St. Stephen United Methodist Church - The Bronx, N.Y. (photo: Jim Henderson)
 
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St. Stephen United Methodist Church

146 West 228th Street at Marble Hill Avenue
Bronx, N.Y. 10463


Organ Specifications:
146 West 228th Street at Marble Hill Avenue (since 1897)
II/11 Estey Organ Company, Op. 256 (1905)
• unknown (c.1897)
Broadway near 231st Street (1876-1897)
• unknown
Albany Post Road at 251st Street (1835-1876)
• unknown


The congregation known today as St. Stephen's United Methodist can trace its history back to 1826 when a Methodist Episcopal society comprised of "thirty-six white members and one colored" met in an old school-house that stood near Warner's store in the Mosholu area of The Bronx. This group, known as the Moshulu Methodists, was served by circuit-riding preachers during its earliest years. On February 10, 1835, trustees were chosen and the society was incorporated as "Trustees of Methodist Church Bethel" in the town of Yonkers. In that same year a frame building was erected on the west side of the Albany post road at what is now 251st Street. This was the first house of worship to be erected by a religious society in King's Bridge.

After four decades on Albany Post Road, the congregation acquired property on Broadway between 231st Street and Verveelen Place. The society was reorganized as St. Stephen's Methodist Episcopal Church and a new church building was completed and dedicated on May 14, 1876.

As residents migrated farther south to be closer to the city center, St. Stephen's Church relocated in 1897 to Marble Hill, an area that was originally the northernmost tip of Manhattan Island. However, in 1895 the Army Corps of Engineers constructed the Harlem River Ship Channel to connect the Harlem and Hudson Rivers, rendering Marble Hill an island bounded by the channel to the south and the original course of the Harlem River (known as Spuyten Duyvil Creek) to the north. The Greater New York Charter of 1897 designated Marble Hill as part of the Borough of Manhattan—a fact that remains unchanged—but in 1914 Spuyten Duyvil Creek was filled in and Marble Hill was physically connected to the Borough of The Bronx.

The present church building was designed by Alexander McMillan Welch and completed in 1897. Welch was a prolific architect and his wife was a descendant of the prominent Dyckman family. Located on the southeast corner of 228th Street and Marble Hill Avenue, the historic Shingle-style building features a tall bell tower at the corner and tall gables terminating in broad pediments that frame circular stained glass windows on both street facades. The interior is based on the "Akron Plan," a popular style of Protestant church architecture in the nineteenth-century that provided increased capacity and encouraged participation when adjacent Sunday school classrooms were opened into the auditorium. At St. Stephen's, the Sunday school classrooms on the second floor balcony are divided by rolling partitions that can open into the amphitheatre-style auditorium below. Above the curved oak pews is an extraordinary wood ceiling paneled in a herringbone design.

One of the most notable pastors of St. Stephen's was the Rev. William A. Tieck (1908-1997), who served the congregation from 1946 until 1977 when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70. Upon his assignment to the church, he noticed the year "1897" was chiseled on the cornerstone and realized the building's 50th anniversary would occur the next year. In preparation, Dr. Tieck searched through old records until he had amassed material for a book, "God's House and the Old Kingsbridge Road." Due to his delving into history, Dr. Tieck then founded the Kingsbridge Historical Society and frequently exhibited displays in the social hall of the church. After his retirement, Dr. Tieck was well known as the official Bronx County Historian, which he served from 1989 to 1996, and author of several books on the Bronx, one of which is Riverdale, Kingsbridge Spuyten Duyvil New York City, A Historical Epitome of the Northwest Bronx, published in 1968.

Over the years, Marble Hill has evolved from an area inhabited by white Irish and Jewish families to an area of many black and Latino residents. Today, St. Stephen's is known for its "Jazz and the World" services that feature the Rev. Nathaniel Dixon, a former professional musician, on saxophone. In 2009, the church embarked on a $500K, three-phase renovation program that will provide more accessibility to the handicapped, better lighting and new flooring.
             
Estey Organ Company
Brattleboro, Vt. – Opus 256 (1905)
Tubular-pneumatic action
2 manuals, 11 stops, 11 ranks


After seven years in their present building, St. Stephen's Church ordered a new organ from the Estey Organ Company of Brattleboro, Vt. This organ was built in 1905 and had two manuals and eleven stops. The following specification was recorded by Barry Kloda in August, 2004. This organ is extant and playable.
               
Great Organ (Manual I) – 61 notes
8
  Open Diapason
61
4
  Flute d'Amour
61
8
  Dulciana
61
4
  Principal [Octave?]
61
8
  Melodia
61
       
 
     
 
     
Swell Organ (Manual II) – 61 notes, enclosed
8
  Violin Diapason
61
4
  Flute Harmonic
61
8
  Salicional
61
8
  Oboe
61
8
  Stopped Diapason
61
    Tremolo  
 
     
 
     
Pedal Organ – 32 notes
16
  Bourdon
32
       
               
Couplers
    Great to Pedal       Swell to Great 8'  
    Swell to Pedal       Swell to Great 4'  
               
Pedal Movements
    Balanced Swell Pedal          
    Crescendo Pedal          
               
Sources:
     Anderson, Susan Heller and David W. Dunlap. "New York Day by Day; A Country-Like Parish Surrounded by Change," The New York Times (Apr. 21, 1986).
     Clark, Roger. "Bronx Congregation Works to Restore Old Church," NY1 News (http://www.ny1.com), March 12, 2009.
     Dugan, George. "150 Years Marked by a Church Here," The New York Times (Feb. 24, 1975).
     The Estey Pipe Organ web site: www.esteyorgan.com
     Kloda, Barry. Specifications of Estey Organ, Op. 256 (1905).
     Nelson, George. Organs in the United States and Canada Database. Seattle, Wash.
     "125 Years Marked by Historic Church," The New York Times (Feb. 19, 1951).
     Renner, James. "History of Saint Stephen's," Washington Heights & Inwood Online: http://www.washington-heights.us/
     Scharf, J. Thomas. History of Westchester County, New York, including Morrisania, Kings Bridge and West Farms which have been annexed to New York City. Philadelphia: L.E. Preston & Co., 1886.
     Thomas, Robert McG., "Dr. William A. Tieck, Minister and a Bronx Historian, 89," The New York Times (Jan. 20, 1997).
     Twomey, Bill. The Bronx in Bits and Pieces, New York: Authorhouse, 2007.

Illustration:
     Henderson, Jim. Exterior.