. Your photographs almost certainly will not unless you are a better photographer than I am, in which case you should be writing a book. My intention is to keep this wiki live on the 'net indefinitely.
All of the text in Wikipedia, and most of the images and other content, is covered by the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL). Contributions remain the property of their creators, while the GFDL license ensures the content is freely distributable and reproducible. (See the Copyright for more information.)
Credits and acknowledgements
Information about the place names was obtained from the work of Judy Baehr, from The Daily Journal Special Commemorative Section - 7/1/98, available online. Some of the text has been simply copied from the online History section of a churches website, or from an article on municipal history. I have usually indicated that at the end of the article. Most of the founding and construction dates came from Cushing's History. Many of the construction dates for churches built after 1883 I have guessed at, based on architectural styles. Several of the churches here, and several more to be added shortly were identified by Barry Caselli, a fine photographer who has been supplying me with information about the old churches of the state for several years. You'll see more of Barry's work here, I expect.
The following municipalities and villages located in Cumberland County have churches, a synagogue (Rosenhayn) or an old meetinghouse.