documenting the
historic architecture
of New Jersey



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Welcome to The Wooden Nail Press!

My name is Frank Greenagel and I am the owner of this website, as well as of the publishing operation I've named The Wooden Nail Press. You can read why in the about section. I'd like to encourage you to look at the print on demand section also, as it contains an explanation of a technology and means of production that serious book-buyers need to know. It's a disruptive technology and it's going to grow.

My purpose is obviously to sell you a book while you're here, so I've tried to provide all the information you might need to decide. All the books are on the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century churches, meetinghouses and synagogues of New Jersey. I suppose it would not be too immodest to say that I'm generally regarded as the leading authority on that subject—Rutgers University Press asked me to write the entry on religious architecture for their Encyclopedia of New Jersey a few years ago, and the oldest scholarly history journal in the country, New Jersey History, had me contribute an article on late-Victorian Methodist churches. Last year saw the publication of their delightfully informative Mapping New Jersey "atlas;" I was asked to write the article on religious diversity for that book. And I've probably visited more churches in the state than anyone, ever.

To date I've photographed more than 1,300 of the old churches of New Jersey—there are about 1,500 of them still standing, and my goal is to capture them all. We'd be the first state in the country to have a complete inventory of the religious architecture of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Ten of the county books are available now, and the 11th (Cumberland) and 12th (Essex) should be out by early spring (2013). I've been working on the project for 11 years, and expect to complete two books a year. Maybe.

I'll update this page quarterly, or whenever I've got a new book coming out, but if you are interested in religious architecture please check back occasionally as I will update the events & links and the reviews sections periodically. The website will probably evolve a bit as I learn more about the interests of people like you, so please send me any reactions or suggestions.

A Brief History of Religious Architecture
New Jersey, 1703-1900

by Frank L. Greenagel

110 pages, 99 color and b&w photographs, tables, bibliography, index
8 x 10 in., paperback, list price: $24.95
ISBN-13:   978-0-9818851-7-9   Publication date: December 2010

A Brief History is an extensively-illustrated survey of the architectural traditions and changes in the churches, meetinghouses and synagogues erected in New Jersey between 1703 and 1900.
This chronologically-organized account is sparing of technical architectural terms and long on an interpretation of the social and cultural forces operating—why the buildings look the way they do. While the eighteenth century religious architecture was largely derivative of old world construction practices and architectural traditions, in the nineteenth century, the unfettered religious pluralism that had evolved out of Independence resulted in hundreds of new churches and synagogues. Steam-driven manufacturing had made elaborate architectural elements affordable for even the smallest congregations, and architects vied with each other to express their interpretations of Greek, Gothic, Romanesque and late Victorian styles for the emergent professional and merchant classes.

From the sophisticated Gothic Revival designs erected in stone by leading architects to the simple wooden-frame and brick meetinghouses, often built by members of the congregation, the book offers an engaging account, illustrated by stunning full-color photographs of the visual and material presence of the state’s religious buildings. Many are on the National Register of Historic Places. But this is not church history in its standard form, focusing only on the grandest churches; one can follow the growing affluence and taste of rural and small town congregations as their churches grew in size and refinement over the 200 years examined here. Economic, social and cultural factors occupy a central role in the description and explanation of why the churches look the way they do. By the last decades of the nineteenth century, when more than a third of the surviving houses of worship were erected, it is clear that piety was no longer the driving force.

   In addition to the vigorous, unprecedented religious pluralism, a vibrant secular life emerged during this period,    capped by apparently irresistable, broadly available arrays of material goods that turned Americans into    voracious consumers. Calvinism had been turned on its head. Powerful denominational institutions had already    formed, and would exert an increasingly centralized order on the newly-formed congregations. By 1800, or    shortly thereafter, presbyteries, confences, synods, ministeriums, and other associations had organized to    recognize congregations, train and supply ministers, found colleges and seminaries, organize subsidies for smaller    congregations, and expel ministers for heresy. They also pushed for better architecture, in the belief that their    institutional success in a competitive environment depended on their public face.

Dr. Greenagel, a New Jersey resident, is an established local and regional historian and photographer. He focuses on church architecture and history and has published many articles on those subjects in popular magazines, scholarly journals and in The Encyclopedia of New Jersey. In addition to The New Jersey Churchscape(Rutgers University Press, 2000) he has published eight other works on the early religious architecture of the state.

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