Seafarers and International House - New York City (photo: Steven E. Lawson)
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Seafarers and International House

123 East 15th Street at Irving Place
New York, N.Y. 10003

The ministry of Seafarers and International House dates back to 1873, when Pastor Per Johan Swärd was sent by the Church of Sweden, at the invitation of the Augustana Lutheran Church, to initiate a ministry to Swedish seafarers in New York City. After arriving in New York with his wife and son, Pastor Swärd immediately began to provide needed assistance to Scandinavian seafarers in a language they understood. It was a demanding ministry but the young pastor soon became aware of other needs. A flood of immigrants arrived almost daily at Castle Garden in the Battery, the gateway through which thousands of persons were admitted to the New World. Many immigrants were Swedes, exhausted by the journey, in need of practical help and spiritual food. Pastor Swärd felt called to minister to these individuals and families in addition to his work with seafarers.

Das Deutsche Emigranten Haus - New York City  
Das Deutsches Emigranten Haus
For over two decades, the ministry to Swedish seafarers and immigrants operated in conjunction with Das Deutsches Emigranten Haus, the German immigrant house established in 1873 by the General Council of the Lutheran Church of which the Augustana Synod was a part. This arrangement continued until the late 1890s when Pastor Swärd, who was now President of the Augustana Synod, helped establish an Immigranthemet (immigrant house) that was owned and operated by the Synod. Two small, adjacent houses on Moore Street were rented which provided a total of eighteen rooms. Here, the seafarers were provided with small, clean rooms, and wholesome meals. By 1896, the Immigranthemet was serving more than 40,000 Swedish newcomers a year, and additional space was needed. It was agreed to rent the building next door at No. 5 Water Street at a cost of $50 per month.

  Swedish Lutheran Immigrant House at 6 Water Street - New York City
  No. 5 Water Street
On March 6, 1898, the ministry was incorporated by the Augustana Lutheran Synod and named the "Evangelical Lutheran Augustana Synod's Immigrant Home in New York City." From its original focus on ministry to seafarers, to a parish-based ministry for Swedish immigrants, the emphasis was now primarily on serving immgrants at their port of entry. Following incorporation, the Synod purchased the formerly rented facilities on Water and Moore streets. Each of the small brick buildings was about 22' x 25' and stood about four stories high. Soon they were remodeled into a single unit with an entrance at No. 5 Water Street, just a few minutes' walk from the Battery.

As the influx of immigrants intensified, the U.S. Bureau of Immigration developed Ellis Island to receive and process them. Those who had family in the U.S. or job prospects moved rapidly through New York to other destinations, while those without such documenation often required extensive and protracted assistance, straining the limits of available governmental aid. In 1906, the name of the Immigrant Home ministry was changed to reflect its ethnic emphasis. For the next forty years it would be known as the "Swedish Lutheran Immigrant Home of New York City."

In 1914, as Europe became embroiled in war, the tide of immigrants in the U.S.A. lessened dramatically, and came to an end when the U.S. declared war on Germany in 1917. Ellis Island was closed as a port of entry and the need for a Swedish Immigrant House significantly diminished. At the close of World War I, a quota system of immigration was instituted. However, individuals and families were generally better prepared for the transition and were often sponsored by family members or prospective employers. Assistance to unemployed seafarers became a primary task of the Swedish Lutheran Immigrant Home. The time had come to reasses the ministry of the House.

In 1927, the Augustana Synod purchased a five-story warehouse at No. 6 Water Street, directly across the street from the outgrown and outmoded structures purchased two decades earlier. Funds were raised to modernize the warehouse to provide 34 rooms for lodging, a social room, a reading room, offices and kitchen facilities. This building was designated specifically to assist seafarers while they were in port.

After the collapse of the Stock Market in 1929, the scope of the ministry was expanded to included services to homeless, destitute men caught in the throes of the Depression years of 1929-1933, in addition to meeting the needs of unemployed seamen. The major relief efforts included free lodging and meals and cost the Home about $100,000. To meet this expense, maintenance on the buildings was deferred.

Following World War II, guests of the House were often but not always of Scandinavian descent, and about a fifth of the guests were technically not seafarers. A decision was made to officially welcome guests of all nationalities and creeds. In 1949, the name of the ministry was changed to "Lutheran Seamen's Center of the Augustana Lutheran Church."

