Notable Members of Grace Church in Newark

A Presentation by Guy G. Sterling at Concert Celebrating the 350th Anniversary of the City of Newark and Rededicating the Newly Refurbished Mayor Raymond Te Deum Window. Guy Sterling is a former Star Ledger reporter and the author of  The Famous, the Familiar and the Forgotten: 350 Notable Newarkers.

Good afternoon and thank you Father Bates & everyone connected with Grace Church for having me here today.

My name is Guy Sterling, and I’m thrilled to be in your company on this memorable day and in this glorious and historic church, a true treasure for Newark, for New Jersey and for all of America. Not just the building, but its people as well.

This is not my first visit to Grace Church. I’ve been here on a number of occasions in the past, but always for funerals. So it’s nice to be here today with the celebration of Newark in mind rather than the commemoration of someone’s passing.

As some of you may know, I spent 30 years right down the street, working as a news reporter at The Star-Ledger.

It was there that I first really began digging into the history of Newark, the city my family has called home going back 150 years.

Years of research culminated in a book that I published last year and have just updated about many of the celebrated people who’ve lived in Newark since the city was founded in 1666. That’s the reason I’m here today 

A couple of months ago, Father Bates asked me if I would apply my knowledge of Newark and its people and my research to the membership of the Grace Church, and I was more than happy to oblige.

My only request was that, in preparing for today’s presentation, I first be allowed to go through some of the church records so that I could be as comprehensive as I can in the time I had.

Father Bates was kind enough to accommodate me, and I spent the better part of two Friday afternoons this month going through some old church books.

What struck me almost immediately as I began my page-by-page research was how many of Newark’s great family names were represented in this church’s membership at some point in its history.

Names like Ballantine, Boudinot, Burnet, Condit, Crane, Frelinghuysen, Halsey, Kinney, Meeker, Ogden, Tichenor and Vanderpool, to offer but a handful.

These are names of the families that founded and built Newark into the great city it became.

It was exciting to see them, but unfortunately time didn’t allow me the luxury of determining where many of these people appeared on their respective family trees.

But let me share with you what I do know and what I found out about some of the members of this church.

Grace Church is probably best known for its ties to Samuel Augustus Ward, the church organist from Franklin Street in Newark who in 1882 wrote the melody for what later became “America, the Beautiful,” the iconic anthem that captures the spirit of America as perhaps no other song.

Who among us doesn’t come to attention with a special national pride when we hear that familiar refrain: “O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain.”

But who were some of the other prominent members of Grace Church?

Let’s go through the list alphabetically and I will do so with but one caveat -- that the list is not meant to be all-inclusive since that kind of research effort would really take months, if not years, to complete.

Here they are.

James Baxter was Newark’s first black school principal who spent 45 years in the city’s school system. He played a key role in convincing Newark city officials that black grammar school pupils had the same rights as everyone else and should be allowed to go to high school. The Baxter Terrace housing project in Newark was named for him.

Charles Cummings was a librarian at the Newark Public Library for more than 40 years, the city’s official historian and, quite honestly, the person who knew more about Newark than anyone. Oh, do we who both revere and research Newark’s history miss him. There’s a bust of him in the small park alongside Essex County’s historic courthouse on Springfield Avenue. 

Sarah Frelinghuysen  was the daughter of Frederick Frelinghuysen, who served as New Jersey attorney general, a U.S. Senator and U.S. Secretary of State under President Chester Arthur. There’s a bronze statue of him in Military Park.

Jeremiah Garthwaite, so instrumental in the founding of this church, was called the “father of Episcopalianism in Newark” by the New York Times when he died in 1883.

William Stryker Gummere remains the longest-serving chief justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court in state history, sitting from 1901 until his death in 1933. He was also captain of the Princeton football team that played Rutgers in the first-ever college football game in New Brunswick in 1869.

