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Domine Schoonmaker was a patriot who was pursued by the British.
Click on his image to learn about Rev. Farrar and the family in Park Slope, 1890s
Built after the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge, Old First's building reflected the dreams and wealth of the community at that time. Rev. Farrar was pastor.
[ illustration to come ]
Beginnings of the Reformed Church in the Netherlands and New Amsterdam
The Reformed Dutch Church was founded as part of the official Protestant church of the Netherlands. The word “Reformed” denotes the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, led by Martin Luther and John Calvin, which swept throughout Europe. This Reformation separated these churches from the Catholic Church in Rome, and was the origin of all Protestant churches of today.
In the early 1600s, Dutch explorers began to investigate the Hudson River lands. By 1614, a permanent settlement was established on what is now Governors Island. In 1625 a majority of the settlers moved to a larger island across the bay, which was called Manhattos by the Indians; the Dutch called it Nieuw Amsterdam.
At this point the colony took hold and, in 1628, a Dutch Reformed congregation was founded (now the Collegiate Church); this makes us the oldest continuing Protestant denomination in North America. The first Jewish congregation in the New World was started the same year. An early gift from the Reformed Dutch Church to the Jewish congregation (one learns on a tour of Shearith Synagogue on Central Park West) was a huge mill stone used to grind their grain. It is one of two stones still on display as a reminder of times past.
The Reformed Dutch Church of the Town of Breukelen is our official name but everyone calls us “Old First.” We are one of the original congregations in New York City, born with the early Dutch settlers of this country.
Our Beginning in Dutch Breukelen
Our congregation was established in 1654 along with churches in Flatbush and Flatlands by order of Governor Pieter Stuyvesant. The three churches operated as “collegiate” churches, sharing Domine (Reverend) Theodorus Polhemus as pastor. In 1660 the Breukelen group broke away and had its own pastor, Domine Henricus Selyns, but when he returned to Holland four years later, Breukelen resumed its relationship with the other two churches lasting until 1805. These three original churches celebrated their 350th Anniversary in 2004.
At first, worship was conducted under the trees, then in a barn. In 1666, the first church edifice, shown above, was built in the town of Breukelen in the middle of a highway, now known as Fulton Street.
This building was replaced 100 years later and included a burial ground on land which is now occupied by Macy's, on Fulton between Lawrence and Bridge Streets, shown above and to the right. The burial ground has since been transferred to Green-Wood Cemetery.
An 1894 newspaper account (New York Times) gives the seating capacity as 1,200 stating that, "…the church was full of a Sunday morning". Beginning in the 1930s and continuing on through until the neighborhood revival in the 70s, Old First experienced a decline in membership and attention to the building. It has since begun a renewal on both fronts.
Over 400 years of Old First history and pastors are documented
|North Transept||South Transept||Single Lancets|
| Kissam / Ryerson
History of the First Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of Breuckelen, now known as The First Reformed Church of Brooklyn, 1654 to 1896, compiled by order of the Consistory, 1896. Includes History of Old First, family histories of noted members, information about the building, sanctuary and stained glass windows, for starters.
Old First Dutch Reformed Church of Brooklyn, New York: First Book of Records, 1660-1752, Holland Society of New York, Scholarship Committee; Genealogical Publishing Company, 1983. This is a complete translation of the oldest records of the Reformed Church in Brooklyn. Locate a copy in a library near you at Ex Libris/World Cat, which also lists places to purchase any available copies. The original records are at the Archives of the Reformed Church in America located at the New Brunswick Seminary, New Brunswick, New Jersey, which holds many other Reformed historical volumes as well.
Family History Research: New Brunswick Theological Seminary
Guide to local church records of the Reformed Church in America and to genealogical resources housed in the Gardner Sage Library.
For Purchase at Church Office (as available):
Growing Up at 398 President: A Remembrance of Life at the Beginning of the Century, by Helen Graham Farrar, edited by Rebecca Mlynarczyk, 1991. In Celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the Old First Reformed Church, Park Slope, Brooklyn, 1891-1991.
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© All photographs and images are copyrighted and require permission from artist to download or use. Photographs are by Jane Barber unless otherwise noted.
Written content edited from many sources previously produced by the Church and by Rev. Daniel Meeter.