Fort Washington Collegiate Church, known as “one of the most interesting churches of Washington Heights and Inwood,” has served at least four generations of parishioners who have worshiped as members of the Reformed Church in America. The property that the church is currently on was at one time part of the estate of James Gordon Bennett, publisher of the New York Herald. After the death of James Bennett Jr., who inherited the Herald and the property from his father and lived on the estate for some time, the property was acquired by others, including the West End Collegiate Church.
The seed for planting the new church that would become known as Fort Washington began in February 1907 in the district centering at Broadway and 181st Street. A canvas made in December, 1906 by the Church Federation Society showed a larger number of Protestant families in that section of the city were without church homes.
These families were interviewed by a church visitor and, as a result, the Executive Committee of the Church Society of the West End Collegiate Church, under the leadership of Dr. Henry E. Cobb, Minister, leased a house for the purposes of organizing a Sunday School and holding other religious services. The Parish House was located at 4232 Broadway (near 180th Street), and was opened on February 10, 1907. Sunday School met there regularly and a worship service was held each Sunday afternoon, while a devotional service was held on Thursday evenings. Both the population of the district and the Parish House increased rapidly, and in June 1907, the Reverend Archibald F. Parker was placed in charge as new families continued to be reached. Preaching services were expanded to include Sunday mornings and evenings. A Woman’s Guild was also organized for social and other religious purposes, while a number of men formed a committee to assist Reverend Parker garnering support for the new ministry.
On May 1, 1908, the lease of the original Parish House expired and a larger store at the corner of Broadway and 178th Street was rented as the ministry’s new space. On October 1st of that same year, Reverend Parker who had been the pastor for a little over a year, resigned to become Pastor of New York’s Anderson Memorial Reformed Church, and Abraham John Muste, a seminary senior at the Theological Seminary at New Brunswick, was slated to take over upon his graduation. In May 1909, he became the first pastor of the newly formed congregation, as a resolution was adopted on January 7, 1909 at the meeting of the Consistory.
Fort Washington has had six ministers in the course of its life. The current Senior Minister, Charles D. Morris, is the 50th person to be installed into the Collegiate ministry and also serves as the current President of the Collegiate Church Corporation.
For many years, Fort Washington Church has been, and continues to be used by various community groups including the Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Concerts in the Heights, Credit Where Credit Is Due, Neighborhood S.H.O.P.P. social services for seniors, and Rites of Passage, a leadership development program for youth. The Church also provides various outreach ministries and services to the community, including its monthly Thrift Sale; annual Thanksgiving Dinner for the Needy; Community Christmas Party; various programs for youth; Tuesday and Thursday Play Group for toddlers; worship services at Isabella Geriatric Center; and the Food Pantry. Grants are also given annually to organizations in need through the church’s benevolence fund.
God has a special place for the poor. The poor are where God lives. God, my friends, is with the poor and God is with us IF we are with them.
This is not a burden. This is an adventure.