Religious Buildings (Churches, Mosques, Synagogues) in the Records of the National Register of Historic Places

Today’s post is by John LeGloahec, Archivist in the Electronic Records Division at the National Archives in College Park, MD.

Alaska Church at sunset
St. George–Church, religious (National Archives Identifier 131115264)

The month of April is significant for many of the world’s religions.  Easter will be celebrated on Sunday April 17, the Jewish holiday of Passover will take place from April 15 through April 23, and April will also mark the Islamic feast of Ramadan.  Many religious buildings are found in the Records of the National Historic Register as well.  There are more than 30,000 references to “church” in the NRHP records; close to 1000 entries for “synagogue”;  106 entries for “mosque”; along with entries for Friends Meetinghouses and Mormon Temples.

As noted, churches are the majority of religious structures in the NRHP records, including the Pohick Church, located in Lorton, Virginia.  The Pohick Church “is a rectangular, two-story brick structure crowned by a modillioned cornice and a hipped roof . . . The distinguishing feature of Pohick’s exterior is its especially fine stonework which includes the large quoins at all four corners and the three doorways . . . Pohick’s exterior has undergone several restorations, and much of the fabric, such as the window sills and portions of the roof and cornice, have been renewed.”

“The churchyard contains many colonial tombs, a number of which were moved there. The vestry house to the east was erected in 1931, according to plans of 1772 which had never been executed.”

Pohick Church in Virginia
Pohick Church (National Archives Identifier 169135537)

“Pohick Church, in Truro Parish, was completed in 1772, replacing an earlier eighteenth century frame church of the same name. It has been suggested that George Washington drew the south elevation as well as the plans for the church . . . During the Civil War, Pohick Church sustained extensive damage to its interiors when Federal troops used it as a stable, and its exterior walls were used for target practice . . . Pohick Church is associated with the names of several leading colonial patriots. George Washington and George Mason attended Pohick Church and served on the vestry of Truro Parish; and along with George William Fairfax, served on the building committee. It is also said that the colorful Parson Weems preached here.”

If you find yourself in Boston, Massachusetts, you can visit the historic Old North Church, where during the American Revolution, lanterns were hung in the belfry of the church to alert Paul Revere that British forces were on the move – who then rode out from Boston to alert the Minutemen that “the British are Coming!”

Paul Revere and the Old North Church
Revere Statue and Old North Church (National Archives Identifier 7290303)

“Historically and architecturally, the Old North Church (Christ Church) on Salem Street in Boston’s North End is one of America’s most cherished landmarks. Despite the almost legendary quality of the story today, two lanterns did hang in the spire on the night of April 18, 1775, to notify patriots on the opposite side of the Charles River that British troops were moving out of Boston by water in route to Concord and Lexington. In addition to its role as a signal station on the eve of the American Revolution, Old North possesses further distinction as Boston’s oldest surviving church and the first such building in the English colonies to assume the fully developed character of Christopher Wren’s London churches.  Old North Church “was designed by William Price, a Boston book and print dealer, and erected in 1723-37. The wooden spire added to the tower of the brick building in 1740 was seriously damaged by storms in 1804 and 1954, and was replaced on both occasions; the design of the earlier (1807) replacement is generally attribute d to Charles Bulfinch. The church was restored in 1912-14 and has been well maintained since that time.”

“Unlike Boston’s Puritan meeting houses. Old North was fitted with an organ. The first was a second-hand instrument purchased in Newport, Rhode Island. In 1759 Thomas Johnston of Boston completed a new organ, located at the center of the rear gallery; although it has twice been rebuilt, most of the original casing and some of the pipes remain in place.”

Paul Revere, who was also a parishioner at the Church (and whose descendants still have a reserved pew at the church, is also depicted in a statue in front of the church – each year reenactors recreate the lighting of the lanterns in the spire of the church.  “Following the incident of the lanterns, Old North was closed for a period of three years because of the open conflict between Patriot and Tory parishioners. The Rector, the Rev. Mather Byles, Jr., was exiled to Canada as a Tory. When the church reopened after the Revolution there was an attempt by French Huguenots to take over the parish, but enough Patriot Anglicans returned to continue traditions of worship under the newly organized Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States. In 1810, the current Rector, Rev. Asa Eaton, helped to organize the Salem Street Academy, which led to the construction of a school building on the north side of the church property. Five years later, the Old North parish established the first Sunday School in the eastern United States.”

