ST. AUGUSTINE’S, Lower East Side

by Kevin Walsh

THE original name of St. Augustine’s Episcopal Chapel at #290 Henry near Jackson Street on the Lower East Side was All Saints Free Church, which is still carved over the front entrance. It was completed in 1829 in Manhattan schist. In “free” churches, rent was not charged for pews. In 1949, the congregation merged with St. Augustine’s Chapel of Trinity Church, then located at 107 East Houston Street, and the new combined congregation used the building on Henry Street. The parish became independent of Trinity in 1976.

The church was built with what it calls “slave galleries” or boxlike enclosures flanking the organ, where African American congregants were segregated during worship. The term “slave gallery” is inaccurate since the church opened in 1829, while slavery in NY State was abolished in 1827.

The present congregation consists mainly of African American local residents.

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chris June 29, 2022 - 8:30 pm

I bet that church had at one time a steeple but it got taken down.A lot of churches
have lopped off their steeples or belfries as they find they are not worth the maintenance
and potential liability from being toppled over in storms or high winds.I know of two
examples of that happening.

Peter June 30, 2022 - 8:24 pm

St. Anne’s Church in my hometown of Waterbury CT had these magnificent twin stone steeples that dominated the downtown cityscape. A couple of years ago the church, whose congregation has been shrinking for decades, had to have them removed because stones kept falling from them. Really sad.

Kenneth Buettner July 29, 2022 - 11:19 am

It is likely that the term “Slave Galleries” was a not-too-subtle reminder of the distinct segregation that existed post-slavery, even in churches.


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