Home LifestyleHoboken 101 The History of Hoboken’s Church of the Holy Innocents

The History of Hoboken’s Church of the Holy Innocents

by Kate Cummings
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While Christmas might be over, the holiday season is still in full swing. In honor of the season, we’re sharing a charitable story of one of the most beautiful, intriguing, and historic buildings in town – Church of the Holy Innocents.



church of the holy innocents hoboken

(Photo credit: Hoboken Historical Museum)

Completed in 1874, the church was commissioned by Martha Bayard Dod Stevens in remembrance of her daughter Julia Augusta, who died tragically at age seven from Typhoid fever in 1870. An Episcopal Church, historically it was free without pew fees and served the less fortunate, immigrant arrivals in town – yet another fine example of Matriarch Martha’s true benevolence in Hoboken.

Despite her wealth and status, she was known as a parishioner herself and when she died, private services were held for her family while over 5,000 mourners in 300 carriages paid their respects from outside. Martha spent a lifetime collecting items for this special church in all of her travels abroad.

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Its design by American architect Edward Tuckerman Potter {best known for the Mark Twain house in Hartford, Connecticut} and English architect Henry Vaughan {best known for St. John the Divine in Manhattan}, is taken from a small parish church in England as is Episcopalian tradition and is in the Gothic Revival style. A small but impressive ‘miniature cathedral’ on the corner of Sixth + Willow, it features large stone masonry, a decorative slate roof, large battlement, pointed and clover shaped windows, decorative tracery and leaded, stained glass designed by an apprentice to Louis Comfort Tiffany.

holy innocents church hoboken history

While out of commission for regular weekly services since the mid-40s and closed to the public for the most of the year, Hobokeners get to enjoy the equally glorious interior like a Christmas treat every December while the holiday market is on selling trees, wreaths, boughs and trimming.

If you’ve gotten your tree there or passed by in the last several weeks, you’ve probably noticed the large, exterior scaffolding. We were curious and got the chance to meet with the newly installed and wonderful Reverend Elaine Ellis Thomas {from Charlottesville – yes, THAT Charlottesville} and All Saints parishioner/former Warden, David Tornabene to find out what’s going on.

holy innocents church hoboken history

Over the last several years Friends of the Holy Innocents, a small group of volunteers who work under the auspices of All Saints Episcopal Parish and are dedicated to the restoration have been working with the community to restore and preserve the Church hosting limited seasonal events as well as Rummage & Ruffage, a local farmer’s market. Sadly the events and market stopped operation at the church this year due to required safety and accessibility upgrades.

Most immediately, the northern gable required repair as part of it had begun to separate from the building. Fortunately, with the help of the city’s Historic Preservation Committee, Friends of the Holy Innocents received the miracle of a late Hurricane Sandy grant for permanent repairs to remove and reset the stones to stabilize the structure. That work requires skilled old-world Trades and is a delicate and slow methodical process when you’re talking about a 145-year-old architecture that has not been maintained.   

holy innocents church hoboken history      

The ultimate future goal for the church is to become a regularly functioning community and event space for concerts, weddings, parties, and smaller liturgical services. Regrettably, the gable is just the first major item on the list towards that end. The church is in dire need of further funding for a full electrical and fire safety upgrade, and significant repairs to the Vestry, Rector’s Chapel and Baptistery.

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And while valiant efforts were made to save the original marble slab floors, many were cracked beyond repair over the years, not to mention holes in some of the stained glass works of art, a non-working organ and no modern heating system. In the 80s many of the decorative wood and metal elements, not to mention all of the furniture were stripped out. It is a full-scale renovation project for the bold and not faint of heart.

In brief, this rare beauty needs an Angel Investor to bring it back to its former splendor so that the people of Hoboken can enjoy it once again as Martha Bayard Dod Stevens intended!

holy innocents church hoboken history

To help support the repair work and rebuilding, please consider purchasing your holiday trees, wreaths and décor from Holy Innocents and have a look around while you’re at it — even in its current condition, it is a sight to behold. To make charitable donations to the restoration work, please contact www.churchofholyinnocents.org.

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