Oliver Spencer Halsted was a lawyer and Newark’s fourth mayor. In 1844, he served as a member of the convention that revised New Jersey’s state constitution and, the following year, he became chancellor of New Jersey under that new constitution. Chancellor Avenue in Newark was named for him because that’s where he, the chancellor, lived.

Halsted’s son, also named “Oliver Spencer Halsted” but who was known by the nickname “Pet,” was a close confidante of Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of Abraham Lincoln.

Charles Henry Hampton, whose name appears on a plaque in the parish house, was one of Grace Church’s great benefactors. He was a vice president of the Hanover National Bank in New York who left an estate valued at $2 million, the equivalent of $25 million today, when he died in 1925. A sizable chunk of that money came here.   

Joseph E. Haynes was a Newark school teacher and city mayor in whose term the city acquired the land for and built its remarkable public water system, one of the single greatest achievements of any leader in the city’s history because it simultaneously improved the population’s health and made Newark attractive to business. There’s a street near Newark Airport named for him. 

John W. Howell was an inventor and engineer who worked closely with Thomas Edison for 50 years and was a key figure in the development of the electric light bulb.

Henrietta Jacobs was a parishioner whose interest in helping an indigent church member suffering from TB led to the formation of St. Barnabas Hospital.

John Jelliff is still considered one of America’s greatest furniture manufacturers. Even after automation came to the furniture business, he insisted that his company’s pieces, mostly in the Empire, Gothic, French and Italian Renaissance styles, continue to be made by hand.

Anthony Keasbey was one of the country’s best known lawyers in the mid- and late 19th century, as well as a poet of some renown. He married into the Macculloch family whose home in Morristown is a museum, while “Keasbey,” the unincorporated section of Woodbridge Township, is named for his family.

Frederick Keer owned a highly respected art gallery on the other side of City Hall and served as one of the original trustees of The Newark Museum. He, along with John Cotton Dana, the museum’s first director, and Louis Bamberger, the museum’s prime benefactor, advocated strongly for industrial art to be seen as real art and together they sponsored exhibitions in that light that helped give the museum its national reputation.

Robert and Uzal McCarter of Newark’s famous McCarter family (think McCarter Highway, the McCarter & English law firm and McCarter Theater in Princeton) began their formal educations at the Grace Church primary school. Robert went on to serve as New Jersey’s attorney general, while Uzal was a well-known bank president who, at one point, headed the New Jersey Bankers Association.

Many students of the city’s history will argue that Thomas L. Raymond, who served as Newark’s mayor from 1915 to 1917 and then again from 1925 to 1928, was the city’s greatest mayor. Work on Port Newark began in his tenure. He also played a leading role in stopping the federal government from taking the land on which this church stands for the construction of the post office that sits right behind this building today.    

Alfred Tichenor was granted a patent for improving the method of printing bank notes, an important technological advancement of the time.

Frederick W. Thorne was the president and treasurer of the old and prestigious Newark Sunday Call newspaper that later was bought out by the Newark Evening News but today still serves as an important resource for Newark scholars.

George Wallhauser Jr. was the son of a three-term U.S. congressman from Newark and Essex County who also served as chairman of the N.J. Highway Authority and the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn.

And finally, George Watts was an inventor who founded the Watts, Campbell Co., the oldest continuously running machine shop in New Jersey known for its steam engines. Watts was mentored by Seth Boyden, Newark’s greatest inventor whose statue stands in the middle of Washington Park. Founded before the Civil War, the Watts, Campbell building still stands on McCarter Highway with many of its industrial machines intact, though sadly the firm is no longer in business.

So that’s the short list of Grace Church members who, from the time this church was organized in 1837 until today, made a name for themselves in this city, in this state and beyond. No doubt there are others.

But even on its own, it’s a list of members as impressive, I would maintain, as any church in Newark and perhaps New Jersey as well. It’s a legacy certainly to be proud of as Grace Church looks to the future and the word of its incredible history continues to spread across our country “from sea to shining sea.”

Thank you for this opportunity to appear before you on such a momentous occasion, and may God bless this church and our city.