By the 1950s, the properties on Water Street were in need of repairs and expansion. Ultimately, 5 Water Street was sold and improvements were made at 6 Water Street. Yet, the ministry had again outgrown its physical space and an intense search began for an appropriate site for a new center. A strategically located site was selected near Union Square, one of the busiest areas of the city. The new building was projected to cost $1.1 million, and fundraising efforts began. The sale of the Immigrant Home at 6 Water Street brought in $200,000.

As the Center struggled to raise capital funds, its parent body, the Augustana Evengelical Lutheran Church, merged with three other Lutheran bodies to form the Lutheran Church in America. An unanticipated benefiary of this action was the Lutheran Seamen's Center in New York City. For years, the Women's Missionary Society (WMS) of the Augustana Synod had served a transient female population in the heart of New York City. In 1931, the WMS purchased a building for $100,000 at 318-20 East 82nd Street "to provide a home for young girls who come to New York alone." In the early years of its operation the majority of resident of the Lutheran Home for Women were young Scandinavian domestics and unskilled laborers. By 1960, the Home for Women needed repairs and large infusions of money to remain viable as a safe haven for transient women. The Board of the WMS decided that it was time to consolidate their work in behalf of women with other missions to transient populations. A consolidation of the Lutheran Home for Women and the Lutheran Seaman's Center would strengthen and broaden the care to both seafarers and women. In an act of faith, the WMS sold their 82nd Street home and contributed the $300,000 proceeds to the capital campaign of the Lutheran Seaman's Center in return for assurances:

- that accomodations for women would be made available in the new facility;
- that seats on the Board of Trustees be reserved for women;
- that the name of the ministry be changed to the "Seamen and International House"

When well over half the cost of the project was covered, the Center obtained a mortgage and broke ground on March 14, 1963. The new Home opened on Valentines Day 1964, and the dedication of the building took place on September 27, 1964, led by the Rev. Dr. J. Vincent Nordgren, Superintendent and Director. As the guests toured the facilities, two unique gifts drew special attention. One, a rich tapestry dossal, hand wrought in Sweden, was sent as a gift of the Church of Sweden. The other, comfortably contoured hardwood pews for the Chapel, were gifts from grateful seafarers who had experienced the blessings of being guests, again and again, in the Old Center. Two floors of the present Center were set aside specifically for occupancy by women.

In 1986, the more inclusive term Seafarer was adopted, and the name of the ministry was changed to "Seafarers and International. House."

Today, the Chapel is used by the congregations of Christ Lutheran Church, formerly located at 355 East 19th Street, and Manhattan Cornerstone Presbyterian Church.


Noack Organ, Op. 38 (1967) in Nordgren Chapel of the Seafarers and International House - New York City (Photo: Steven E. Lawson)

Nordgren Chapel

Noack Organ Company

Georgetown, Mass. – Opus 38 (1967)
Mechanical key and stop action
1 manual, 5 stops, 7 ranks

Nordgren Chapel contains an organ built in 1967 by the Noack Organ Company of Georgetown, Mass. The one-manual and pedal organ is contained in a freestanding case located in the rear corner of the chapel. Despite its small size, the organ provides adequate support of the liturgy and congregational hymn singing in the resonant room.
Manual – 56 notes
Noack Organ, Op. 38 (1967) in Nordgren Chapel of the Seafarers and International House - New York City (Photo: Steven E. Lawson)
  Stopped Flute
  Mixture III ranks
Pedal – 32 notes

No stops; permanently coupled to manual      
Nordgren Chapel of the Seafarers and International House - New York City (photo: Steven E. Lawson)   Noack Organ, Op. 38 (1967) in Nordgren Chapel of the Seafarers and International House - New York City (Photo: Steven E. Lawson)

     "An Evolution of Service: Seafarers and International House 1873-1998," New York: Seafarers and International House, 1998.
     Nelson, George. Organs in the United States and Canada Database. Seattle, Wash.
     Seafarers and International House website:

     Lawson, Steven E. Exterior, interior, Noack Organ, Op. 38 (1967).
     Seafarers and International House. Archival photos.