A fire that broke out behind New Utrecht Reformed Church (1827 84th Street) two weeks ago is just another setback for the historic structure, which has been chronically plagued by financial struggles and always seems to be running out of cash.
The blaze tore through the church’s brick garage on January 21 at 1:28pm, according to fire officials. Two fire engines and two fire trucks responded, and firefighters had the flames under control by 2:45pm, but by that time, everything stored inside had been charred to a crisp.
Repairing the damage to the garage — which was only exacerbated by last week’s snow storm — will cost the church money it would have spent elsewhere, according to Suzanne Hayman, the Vice-President of the church’s Board of Deacons.
“The fire was major inconvenience, it was right two days before the blizzard and our snowblower was in the garage. It was totally destroyed,” she said. “We were very fortunate that the fire did not spread to our sanctuary which has been under repair for almost a decade.”
Following last week’s blizzard, frustrated neighbors reached out to Bensonhurst Bean concerning the sidewalk around New Utrecht Reformed Church, which they say its caretakers had initially failed to clear. The singed snow blower was apparently to blame.
When we dropped by the church on Saturday, January 30, the brick shed still smelled strongly of smoke and the area was sealed off. A peek behind the tarp revealed a mess of blackened debris and ash.
The church — a historical and city landmark — was established in 1677 during the Dutch settlement of New York. It was briefly used by the British as a hospital during the Revolutionary War but was then reconquered by the triumphant United States army under George Washington. The current church building contains the bricks from the original structure which was dismantled in 1800.
Today, the church is the fourth oldest Reformed Church in America and one of Bensonhurst’s most prized artifacts of the past.
Unfortunately, due to a diminishing congregation and lack of funds from the city, the church has been under great financial strain to keep up with maintenance. Other historical landmarks in the city are awash with money, while one of the most important relics from the Dutch settlement sits in a constant state of disrepair.
The recent blaze is only the church’s most recent fire. In 2011, the bell tower at the church’s parish house was struck by lighting and partially set on fire.
This latest stroke of bad luck for the church will perhaps require more fundraising and more support from the community. Fundraisers in the past have been successful in generating revenue to keep the repairs on the church going. Hopefully, the place will be spiffed up by next week when former President George Washington pays his annual visit.
To contribute to the church’s restoration fund, please e-mail the Friends of Historic New Utrecht [email protected] or call (718) 256-7173.