Also located in the Northeast is one of the most historic synagogues located in the United States, the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island. “Touro Synagogue National Historic Site, the oldest standing Jewish synagogue in the United States, is a small .23-acre site at #85 Touro Street in Newport, Rhode Island. The synagogue was dedicated on December 2, 1763, by the Rabbi Isaac Touro, the first minister of the congregation of Newport Sephardim (Jews of Spanish and Portuguese origin).

Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island
Touro Synagogue & Burying Ground – Newport, Rhode Island
(National Archives Identifier 27581330)

“Touro Synagogue was designated a National Historical Historic Site on March 5, 1946. It is significant in that it is the oldest standing synagogue in the United States, a splendid example of the architectural genius of colonial architect Peter Harrison, a symbol of religious liberty, and a site that is closely tied to the history of Newport and its Jewish community . . . Peter Harrison  designs were exceptional in Colonial America for their purity of detail and monumental qualities. He also designed the Redwood Library in Newport (1748-50), King’s Chapel, Boston (1749-54), the Brick Market, Newport (1761), and Christ Church, Cambridge (1761).”

“Rhode Island’s tradition of religious toleration is reflected in the history of Newport and in the growth of its Jewish community. Jews were attracted to Newport by religious freedom offered by Roger Williams, founder of the colony of Rhode Island. They were also lured by the commercial advantages Newport offered in colonial times. The earliest mention of Jews in Newport is 1658, when fifteen Jewish families are said to have arrived, but it was Jews who settled there between 1740 and 1760 who gave Newport the great impulse to commercial activity. Newport Jews were merchants, shippers, craftsmen, and producers who contributed to the making of that bustling city port. The earthquake in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1755 precipitated the arrival of many Jews in Newport, one of these being Isaac Touro who became the first rabbi of the Congregation Yeshuat Israel.”

Islamic Mosque in Washington DC
Washington, DC – Worshipers at the Islamic Mosque
 (National Archives Identifier 24520420)

There are approximately 100 references to “mosques” in the NRHP records, including the Missouri SP Abou Ben Adhem Shrine Mosque, while not an Islamic Mosque, is associated with the “Shriners.” “On October 15, 1903, Abou Ben Adhem Temple was organized in the Baldwin Theater in Springfield, Missouri by officers of the Ararat Temple of the Ancient and Accepted Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (A.A.O.N.M.S.) in Kansas City, Missouri. The local Shriners’ first permanent home was erected on Walnut Street in 1906. Their constantly growing membership, however, led the organization to erect the present Mosque in 1922-1923  . . . From 1922 to the present. Shrine Mosque has been the home for the Springfield chapter of A.A.O.N.M.S. This national organization has been especially noted for its charitable work since its inception in 1876. The Springfield chapter alone, which has a current membership of about 6,000, has contributed about half a million dollars over the years to the Shrine Childrens’ Hospital Association in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.”

“Abou Ben Adhem Shrine Mosque in Springfield, Missouri, a building which achieved the status of a City Historic Site in October 1973, is significant due to its impressive architectural styling and its dual function as southwest Missouri’s regional civic and cultural center and as the home for the considerable charitable activities of Springfield’s Shriners for over 50 years.”

The Mormon Temple located in Manti, Utah (National Archives Identifier 72001714) was constructed in the latter part of the 19th Century, when “on April 14, 1879 the cornerstones were laid, and work was begun on the walls, which were built of stone, taken from the hill. At the time of construction workers were relatively few in number . . . When completed, the cost of the structure was estimated at a million dollars.  [The] Architect was William H. Folsom. The building, with its unique setting, is undoubtedly one of the finest examples of Mormon Temple architecture to be found anywhere.” 

Mormon Temple in Utah
Salt Lake Mormon Temple from U.S. 89 (National Archives Identifier 135804510)

“The temple, with its base eighty feet above the highway, holds a commanding position over Manti and the surrounding valley. The sloping lawns, brilliant flowers, and wide variety of trees and shrubs were made possible by hauling enough soil to cover the stone base.  The temple is 171 feet long and 95 feet wide. It is built of local oolitic limestone of a warm cream color. The towers on each end are topped by bell-shaped roofs which are influenced by Victorian architectural fashions. The front of the temple is on the east as with all Mormon Temples and the rear fronts the highway . . . In the basement is a baptismal font resting on the backs of twelve cast life-size oxen . . . In the two west corner towers are spiral staircases, extending from the basement to the roof. Engineers and architects have acclaimed them as remarkable pieces of workmanship.”

