Fire Guts Century Old Church in New Rochelle


Update: New Rochelle Fire Commissioner Doc Kiernan says the fire that devastated one of New Rochelle’s oldest and most architecturally historic churches, and which went to 5 alarms early Monday morning is still not out.

“It’s still smoldering under wreckage from the interior collapse, he said. ” The New Rochelle Fire Dept. will keep watch on it, but a high wind warning forecast for tonight could fan the flames.”

Main Street Eastbound between North and Franklin Avenues will remain closed into Tuesday, according to City Manager Charles Strome.

“Final determination of the viability of the structure will be determined between City and Church officials Tuesday morning, and the Fire Dept. will begin an investigation into the cause,” a City Press memo says.

100 firefighters responded from New Rochelle, White Plains, Larchmont, Greenville (Greenburg) and Town of Mamaroneck.

“Firefighters from Pelham and Hartsdale covered our vacant firehouses. There were only three minor injuries: high carbon monoxide levels attributable to smoke inhalation,”  Kiernan said. All were treated and released.

The church is at 438 Main Street, across the street from New Roc City.

Firefighters battle blaze at Union Baptist Church overnight- courtesy: LoHud

“The roof and interior are obliterated and the integrity of the main stone walls are questionable,” said Kathy Gilwit,  Communications Coordinator for the City of New Rochelle.

The blaze also temporarily evacuated a nearby apartment building.

Last year theLoop featured the church in its “Where is it?” column.

In 1994 New Rochelle Historian Barbara Davis wrote of the structure, “Union Baptist Church, the house of worship located on the corner of Main Street and Locust Avenue, marked a great chapter in its lofty history in October 1994, when it was listed on the Westchester Inventory of Historic Places – the first New Rochelle site to achieve the recognition. The church was chosen for its cultural and historical characteristics and for the exemplary architecture of its 90-year old Neo-Romanesque edifice.

Two different congregations compose the cultural heritage of this church. It was built by a predominately white congregation, Salem Baptist, which no longer exists. Its current congregation, Union Baptist, is one of the city’s earliest black religious organizations.

Organized as the First Baptist Church of New Rochelle in 1849, the Salem congregation first met in a wooden house they had constructed on Rose Street (now North Avenue,) where they adopted the name Salem, a derivative of shalom, the Hebrew word for peace. Within two decades they purchased the property at Locust Avenue and Main Street from Alexander B. Hudson, (for whom Hudson Park is named.) The stone structure they built on this land would serve them from 1870 to 1903, when they began construction on a larger building on the site.

Officially dedicated in 1904, the present edifice was designed by architect Arthur Bates Jennings and built by the firm of V.J. Hedden and Sons at a cost of $54,825. Jennings configured the church’s interior using the Akron Plan, an open spatial arrangement that, although popular at the turn of the century, is seen in only a few Westchester churches today.  His use of ceiling stenciling was also unique – this church is the only in the county to possess such detailing. From Tuckahoe quarries, Waverly Marble Co. supplied the marble for the church – the same firm and marble used in the construction of the Metropolitan Life Building and Washington Square Arch in Manhattan.”

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