History of the Ramapo Reformed Church

Organized 1785 - Built 1798

Formerly The Ramapo Meeting House

 

In 1713, a small group of eleven German Lutheran families settled at the "Island," so named because of extensive marshlands surrounding high, dry land. They formed a congregation in 1715, and c. 1720 built a log church. Prior to 1739, they built a larger, frame church.  


Dutch, French, English and Scottish settlers of the Reformed faith came to the Island about mid-century and attended church in Paramus, 10 miles distant. In 1785, they organized The Ramapo Dutch Reformed Congregation at Ramapough in Bergen County.  


After the Revolutionary War (1776-1783), the first task of the new nation was to repair the damages of war and neglect. Neither the Lutheran nor the Reformed congregation at the Island had sufficient means to build a new church. In spite of having fought on opposing sides during the War, they agreed to jointly repair and use the old Lutheran church. The arrangement was so successful that in 1798, they agreed to build the present church together.  


Construction began on June 4th, and was finished in November. The last items purchased were "one lock and two keys" on December 12, 1798. The two congregations shared the church for fifty years until 1848, when the Lutherans sold their interest and moved to Airmont, NY and established the present Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church.  

As soon as its doors opened to the public in 1798, the new Ramapough Meeting House became the heart of the daily activities. Social gatherings and civic meetings were held here all week long, and personal and official notices were posted on the doors. But on the Sabbath (from sundown Saturday to sundown Sunday) the building became a sacred place.  


Ramapough - or Bellgrove, as it was called at this time - had four mills, several blacksmith shops, a general store, a stagecoach stop, and U.S. Post Office, one of the earliest in New Jersey (1797). The old Kings Highway of 1703 or Ramapough Road (Island Road) was part of the ancient 150-mile Albany Post Road from Paulus Hook (Jersey City) to Albany, NY. Dobbin & Tustin, est. 1797, ran a passenger and mail stage line on this road, right past the door of the Ramapough Meeting House.  

In 1798, when pews and people were smaller, the Meeting House held 385 people. (Today, it holds 250). Though the old box-type pews are gone from the sanctuary, the gallery seats above still exist.  


The Island Church held an important place in the railroad hamlet of Mahwah throughout the 1800s. It was known simply as the Community Church until the 1950s, when suburbanization brought many other faiths to Mahwah.  


One of the earliest public schools in the area, c. 1815, was operated on the church property until 1906, when the church sold land to the Township for the Commodore Perry School. In the cemetery is a roadbed of the old Kings Highway.  


The Ramapo Reformed Church is the oldest public building in Mahwah, and a repository of more than 200 years of local and regional history. It is the older of only two remaining frame Federal-period churches in Bergen County, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

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