County: Mercer County
St. Monica’s Episcopal Church lies in the very center of the Spring Street neighborhood of Trenton. Spring Street was the center of Trenton’s middle class African-American community during the mid-twentieth century. According to the 2011 publication by Richard Grubb & Associates for the Trenton Historical Society, Three Centuries of African-American History in Trenton: A Preliminary Inventory of Historic Sites, “The Negro Motorist Green Book, a publication that assisted African-American travelers to find accommodations during the era of segregation, included among its listings in the 1949 edition two tourist homes, one restaurant, a beauty parlor, and a barber shop on Spring Street” and surveys of residents confirm a bustling neighborhood with many resources constructed specifically by or for the use of the African-American community.
St. Monica’s Mission for Colored People was established in 1919 as a mission congregation of the Trinity Cathedral. In 1920, the church purchased property on Spring Street, and worshipped in the existing building on the site. An adjacent parcel was purchased in 1925. By 1929, the congregation numbered about 150 members. In 1935, a three-story dwelling located on the church property was removed and the existing one-story church constructed. St. Monica’s was the first Black Episcopal congregation in Trenton. The congregation was merged with that of St. Michael’s Episcopal on Warren Street around 1960.
The site today consists of the parish house where the congregation first worshipped (now church offices) attached by a hallway to the church itself operated by Greater is He Ministries. The church is constructed of concrete block and has a stuccoed façade. The building needs extensive, expensive repairs. Many of the original features – like the paired wood entry doors with knee brackets, a stained glass window on the gable end, and architectural features like the pointed arch windows (though enclosed) still exist. The primary threat to the site is the expenses associated with critical upkeep. Greater is He Ministries leadership would like to upgrade the electrical work that was done piecemeal by previous tenants to protect the structure. Church members put on a new roof with money from a member and donor, and reinforced the foundation. However upgrading the electrical system and repairs like exposing and restoring the original arched ceiling (now covered by drop ceiling) remains out of reach.
The 2011 inventory commissioned by the Trenton Historical Society represents an initial effort to gather information about sites in Trenton that tell stories about the city’s African-American history. Progress since the inventory like the nomination of St. Monica’s neighbor the Carver Center to the National Register of Historic Places and the community-driven Locust Hill Project which focuses on the physical restoration of the Locust Hill African Cemetery should be celebrated. Preservation New Jersey believes it is critical to identify and save more resources like this one with a direct history to communities of color in Trenton. Preservation New Jersey encourages the City of Trenton to prioritize taking the next steps identified in this important report and prepare a nomination for the Spring Street District to the National Register of Historic Places. This site also spotlights how the 2018 New Jersey Supreme Court decision to prevent New Jersey Historic Trust grants to religious structures could hamper future fundraising efforts for this important structure.
Lady Brenda Howard