The country chapel still standing on 42nd Street

On the eastern end of 42nd Street between First and Second Avenues stands a delightful little brick church.

Hemmed in on all three sides by tall apartment towers, it’s an eclectic dollhouse-like structure—with Gothic windows and arches as well as a facade that looks like a nod to its Tudor City neighbors.

But this church predates Tudor City and the modern hustle of East 42nd Street by at least 50 years.

So how did a country-style chapel end up on one of New York’s busiest thoroughfares?

The story begins with another church, the Church of the Covenant (above in 1890)—a Presbyterian church completed in 1865 at Fourth Avenue (now Park Avenue) and 35th Street. After the Civil war, this area was on its way to becoming one of the poshest enclaves in Manhattan.

“Dedicated in 1865, the graceful stone building was designed in the Romanesque style by James Renwick, Jr., the noted architect of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, All Saints Catholic Church and Grace Church in New York City, and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC,” wrote nycago.com.

In the 1870s and 1880s, the Church of the Covenant began running a mission school out of a stable on East 40th Street. One of the Church’s well-heeled congregants was architect J. Cleveland Cady, the designer behind the original Metropolitan Opera House, part of the American Museum of Natural History, and dozens of churches and synagogues in and around New York City.

Cady ran the mission school, and in 1871 he designed a country-style chapel known as Covenant Chapel that served as kind of a satellite branch of the church down on 35th Street.

By the 1890s, East 42nd Street was a developing residential area. But it still didn’t have the population and cache of Murray Hill.

That would soon change. As New York’s population marched northward, Covenant Chapel’s congregation became larger than that of the main church.

In 1893, the country chapel on 42nd Street became the main church. “A Fellowship Hall was added to the 42nd Street site in 1927, with a half-timbered facade to complement neighboring Tudor City,” wrote David Dunlap in From Abyssinian to Zion: A Guide to Manhattan’s Houses of Worship.

The original Church of the Covenant outlived its use and was bulldozed—and the little country chapel continues to serve the neighborhood.

[Second image: CUNY Graduate Center Collection]

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12 Responses to “The country chapel still standing on 42nd Street”

  1. GhostBikeCollector Says:

    Park Avenue South ends at E. 32nd Street.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Ah you are right—I always think of the dividing line between Park Ave and Park Avenue South as 42nd Street.

  2. Bob Says:

    A 1925 photo shows the view before the street was regraded and the church altered. On the right is the church (which the caption says was to be demolished for the 1928 construction of Tudor City.)

    https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47dd-0470-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Luckily it escaped the wrecking ball. These photos you’ve found really illuminate how out of place this lovely chapel is in the 20th century city of pavement, towers, and tenements.

  3. Tony Towle Says:

    Nitpickingly, I would point out that Fourth Avenue and 35th Street would now be Park Avenue and 35th Street. Park Avenue South ends after 32nd Street.

  4. Bob Says:

    A 1934 photo shows the 1927 alteration. 42nd Street not yet regraded.

    https://collections.mcny.org/Collection/304-East-42nd-Street.-Tudor-City,-Hotel-Tudor-24UFQE9RVS1.html

  5. kenny Says:

    I have watched the manhattanhenge from the overpass there a few times and wondered what the church was like inside.

  6. countrypaul Says:

    How nice that this bit of human scale continues. And the links to the old photos in the comments are a rabbit hole I could get lost in for far too long!

  7. Chester Says:

    Lived right next door in the Woodstock back in the early ’80’s. Was a great quiet neighborhood.

  8. Joanne Says:

    Lived around the corner on E. 41st in Tudor City. And when it became a co-op our bldg had meetings inside church. The neighborhood/development by Fred R. French has a rich history. Ephemeral profiled an old townhouse on my block at the edge of Tudor City Park that had been abandoned and sitting in decrepitude for decades. When workers began rehabilitation they allowed me to go inside and I walked precariously up three flights of stairs. Could not happen now… Rooms were small but all had original chandeliers and. Have photos of outside before and after..renovations.

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