A Brief History of The Church of the Intercession
Adapted from the essay A Short History of the Church of the Intercession by Janet Vetter.
In 1846 in the tiny hamlet known as Carmansville, northwest of the village of Harlem, Victor G. Audubon and John R. Morewood felt the need to have the services of the Episcopal Church in their own community. The first services were held in the parlor of the Morewood's home on the location that is today the southeast corner of 155th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue. With time, Carmansville became known as Hamilton Heights and the area gradually changed from a sleepy rural spot to a part of the great City. The first rector elected was the The Rev. Abercombie.
The first Church of the Intercession was a simple wood structure in Victorian Gothic style at the corner of 154th Street and Old Tenth (now Amsterdam ) Avenue. The outline of its roof can be seen on the side wall of the still-standing building which once adjoined it. Completed in 1847, the first church building was used until 1872. In 187l, the Rev. W. M. , Postlethwait, later chaplain at West Point, became Rector. During his three-year tenure, the Vestry decided to sell the original site and relocate the parish.
In 1872, the Second Intercession church was built in stone at the corner of 158th Street and Grand Boulevard, now Broadway. With the new building, however, came unexpected problems. The church was built on the expectation that Washington Heights would attract a large population. The cost of construction was far greater than expected. Further, a dispute over the church's new location resulted in dissention among the congregation and the withdrawal of much of the expected financial support. The situation worsened to such an extent that the parish became insolvent, and the sheriff took possession of the church building. For a while, the congregation was only allowed the use of the building by legal sufferance. Yet, aided by the leadership and preaching skills of the Rev. Dr. E. Winchester Donald, the next Rector, the congregation grew and the parish recovered financially enough to reclaim possession of its building.
In 1906, with Intercession still in debt and now overcrowded as well, the Rev. Dr. Milo Hudson Gates, the thirteenth Rector, realized the precarious situation of his parish and, knowing of Trinity Church's earlier plans eventually to build a chapel on the cemetery property, began negotiations with Trinity Wall Street Church. The solution they found was to have Intercession become one of Trinity's chapels, and a new church was to be built on the cemetery land. Intercession was “disestablished” as an independent parish and absorbed into the Trinity Church Corporation.
The first Vicar of the new Chapel was, of course, Dr. Gates himself, and in short order ambitious plans were made to build a new church. The noted architect, Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, was retained and given instructions to create what was' to become his masterpiece. The working team of priest and architect was nothing less than a marriage made in heaven. Goodhue was a master of the Gothic Revival style, and to his work he brought an impeccable sense of taste, a genuine feeling for historical accuracy, and a great inventiveness in adapting an ancient style to contemporary needs. Dr. Gates was a man of vision and sense of worship far in advance of his time - and his congregation. At a time when the Church and our parish were far more “protestant” than “Episcopal”, he managed to achieve a church building that was truly catholic in spirit and perfectly suited for catholic style of worship in the Episcopal church - a dream that came closer to reality only years after Dr. Gates' death. The result of the Goodhue-Gates collaboration was a brilliant spiritual and artistic statement , one of the real masterpieces of church architecture in this country, considered by many to be one of the finest examples of the Gothic Revival style.
The cornerstone was laid on 24 October 1912. In May 1915, the new Chapel of the Intercession was consecrated, beginning its life as a place of worship and the object of admiration by lovers of beauty. On 24 July 1980, the Intercession buildings - the Church, Cloister, Parish Hall and Gates House (Vicarage) - were placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of the Interior, in recognition of their historical and artistic significance. The buildings, incidentally, had a few years earlier been declared a New York City Landmark.