History of Plymouth

Plymouth Church was founded in 1847 by transplanted New Englanders who wanted a Congregational church like those in which they had been raised, with a simple order of worship, governed by the congregation.

 
 
Henry Ward Beecher

Henry Ward Beecher

The 21 men and women who founded the church in Brooklyn Heights called as their first pastor Henry Ward Beecher, thus beginning the most prominent ministry in the second half of 19th century America. Beecher's powerful preaching and outspoken opposition to slavery filled the pews to overflowing, so it was a blessing in disguise just two years later when fire damaged Plymouth's original church on Cranberry Street. A new red brick Sanctuary seating 2,800 was quickly constructed, fronting on Orange Street behind the ruined original. That first building was later rebuilt to house offices, parlors and Sunday School rooms.

 
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Social Justice

Under Beecher's influence, Plymouth Church held deep philosophical connections with the Underground Railroad--the secretive network of people who helped slaves escape to the North and Canada. Documentary evidence lends support to the belief that Plymouth was also a site of active participation, known as Brooklyn's “Grand Central Depot.”  Beecher was a master at creating public events to strengthen the fight against slavery. He staged mock “auctions” at Plymouth, urging the congregation to purchase the freedom of actual slaves. During one service, he trampled the chains that had bound John Brown. 

 
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A new Hymnal

Beecher was also an ardent supporter of congregational singing during church services, with all members participating. With his brother, Charles Beecher, and Plymouth's organist, John Zundel, he began compiling a book of hymns for his church. Beecher published The Plymouth Collection in 1855, introducing the world's first modern hymnal in which words and music were printed on the same page.

 

 
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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.

 

 

 
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Historic Organ

Plymouth owns one of New York City's most distinctive instruments: an Aeolian-Skinner organ known for its "American Classic" sound, installed in our Sanctuary in 1904, revised by the famed organ engineer G. Donald Harrison in 1937, and extensively restored in the 1990s. Music has been a vital part of Plymouth Church since its beginnings. When the present Sanctuary was constructed in 1849, under the leadership of Senior Minister Henry Ward Beecher, a pipe organ was installed. That instrument was replaced in 1866 by what was then the largest pipe organ ever built in the United States. The casework and pipes visible today are part of that organ, made by E. and G.G. Hook of Boston.