The State of Utah has one of the highest population of Mormons in the United States, and the headquarters of the Mormon Church is located in Salt Lake City.  There is also an entry in the NRHP records for Utah MPS Mormon Church Buildings in Utah (National Archives Identifier  72000527), which references the four major Mormon temples in Utah constructed in the 19th Century, all constructed at the request of Mormon President Brigham Young, seen below.

Brigham Young
Brigham Young (National Archives Identifier 94272071)

The MPS entry contains information about several Mormon-related buildings around the state, including Mormon Meetinghouses and Tabernacles, Schools and Academies, Social/Amusement Halls, Cooperative Mercantile Stores, Mining and Industrial Buildings, Relief Society Buildings, and Tithing Offices and Granaries of the Mormon Church.

Quaker Meeting House in Massachusetts
Quaker Meeting Place – Adams, Massachusetts (National Archives Identifier 27581346)

The Quaker Meetinghouse located in Adams, Massachusetts (National Archives Identifier 27581346), “is located within the Maple Street Cemetery in the western part of the town of Adams. According to town records, it was constructed sometime between 1781 and 1784. The simple two-story clapboard building measures 36½ feet by 28½ feet and has a ridge roof and brick chimney on the west end. The facade (south) facing Maple Street has double doors for separate entry by men and women. On either side of the doors are single windows with twelve-over-twelve lights and wooden shutters. Directly above these windows are corresponding windows on the second floor, these having nine lights.”

“The Quaker Meeting House in Adams is significant as one of the few remaining examples of eighteenth-century Friends meeting house architecture and is important for its associations with the early settlement and history of Adams.  The town of Adams (originally East Hoosuc) was settled soon after 1769 by a group of Quakers, most of whom were from Smithfield, Rhode Island and nearby Dartmouth, Massachusetts. The Friends soon owned nearly all the farms in the valley . . . The adjacent cemetery was used by the Friends for a considerable period before the Meeting House was built, and not until 1797 was the land formally deeded by Isaac Killey, John and Patience Lapham, John Russell and James Lapham, to John Lapham and John Wells who held it for a brief period before turning it over to the Society of Friends.”

In Alexandria, Virginia, not far from Washington, DC, is the Alfred Street Baptist Church, which is “the oldest African-American congregation in Alexandria and one of the oldest in the Washington area . . . The school played a major role in Alexandria’s free Black community prior to the Civil War despite the state restrictions on the assembly of African Americans. Its library was one of the first open to African Americans . . . It is located in the City’s Old and Historic District and in the neighborhood known as “the Bottoms,” the oldest African American neighborhood in Alexandria.”

“The building is a good example of the vernacular tradition prevalent in much of the architecture of the city, a tradition that often borrows from the academic and transposes its elements to suit a particular circumstance. The 1880’s facade is reminiscent of the Romanesque Revival, of which there are few examples in any form in Alexandria. Nothing is known about the configuration of the original facade but it is possible to surmise from the massing and roof pitch, original window proportions and its date, that it many have been Greek Revival in feeling. It is highly likely that it was designed and built by black craftsmen although no individual designer or overseer is known. The church is one of two extant ante-bellum black churches in the city, a period represented by no other known black institutional structure.”

President Obama at Easter Services in Alexandria Virginia
President Barack Obama Attends Easter Service at the Alfred Street Baptist Church
(National Archives Identifier 183897110

This post is part of an ongoing series featuring records from the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) and National Historic Landmarks Program Records, 2013 – 2017 (National Archives ID 20812721), a series within Record Group 79: Records of the National Park Service.

2 thoughts on “Religious Buildings (Churches, Mosques, Synagogues) in the Records of the National Register of Historic Places

  1. You quoted from the description of the Manti, Utah temple, but the photograph is of the temple in Salt Lake City,

    1. Thank you for your comment. The National Archives Catalog description for this temple notes that the Original Caption reads “Mormon Temple from U.S. 89, Manti, Utah. G. B. Gordon – Div. of Design.” and further notes that it is in Salt Lake City. The NRHP file does reference the Manti temple. The photo was inserted to depict a temple, not necessarily the Manti temple.

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