St. Joseph's RC Church Manhattanville, West Harlem, NYC
St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church (and Rectory, set back unseen behind the tree to the left of the entry) was founded and built in 1860 as St. Joseph of the Holy Family. It is located at the northwest corner of 125th Street and Morningside Avenue (formerly Ninth Avenue). The church originally served the German Catholic population of Manhattanville (now encompassed by West Harlem). A 100th anniversary souvenir history in 1960 noted: “While the construction of the church was going on...on May 30, of the year 1861 was celebrated what was probably the first public Corpus Christi procession in New York City.”
The late 19th-century Harlem contractor John J. Hopper reminisced about this church in his series of Manhattanville history newspaper articles, circa 1920, as “the German Catholic Church at Ninth Avenue, which my father [Isaac A. Hopper] built” during his boyhood on Manhattan Street [now 125th Street] from 1853 to 1865.
Although the AIA guide attributes the church’s architecture to the Herter Brothers in 1889, that building date is incorrect, probably confused with that of St. Joseph's ancillary school building around the corner at 168 Morningside Avenue; architectural historian Sandra Levine attributes the architecture to Henry Engelbert. David Dunlap cites this church in his book, “Glory in Gotham: Manhattan’s Houses of Worship,” as the oldest church in Harlem, but that observation would apply only to the building itself.
The honor of Harlem's two oldest local congregations belongs to the Elmendorf Reformed Church (established in 1660 as the Reformed Low Dutch Church) in what is now called East Harlem, and nearby St. Mary's Protestant Episcopal Church Manhattanville, established in 1823.