What two 19th century church fences tell you

Two of Manhattan’s oldest houses of worship, St. Mark’s Church and Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, both have lovely fences around their churchyards. But each fence is very different.

The black cast-iron fence at St. Mark’s (above, in 1936) was added to the church in 1828, according to the Greenwich Village Society of Historical Preservation.

That’s almost 30 years after the Georgian-style church was completed, built beyond the city center on the former bouwerie, or farm, once owned by Dutch colonial governor Petrus Stuyvesant.

The fence around St. Patrick’s, on the other hand, is a red brick wall spanning Prince Street and continuing up Mulberry and Mott Streets on either side of the church grounds.

The brick wall went up in the 1830s (at left, in 1880), designed to protect Irish Catholic parishioners from the mobs of Nativist New Yorkers bent on letting them know they weren’t welcome.

Both churches are still houses of worship today. And as different as their fences seem, they do have one thing in common.

Each one has the name of the church’s street emblazoned on it: Second Avenue for St. Mark’s, and Mulberry and Prince Streets for St. Patrick’s.

These hard-to-see street names have survived on the fences for almost two centuries, letting New Yorkers know where they were in an era before Google maps and very visible street signs.

[Second image: NYPL]

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7 Responses to “What two 19th century church fences tell you”

  1. Mykola (Mick) Dementiuk Says:

    Some time in the early 1960s, when I was in grade school on 6th St, St Marks was roped off because they were filming Two For The Seesaw, Shirley MacLaine and Robert Mitchum. In the movie, if my memory serves me, Mitchum was walking by St Marks; I stood across the avenue and watched three or four repeats of the scene being filmed. Yawn dullsville, I went home, haha!. But at the time, St Marks looked as decrepit as it does in your picture.

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    It is strange to see this church looking so rundown, isn’t it? At the same time, I kinda like it spooky. Two for the Seesaw, I’ve never heard of it. Another NYC movie I need to check out!

  3. Mark Williams Says:


    Thanks for your latest three bits of fascinating NYC lore!

    I am working on an 1887 story and you may be able to help me with a detail. There is a reference to traveling from Morrisania to Westchester, with both described as villages nearby to New York. Of course, Morrisania is a patch in the Bronx, but could the Westchester being referred to be around today’s Westchester Square?

    Thank you if you can point me in a good direction,

    Mark Williams

    Shameless Promotion:

    Escape to “Lost” Crime and Detective Stories from the 1800s in Brilliant New Editions! ============= ============================


  4. huntleyfilmarchives Says:

    Hi, I just want to say how much I love ALL of your posts! Not just those concerning fences! I work in a film archive in the U.K and I spend a lot of time pottering around the celluloid streets of New York city, though sadly I’ve never been. I think you might enjoy this collection https://www.huntleyarchives.com/collection.asp?collection=new+york
    All the very best,

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