The Park Avenue United Methodist Church in the City of New York celebrates its 186th anniversary this year (2023). The church was incorporated under the name Methodist Episcopal Church in Yorkville on March 10, 1837, by three circuit-rider ministers assigned to the Harlem Mission; Daniel De Vinné, John Luckey and Richard Seaman.
Originally part of the Harlem Mission circuit, the Park Avenue United Methodist Church was established and incorporated under the name Methodist Episcopal Church in Yorkville on March 10, 1837, by two circuit riders on the mission, Daniel De Vinné and John Luckey. When the Harlem Mission circuit was established in 1831, schoolhouses and private homes were used for public worship. Rev. Ira Ferris, the first circuit rider on the Mission, noted that the transient nature of the population in Yorkville, at that time a rural village centered at 86th Street and Third Avenue, had prevented the establishment of a permanent society. In 1837, when Rev. De Vinné was appointed to the Harlem Mission circuit, meetings in Yorkville were held in a rented room in the second story of a private house, over a rum-selling grocery opposite Hazard’s Tavern on Third Avenue.
At the home of Gilbert Bates on the corner of Third Avenue and Eighty-Fourth Street, Rev. De Vinné organized a class, established a Sunday school, and appointed a Board of Trustees. Along with the Rev. Dr. Richard Seaman, who had already established three churches on the mission, Rev. De Vinné purchased four lots on 86th Street, across the street from where the present building stands, for $800.00 each. Financial assistance from Yorkville residents had been anticipated, but the contributions did not materialize due to the Financial Panic of 1837. In addition to the weak economy, Rev. De Vinné’s reputation as an abolitionist caused financial support to be withheld. By collecting small sums from many individuals, including the millionaire John Jacob Astor, who lived on 86th Street at the time, as well as other Methodist congregations, and a sizeable sum of $500.00 from Paschal B. Smith of Allen Street, who was also an abolitionist, a sufficient sum was acquired for the establishment of the Church.
The first building of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Yorkville, a wooden structure, was purchased from a parish in the Bowery, disassembled, moved uptown, and reassembled on 86th Street. That structure was demolished in 1858 and a new brick edifice, dedicated on January 30, 1859, was erected in its place.
Between 1859 and 1883, the parish saw a tremendous growth in membership, and it was decided that a larger church building was needed. The brick building was sold in 1883 to Jewish Congregation Gates of Hope and was used as a synagogue until it was demolished and replaced by a new synagogue building in 1904. Lots purchased on the southeast corner of Park Avenue and 86th Street became site of the new Park Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church, which was dedicated on March 23, 1884. In order to accommodate a membership that had grown in excess of 700 persons, the new brownstone church, chapel and parsonage occupied 102 feet on Park Avenue and 108 feet on 86th Street. Growth and prosperity continued up until the 1920s, but a decline in membership after that time combined with the need for extensive renovations and repairs to the church building prompted the erection of the present smaller church building along with an apartment house (1035 Park Avenue) that would serve as a means of revenue for the Church. Demolition of the third building was begun in 1924.
The architect for our present building, dedicated on January 9, 1927, was Henry C. Pelton, who also designed the Riverside Church for Henry Emerson Fosdick. The façade was largely inspired by the 12th century Church of San Abbondio at Como, Italy. Some of the timbers that were not reused when the 1786 John Street Church in New York City was rebuilt in 1817, had been used for the construction of our first church building. In our present building, one of these old timbers from the first Methodist Church in America serves as a supporting beam for the pulpit.
The Great Depression followed on the enormous financial commitment involved in the apartment building, and membership declined in the 1930s to the point that the Church received an episcopal directive to close in 1946. A small group of members worked with the pastor, Rev. Paul N. Otto to keep the Church open and after an appeal to the United Methodist City Society received financial support for ten years. The apartment building was sold in 1956.
In 1954, the Church purchased a warehouse in Franconia, Virginia as an investment. When the U.S. Government purchased it from the Church in 1966, the Park Avenue Methodist Church Trust was created. Today, the income from this Trust benefits the work of Methodism in the New York City area.
Although variations in the name of the Church have been used throughout the years, its name was not legally changed from Methodist Episcopal Church in Yorkville to Park Avenue Methodist Church until 1948.
Take a look at the Park Ave Methodist Digital Archive, an ongoing project to research and digitize the archives of our congregation.
The first Eighty-Sixth Street Methodist Church. When this building was demolished in 1858, services were held in a hall on the corner of Fourth Ave. and 86th St. during construction of the second church building.
The second church building, dedicated January 30, 1859, was sold in 1883 to Jewish Congregation Gates of Hope and became known as the Eighty-Sixth Street Temple. Methodist Church services were held at Parepa Hall, Third Avenue and 86th St., until a chapel of the new church was completed.
The third Park Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church building, known as “the Great Church,” was dedicated March 23, 1884. Services were held at the Park Avenue Presbyterian Church on 81st Street during construction of the current church building.