This summer I am participating in a ten-week internship at Sacred Sites, a branch of the New York Landmarks Conservancy which deals specifically with religious organizations. Our project this summer is undertaking a cumulative survey of historic churches in Queens. This project is the continuation of a survey that was started in the summer of 2008 where Queens Synagogues and Catholic Churches were documented. The focus for this summer will be Queens Protestant Churches. Data we collect from the survey will be housed in the Conservancy’s database for eventual conversion into a website.
The project is two-pronged: First we are seeking to locate, visit, and photograph every historic Protestant Church in Queens. Specifically, we are interested in ones that are neither landmarked nor currently listed on the National Register. We will then select ten to twelve churches that are strong candidates for the National Register (and would likely also qualify for Sacred Sites grant funding for building upkeep), and work to get them listed.
The internship has consisted of a combination of field work (trips out to Queens), office work (where I have been contacting churches of interest), and outside research. I have been collaborating with fellow interns MJ and Brian (a Columbia undergraduate). The three of us have been working under Sacred Sites Director, Ann Friedman and Glen Umberger, Manager of Special Projects. They are both incredibly knowledgeable and have graciously given us much insight into their work as well as expert advice about the preservation field.
The project so far has been fun and informative. We’ve been using historic Sanborn Atlases to locate many of the churches in Queens, and it is amazing how many of them are still extant. We have surveyed some churches that are real gems, and I am confident they will find their way onto the National Register soon. The internship has also been eye-opening to the realities of preservation work. While all the churches we have surveyed are old (some even retain their original interior elements such as original wood floors and curved wooden pews), there are many which fall outside the scope of the Conservancy’s aid. Churches where too much of the historic character has been altered are not good candidates for the National Register and are therefore also ineligible for Sacred Sites funding. Unfortunately, all we can do in such cases is document. Some of these churches are in disrepair and have dwindling congregations. It is sad to think that the structures might not be there in a few years’ time, but it makes the documentation process all that much more important.