A mystery chapel in a Canal Street subway station

Canalstreetmosaic2The only thing that makes waiting for the subway less aggravating is spotting one of these colorful mosaics lining the platform.

They’re mini history lessons depicting some hallmark of the area from when the station was built, say a noteworthy building, like City Hall.

But the Canal Street 1 train platform, with mosaics of a chapel and spire, poses a mystery.

StjohnschapelIn the vicinity of the Varick Street station, no church exists.

It did at one time—and it was a beauty. The lovely St. John’s Chapel was built in 1807 (predating the street grid!) as a parish of Trinity Church, and it became the centerpiece of a luxurious residential enclave called St. John’s Park.

Well-to-do families built Georgian row houses around a small genteel park, and the neighborhood remained fashionable through the 1840s (below, in a 1905 painting by Edward Lamson Henry).

St. John’s Park began losing its appeal in the 1850s, when wealthy New Yorkers chose to relocate uptown. Then a railway terminal replaced the park in 1868, turning the enclave into one of factories and tenements.


Lovely St. John’s Chapel, with its sandstone portico and columns and 200-foot oak spire and clock dominating the skyline for over 100 years, was torn down in 1918.

All that remains today is the subway mosaic, a small patch of green at the Holland Tunnel entrance—and a forgotten lane in Tribeca bearing the St. John’s name.

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7 Responses to “A mystery chapel in a Canal Street subway station”

  1. Upstate Ellen Says:

    How sad that this pretty chapel was lost. By the way, I love that painting. It looks more like Boston than NYC!

  2. wendy Says:

    That looks vaguely like the park in front of the school (I forget the school’s name) between Varick and 6th and Spring and Broome. Could it be the same?

  3. wildnewyork Says:

    It’s a bit farther south: the no man’s land between Hudson, Varick, Laight, and Ericsson at the Holland Tunnel approach. I don’t think the parks department recognizes this space as a park anymore.

  4. Newport Carl Says:

    Beautiful picture of St. John’s! Keep ’em coming

  5. wildnewyork Says:

    Thanks! Too bad the neighborhood doesn’t still look like that…

  6. Jason Says:

    Two drawings by Richard Upjohn for alterations to the church are held at Columbia University, Avery Drawings & Archives, one is for the chancel while the other is for a siginificant addition to the church.

  7. This alley was once an exclusive New York street | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] was bulldozed. You can still see images of it at the Canal Street 1 train station, where it’s memorialized on the subway mosaics opposite the […]

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