The Downer Methodist-Episcopal Church was constructed in 1886 and named after its founder, Arthur Downer. The church building is an amazing example of the Gothic Revival style in a rural area. And today the building is recognized on the National Register of Historic Places.
Arthur Downer, Founder
Mr. Downer was born in 1829 in Drumcillion, Ireland. He came to the United States in 1849 and initially settled in Harrisonville, NJ. In 1858, he and his wife Mary bought some land from Samuel Whitney and settled in an area which became known as Whitneyville. Mr. Downer started bible classes in his home and the attendance grew to a size that required a bigger place. Mr. Whitney suggested that Mr. Downer should build a church and he would donate the sandstone he used to build Holly bush. In the mean time, Mr. Downer became a local preacher and later became an ordained Elder. So the church was built and paid for in one year at a cost of $10,000.
The Fire of 1899
Shortly after the annual Christmas celebration in 1899, a fire broke out, due to a defective flue, and the church burned. But it was rebuilt according to the exact plans. Following the rebuilding of the church, Samuel W. Downer wrote:
“The wood portion of the rebuilt church…included …a native two leaf pine, a rare tree in New Jersey. It is now extinct, and then, found only on the ridge marking the watershed between streams that flow west to the Delaware River and Bay, and those flowing east and south to the ocean. This church is adjudged by those former District Superintendents who are competent judges of architecture, as being one of the most beautiful in the interior of any in the New Jersey Conference.”
Sunday, October 12, 1986 was a beautiful day, weather wise. It was bright and sunny, but a bit on the cool side; the temperature hovered around the 60 degree mark. When the worship hour began at 9:45 AM, there were 150 or so people seated and standing in the church which can seat only 100 people in the existing pews. Extra chairs had been set up, but even with those there were still a number of people who had to stand in the vestibule.
The Church Today
In 2010, Downer United Methodist Church was added to the National Registry of Historic Places. This style of architecture was the main criteria that placed this church on the New Jersey State and National list of Historical Places.