ARCHITECTURE AND ART
Plymouth Church has been a vital presence in Brooklyn Heights for over 160 years, and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961. The buildings and grounds feature noteworthy examples of American art and architecture in keeping with our significant history.
The Sanctuary on Orange Street, where Sunday worship services are held, is a fine example of 19th century urban tabernacle architecture with Italianate and colonial motifs. In 1849, a fire damaged Plymouth's original church, and this adjoining meetinghouse was quickly built, according to a basic plan influenced by the Broadway Tabernacle in Manhattan. Designed by the English architect J.C. Wells, a founder of the American Institute of Architects, Plymouth Church was clearly intended for the preaching of the Word, with excellent acoustics, good visibility and no center aisle. More like an auditorium or theater than what had traditionally been considered a church, this open design was enormously influential among many American Protestant churches.
Plymouth Church's new sanctuary was opened for worship the first Sunday of January 1850. Among its many innovations were delicate cast iron columns holding up the main balcony, first introduced in 1849. A smaller pipe organ installed in 1849 was replaced in 1866 with what was then the largest organ in the United States, built by E. and G.G. Hook of Boston. More recent additions to the Sanctuary include the chandelier and front portico.
The stained glass windows of Plymouth Church are widely recognized as artistic treasures. The prominent artist Frederick Stymetz Lamb designed, and his brothers of the J. and R. Lamb Studios in Greenwich Village built, the nineteen major windows of the Sanctuary, installed between 1907 and 1909. As planned by then-minister Newell Dwight Hillis, they are unusual in depicting historical, not religious, subjects, taking as their theme the influence of Puritanism (the parent of Congregationalism) on the growth of liberty in the United States--personal liberty, religious liberty and political liberty.
Joining these masterworks in nearby Hillis Hall are the original windows from Church of the Pilgrims, including three signed by Louis C. Tiffany and one from Tiffany Studios, transferred to Plymouth when the two churches merged in 1934. Several windows, including a noteworthy "Ascension" on the north wall, were created by Otto Heinigke, a leading glass artist of the early 20th century, and creator of the mosaics in the lobby of the Woolworth Building in Manhattan.
Hillis Hall is the oldest structure on the campus, the one in which Plymouth Church began, and is now the Church's fellowship hall. It was built as a Presbyterian church in the mid-1820s, purchased for Congregational worship in 1846, and open for services by Plymouth Church in 1847. The fire of 1849, which led to the construction of the Sanctuary, allowed the hall to be rebuilt in 1862 to house a lecture hall, parlors and Sunday School rooms. A second severe fire in 1920 left the building vacant until the early 1950s. The rebuilt Hillis Hall provided fellowship rooms, as well as a kitchen and chapel within the one-story extension on the west side. At that time, the collection of stained glass windows from Church of the Pilgrims was installed.
In the years preceding World War I, the Reverend Hillis, Plymouth's third minister, spearheaded a building campaign to complete the Plymouth campus as we see it today. The three buildings completed in 1913 were originally intended as a modified settlement house called the Arbuckle Institute in recognition of the generosity of John Arbuckle, a church member with extensive interests in the coffee and sugar industries. Designed by Woodruff Leeming, they are now simply called The Church House, The Gymnasium, and The Arcade.
The Church House is the heart of our organization. On the lower level, there are newly remodeled DiscoveryLand and preschool classrooms and offices; on the first floor, the church parlor, music study, school office, and kitchen; on the second floor, the classrooms of Plymouth Church School ; on the third floor, the church offices and ministers' studies; and on the fourth floor, the Facilities Manager's apartment and Teen Group room. The Sunday School, also known as DiscoveryLand, meets in various Church House rooms.
The Gymnasium, built as an exercise center for the congregation, is large enough to contain a full-size basketball court. This facility has multiple uses today, home to a variety of school and rental activities, social events, fundraisers, exercise classes, and the programs of outside community groups.
The Arcade is the crosspiece of the campus's “H,” the atrium hallway that connects the 19th century buildings with those of the 20th. Portraits of Plymouth's former ministers line the walls, and a piece of Plymouth Rock, originally from Church of the Pilgrims, is on display.
Plymouth is blessed with three outdoor spaces: Beecher Garden is a formal garden fronting on Orange Street and located between the Church House and the Sanctuary. It contains a statue of Henry Ward Beecher and a bas-relief of Abraham Lincoln, both by Gutzon Borglum, who later sculpted Mount Rushmore. North of the Gymnasium on the corner of Hicks and Cranberry Streets is the Cranberry Playground. Smallest of the three spaces is a landscaped but unused lot abutting the Sanctuary on the east, lovingly referred to as The Lost Acre.
Major restorations have been completed in the past decade, including work on the exterior of all five buildings, Beecher Garden, and the interiors of the newer buildings. A complete restoration of the main parlor, called the Reception Room, was completed in 2002; the Sanctuary reopened with new paint and carpeting in 2004; and the lower level classrooms were fully renovated in 2009.