Saint Paul’s Church National Historic Site | SAINT PAUL’S CHURCH TOUR

Pews and three-tier pulpit at Saint Paul's Church National Historic Site

Pews and three-tier pulpit at Saint Paul’s Church National Historic Site

Guided tours of Saint Paul’s Church and cemetery are given on demand whenever the park is open. The tour lasts 1 to 1.5 hours and also includes time to watch the park film and to see the exhibits in the Visitor Center. If you don’t have time for a tour, you can walk around the cemetery on your own, but a tour is the only way to get inside the church. A brochure for a self-guided walking tour of the cemetery is available in the Visitor Center. This lists the important graves and tells a little about the person currently residing down below.

During the school year, school groups get first dibs on tours, and most groups show up in the morning. Thus, the National Park Service recommends visiting after 12 PM in April, May, June, October, and November, the prime school group season. You can also call Saint Paul’s Church National Historic Site at (914) 667-4116 to see if school groups are scheduled for the day you wish to visit.

The church is accessed by stairs, but a ramp for those in wheelchairs is available. However, it is not installed on a permanent basis. If you need the ramp to access the church, please call in advance so that it will be ready for you to use when you arrive.

The guided tour starts at the Visitor Center where you will first watch the fifteen-minute park film. The focus of the park, and thus the film, is not so much the church itself, but the church’s involvement in significant events that took place in Eastchester, New York, and the surrounding Manchester County during the colonial era up through the American Revolution. After the movie, the guide will point out some of the more interesting exhibits in the small museum, then venture into the lobby where you can see the oldest tombstone in the park—now stored inside so that it won’t get stolen—as well as an exhibit of old medical instruments. The church served as a hospital during the American Revolution, thus the connection to the instruments.

Saint Paul's Church museum

Saint Paul’s Church museum

Medical tool exhibit

Medical tool exhibit

After seeing the museum, the tour heads over to the church. While construction began before the American Revolution in 1763 and officially finished in 1805, the interior is from a 1942 renovation in which the church was restored back to its late-1700s appearance. This was possible because the original architectural drawings still exist. New pews were built to match the originals and rearranged as they were when the church opened; the originals had actually been replaced with benches. It is interesting to note that pews were sold to church members—the better the seat, the higher the price. Plaques on the pews denote the actual families that sat in them when the church first opened.

Sasha checks out the pews in Saint Paul's Church

Sasha checks out the pews in Saint Paul’s Church

The pulpit was moved to its original location at the south wall. This is a three-tier pulpit, with the floor-level box being occupied by a clerk whose job was to lead the singing of hymns and to tickle anyone who fell asleep (notice the feather mounted on a long pole in the photo below). The second tier was used by the minister when reading the Scripture. When it came time to give the sermon, he used the uppermost box.

Three-tier pulpit at Saint Paul's Church

Three-tier pulpit at Saint Paul’s Church

The original windows were clear glass, but over the years wealthy people were able to donate and have a stained glass window installed in their honor. All of these were removed during the renovation and replaced with clear glass. The existing stained glass window was reinstalled in 1999. It was funded by the Drake Family, one of the early families to live in Eastchester.

Stained glass window funded by the Drake Family

Stained glass window funded by the Drake Family

Other interesting features of the church include two models built in 1865. These show an addition that was added to the rear of the building in the 1850s that was used as a vestry room and Sunday school. During the 1942 renovation, the wall separating the addition from the main sanctuary was removed and the alter and chancel were installed, though I don’t know why since the renovation was supposed to restore the church to its original appearance.

Model of the church from 1865

Model of the church from 1865

Alter and chancel now sit in the 1850s addition to the rear of the building

Alter and chancel now sit in the 1850s addition to the rear of the building

Alter and chancel

Alter and chancel

The original wooden cupola shown on the model was replaced with the current brick and stone cupola in 1887. Removing exterior additions such as the vestry room and cupola was beyond the scope and funding of the restoration project; most restorations were done to the interior.

Stone and brick cupola on Saint Paul's Church

Stone and brick cupola on Saint Paul’s Church

The organ on the upper level of the sanctuary is a Hall and Erben organ installed in 1833. It is one of the oldest working pipe organs in the United States. When the guided tour headed out to the cemetery, my wife, who is afraid of cemeteries, and 8-year-old daughter, Sasha, returned to the Visitor Center. They met another park Ranger who took them back to the church and to the upper level to see the organ. Sasha, who was taking piano lessons, actually got to play it (Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, I was told). I missed all of this, but they were still in the church when the cemetery tour ended, and I was allowed up as well, which is how I got my aerial-view photos of the interior. The second floor of the church and a stop at the organ is part of the tour, but for some reason was skipped over when I attended.

Pipe organ on the upper level of the sanctuary

Pipe organ on the upper level of the sanctuary

Saint Paul's Church pipe organ

Saint Paul’s Church pipe organ

Keys of the pipe organ

Keys of the pipe organ

After touring the church, the guide will take you to the cemetery and point out the more interesting graves. This is one of the oldest cemeteries in the country, but there aren’t any famous people buried in it. See the Saint Paul’s Church Cemetery web page here on National Park Planner for more information.

Saint Paul's Church and cemetery

Saint Paul’s Church and cemetery

Being the only three people on the tour, we got a lot of personalized attention. Having a young child probably had more to do with it than being the only people on the tour. Most of the extra activities were for Sasha’s enjoyment—she got to sit in the pews, stand at the pulpit, ring the church bell (cord can be reached from the bottom of the stairs), and play the organ. The Rangers when out of their way to make sure my family had a good tour of the facility.

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Last updated on June 24, 2020
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