Our Church History
In the early 1800’s a quarantine station was built on the north shore of Staten Island. Located between the waterfront, St. Mark’s Place, Hyatt and Hannah Streets, the station was surrounded by a high stone wall. Immigrants from Europe who were sick with smallpox, yellow fever or malaria were forcibly detained there until they recovered or died. The station included several large hospital buildings, houses for staff, gardens and a cemetery.
Daniel D. Tompkins, governor of New York State from 1807 to 1817, moved to Staten Island in 1814. He bought hundreds of acres surrounding the Quarantine Station and designed the village of Tompkinsville. Tompkins was an active member of the Protestant Reformed Dutch Church in Port Richmond and a close friend of the pastor there, the Rev. Peter I. Van Pelt. Tompkins discussed with Van Pelt his deep concerns about the conditions in Quarantine and persuaded Van Pelt to hold services within the station’s walls. Tompkins frequently attended the services, which were regularly attended by the residents and staff of Quarantine.
In 1818 Tompkins, by then Vice President of the United States, donated land outside Quarantine so that a church building could be erected. It was located approximately where the Taco Bell is today. The cornerstone was laid on October 1, 1818 and the building dedicated on October 23, 1820. For five years it was part of the church in Port Richmond, with Van Pelt serving as minister at both sites. In July 1823 the Tompkinsville church became an independent congregation known as the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church in Tompkinsville. The Rev. John I. Miller was called as the first pastor and served until 1847.
The congregation continued to grow. The neighborhood became more commercial and a brewery opened a few blocks from the church. The congregation decided to seek a more suitable location. In 1862 land in Brighton Heights was given to the church and the cornerstone for a new building was laid on October 27, 1863. Construction was completed the following year. The cost, including furnishings and an organ, was $20,000. In 1870 the name was changed to the Reformed Church, Brighton Heights. A church hall was added in the 1880’s and enlarged in 1922. The ten stained glass windows in the sanctuary were added as memorials to former members of the church. The first was installed in 1910, the last in 1964. The stained glass window in the church hall came from Central Presbyterian Church when it disbanded.
It was late afternoon on a warm summer day, Friday, June 28, 1996, that members of the Brighton Heights Reformed Church came to understand the true meaning of the saying, “The church is not a building, not a steeple, we are the church.” For on that date, the beloved 133-year-old church building was completely destroyed by an accidental fire. Amid an outpouring of concern from the entire Staten Island community, church members were determined that a new church building would rise from the ashes. Members of the church would meet on Saturdays to pray on the vacant lot. They prayed that they would again, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, have a place of worship for all people.
In the spirit of ecumenical friendship, the Jewish Community Center, Tompkinsville, permitted the congregation to use their facilities until the former bank building adjacent to the property where the old church once stood could be purchased. The first service in the bank building was held on Palm Sunday, March 23, 1997.
The groundbreaking ceremony for the new church was held on Sunday, October 19,1997. The Port Richmond architectural firm of Diffendale & Kubec designed the new building. The cornerstone was laid when the church building was completed on October 30, 1999. On March 5, 2000 the Rev. James L. Seawood, who would become the 20th pastor, led the congregation from the bank building into the new church. The new church building was dedicated at a worship service held on Saturday, October 14, 2000. The members of the congregation dedicated themselves to go forward with a faith as strong as the stone foundation beneath the church that was built by God and for His glory. On January 6, 2002, Rev. Seawood was installed as the twentieth pastor of our congregation. Under the leadership of Rev. Seawood, prayer is at the center of our life together. The church has grown spiritually, membership has increased and outreach to the community is a vital part of our mission.